Let’s hide our face in shame following further news on trees – 1
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Two recent articles published in the Times during November are clearly in line with the above quote by philosopher Schopenhauer. Two articles penned by two MEPA officials: the Director of the Environment Protection Directorate and an eminent gentlemen on the MEPA’s board.
The number of letters appearing in the media and on various blogs complaining, criticising and disapproving the mismanagement of trees, to put it mildly, embarrassed the Minister and his watchdog responsible for the protection, communication, education and public awareness, to the extent that they have become almost isolated. So MEPA have gone to the front line to dispel such complaints and belittle such criticism.
The first article Further notes on trees by MEPA’s Director of the Environment Protection Directorate was published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 (see article on link below).
Conservationists and environmentalists were advised that “Overly high-pitched reactions to any discussion about trees could have the longer-term undesirable effect of discouraging some people from planting more trees on their properties”. Could this perhaps refer to the Nadur Cemetery which is threatening the livelihood of a community of farmers who cultivate hundreds of citrus trees in Wied il-Qasab because of MEPA’s approval for the construction of a cemetery? Could it be a reference to MEPA’s postponement and postponement of an appeal’s decision while the building of the cemetery is still going on nearing completion? Or could it be a reference to MEPA’s approval of the uprooting (except for 3) of all the trees in the Mdina Ditch including an 80+ year old olive tree, a dozen of Cyprus trees, and nearly all the citrus trees and the indigenous wild ivy? Or perhaps to the latest MEPA permit for the building in part of an old garden in Villa Meckrech – Tas-Sinjura, Għaxaq? Or perhaps due to the lack of public consultations with regards to the present mismanagemnt of trees in the islands?
Readers were also informed that “the overall total amount of trees in Malta has increased significantly over the last decades” and “Trees were mainly planted in walled gardens, orchards, fields and some hunting grounds. It was during the British period that trees began to be planted more widely in urban public spaces and along roads.” Which of these trees can be considered safe today under the present MEPA’s policy, vision of development and the shallow understanding of ecosystems? The above three examples clearly indicate that none are safe.
“Afforestation projects carried out by both the government and environmental NGOs have planted thousands of trees in recent years.” Very true but what kind of trees are being planted, and how were these planted? The 34U campaign has come to mean more a Tree for Uprooting considering that the aim is more to boast about the quantity of trees (as highlighted in the quote above) rather than the quality and professionalism used. These have been planted so close to each other that they need to be thinned out if they are to grow and form a canopy. Some of them have to be uprooted. Besides what kind of trees are being planted? Most of them are imported, some are exotic and even invasive, to the extent that the number of aliens species being imported is alarming. This despite the fact that MEPA is the authority responsible to ensure that this should not happen.
With regards to the criticism regarding the uprooting of Paola square trees, MEPA said that “In this case, the final decision on whether the Paola trees will be uprooted now rests with the local council.” Does this mean that a permit will be issued by MEPA for uprooting these trees if the Paola Local Council decides so? Has MEPA renounced its responsibility for the protection of trees in Malta?
With regards to the Mdina Ditch fiasco, MEPA’s official wrote that “The cultural heritage experts advising on the project gave priority to enhancing the view of the historic bastions and ditch, which are unique, rather than the citrus trees which are far from unique and can be moved. On the other hand, other persons gave more importance to the citrus trees growing in the ditch, which have no relevance to the historic bastions but which have been there for some time and which people had become accustomed to enjoying. An outcry ensued. It was a question of perspective.”
I am sorry to say that this is side-tracking the whole issue. The citrus trees were not the main concern. The greatest concerns were the uprooting of protected olive trees, one more than 80 years old (with MEPA’s endorsement), the destruction of the ecological habitat formed by the ivy growing on the side of the Howard Gardens, the amount of turf which will be planted, the amount of water which this will take, the dancing water fountains (which have no relevance to the historic bastions), the excavation of water cisterns which do not figure in the MEPA permit for the works in the ditch. All this with MEPA approval? A question of perspective or an overly high-pitched reaction!
“Ficus nitida can however be inconvenient when situated very close to benches and popular recreational spots, due to their small dark fruit which covers the ground in certain seasons, and their attraction to birds which can lead to a considerable amount of bird droppings – as seen, for instance, in the square outside the Gozo Ministry in Rabat.”
Established trees form part of an ecosystem and IF there is a problem this is not solved by cutting down the trees to keep the birds away. Why not move the benches in the first place, for example? Such a statement coming from MEPA vindicates those who maintain that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should never be together because MEPA still does not understand what an ecosystem means. Some local council have managed to solve this problem which MEPA, for some reason or other, has not even dreamt of.
The article concluded by a reference to the National Environment Policy emphasising that
“Its implementation requires no less than a gradual cultural shift, across the board.”
So very true. Such a cultural shift is desperately and urgently needed especially by MEPA who has been entrusted with the protection of the natural heritage, as obliged by the various international conventions, not least those of the EU, and also by a number of national legislation. This is urgently needed if the Government’s and MEPA’s nicely coloured publications, including the National Environment Policy, were not published just to adorn the bookshelves of history. And unfortunately this and the other article referred to (which I will comment on in another post) do not guarantee that such a cultural shift is in site at all by the authority who has been entrusted to protect such a heritage in the people’s name.
MEPA’s online article in The Times can be accessed on:
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