Let’s hide our face in shame following further news on trees – 1

November 20, 2012

            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?

The appeal regarding this developmend has been postponed and postponed and postponed by MEPA.
In the meantime works at the cemterey have continued. Not only so but during November 2012, the cemtery has been surrounded by a wall. Is it possible that MEPA has issued a permit for such a development? And if not, why has it not taken any action?

 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.”

porofessional management

Dingli Local Council’s solution –
the birds can poo to their heart’s content; the tree can shed its leaves without concern, and the people can sit and gossip all day and all night long.
MEPA’s solution – chop the tree down and  the bill will be paid from public funds.

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:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121113/opinion/Further-notes-on-trees.445157

OTHER RELATED READINGS:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%E2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/?preview=true&preview_id=374&preview_nonce=df7e841c61

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-mdina-ditch-trees-is-the-eu-really-involved/?preview=true&preview_id=1050&preview_nonce=3835a76b71

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/?preview=true&preview_id=1375&preview_nonce=5e0a18cf49

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/?preview=true&preview_id=1182&preview_nonce=a98051a563

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/?preview=true&preview_id=1266&preview_nonce=9544b7e2f7

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/?preview=true&preview_id=1138&preview_nonce=7ada24a171

 

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Breeding birds of the Maltese Islands – a scientific and historical review

October 12, 2012

A new publication
Breeding Birds of the Maltese Islands - a scientific and historicl review


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

(If you cannot open link

highlight link, then right click, and then click on go to

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MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

April 30, 2012

29th April, 2012

MASSACRE OF MDINA TREES –

IS THE EU REALLY INVOVLED?

Alfred E. Baldacchino 

A very interesting debate has developed on the site Save the Trees which can be accessed on: http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/267876579975675/?notif_t=group_activity

An outstanding feature on the above blog is that 99% of the bloggers who love trees and biodiversity are criticising the official persecution and  massacre of trees in the Maltese Islands.  But those who express such concern are taken to task by one particular blogger who clams that he works at ELC.

2012.04.26 - Up till a few days ago, these orange trees where in full bloom

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I read on this blog in defence of the mutilation of trees and biodiversity by ELC. It is to the tune of the official Government  policy on projects relating to biodiversity, despite the electoral promise of an environmental column. Such a blogger says they he is  writing in his own personal capacity, a right which he has and which he can exercise to create such a discussion. Yet details are given which the public is not aware of. This makes one think that ELC is finding it very convenient to let their alleged workers speak for them, and these cannot do otherwise but  laud all ELC’s works of wonder.  They would certainly be shown the back door if they were to write something which the ELC, or their Ministry, does not approve of. They would be charged with conflict of interest  if   they  criticise, even constructively,  the works of their Ministry. And they will surely get the axe if they make a faux pas, even if what they say  might have been suggested to them.

In criticising Ministerial projects, although the EU obliges public consultations on public projects, blogers are called names, accused of not knowing anything about trees and their ‘pruning’ and also accused of belittiling the ELC workers. This still happens, despite the fact that time and time again, all blogers have made it clear  that workers have to do what they are ordered to do and cannot be held accountable for executing the decisions taken by their employers or their Minister.  But this calling of names is something which is now very synonymous  with such quarters.

2012.04.26 - orange trees in full bloom awaiting the chainsaw and the bulldozer!

The ELC is responsible to the Minister of Resource, whom it shields.  The mania about creating gardens in such fashion, is something well known within this Ministry. A few years ago there was an attempt to transform Buskett into a garden!!

A wild Laurel tree at Buskett - an EU Natura 2000 site - mutilated by ELC with Ministerial approval, in the attempt to transform Buskett into a garden, before MEPA intervened and stopped the works.

Everyone knows of the massacre executed at Buskett by ELC with the blessing of their Minister. Now we have the transformation of the Mdina Ditch into a garden, with TURF and fountains as the Save the Tree site  have been informed by  an ELC alleged spokesman.

Uprooting trees to create  a garden….. very hard to believe. Substituting them with  TURF which takes gallons and gallons of water, such a rare resource in the Maltese Islands, especially in the hot summer months.  The paving of straight-line paths furthermore contributed  to the uprooting of  even more trees. This Ministry seems to have a mania with expanses of turf and dancing-water and fountains, like the dancing-water at St. George’s Square in Valletta. And believe it or not, all this  has been approved by a Ministry responsible for the local scarce resource of WATER, and also for Climate change!!  Unbelievable! I am sure that a  spokesman for this Ministry will come up with some crude explanation and possibly with  more calling of names. But one has to accept that some Ministries  are very good at this type of dialogue! It is their forte.

2012.04.06 - The beauty of the Mdina Ditch - a biodiversity haven. Is this going to be cleared away to make room for a garden? And is this going to be undertaken by EU funds as an insider from ELC has indicated?

The reference to EU funds by the ELC alleged-worker in the Save the Trees blog is interesting because it is coming from this semi-official  bloger in favour of this project leading the public to understand that this project is funded by the EU, saying that 85% of the total cost of the €6.2m project is being funded by the EU! This creates and incongruency with the press release issued by the Minister which  said that it was being done by the Minster’s (public) funds “The works are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.” No mention of EU funds; and “The project, costing  €1,200,000, is due to be completed by the end of this year.”  See the attached link for the official press release: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120406/local/works-start-on-recreation-area-in-mdina-ditch.414277

When I visited the site, I failed to notice any reference to any EU involvement on the site. Now if there are any funds from the EU, one of the obligations is that the EU logo has to appear on all the publicity for the project. There are now two version with reference to the financial input to this project: the Ministerial publicity which refrains from mentioning any EU involvement; and EU funding according to a bloger with ELC connections.  Which is the correct version?  I am sure that the EU would be very interested in knowing  how its funds, if it has funded this project, are being ‘used’ and ‘managed’, what the public opinion vis-a-vis this project is, and how such project is impacting on biodiversity!

According to EU obligations, whether it has financed the project or not, the  public is entitled to a breakdown of the money which is going into this project, such as  how much the turf will cost, the quantity of water it will consume per annun and at what cost; how much will be the upkeep, how much did the planners and designers charge, and how much will the launching of the  project cost.

The lack of any biodiversity and social concept are evidently lacking to any informed visitor. This view is sustained by the comments supporting this project on the Save the Trees  blog: Orange trees are being uprooted because they interfere with the vision of the bastions, but fountains do not! And insects and birds aren’t going to commit suicide, if they do not find a tree, they go on another one, the  Rabat environs are full of trees. ( L-insetti u l-ghasafar mhux ser jaghmlu suwwicidju, jekk ma jsibux sigra, imorru fuq ohra, inhawi tar-Rabat huma mimlija sigar min daqsekk). Not surprising at all since this is the recurring approach used by the Ministry under whose responsibility this project falls!  No wonder that when the same Ministry was responsible for the EU measure to tackle biodiversity loss, it made a complete mess and failure out of it.

The official Ministerial publicity material attached to the bastins, (shown above) states that this project is a Rehabillitation of the ditch. In contrast, the bloger with ELC inside informations states that “The ditch outside Mdina’s bastions from Greek’s gate to Xara Palace including the area below the main gate, is being turned into a recreational space which will be open to the public”. There is a great difference between ‘rehabilitation of the ditch’ and changing its use to a recreational area, especially when the tennis court, the basketball pitch, and the football pitch, which formed part of the ditch to be rehabilitated have been removed.

Somebody is surely trying to take the people for a ride despite the fact that the Prime Minister has promised that he will come closer to the people to listen to what they  have to say…………    I understand that heeding it is another matter!


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man


Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

October 2, 2011

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

James Debono

PLANT invaders are being “deliberately introduced as ornamental plants”, The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s newly published guidelines on managing non-native plants states.

But the document fails to show the way on how these plants can be stopped from spreading. contends Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director Environment Protection Directorate.

The document refers directly to Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot Fig), a plant used in the embellishment of roundabouts by the Environment Landscape Consortium, as a invasive species, “listed amongst 100 of the worst invaders in Europe.”

But the document focuses on how alien plants can be removed without harming the environment, rather than seeking to prevent their introduction in Malta. According to Baldacchino, landscaping is one of the main sources of invasive alien species, especially when internationally listed species like Carpobrutus edulis (Hottentot Fig), “is wantonly planted in open public areas and paid for by government, despite public concern, MEPA’s reports, and international obligations.”

Another plant used in landscaping which is spreading is the drought resistant Fountain Grass whose seeds are dispersed by wind. While describing MEPA’s document on controlling invasive species as “professional and useful” Baldacchino expressed disappointment that the document does not address the introduction of invasive species, but only their removal.

Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind, but can also disperse by water and vehicles

One shortcoming of the document, according to Baldacchino, is that it does not seek to address issues like the introduction of alien species in public landscaping projects.

Baldacchino notes that in a document containing 31,800 word, the word ‘landscaping’ is only mentioned once, and this  “as part of the name of a publication.”

A footnote to the document explains why the document does not address the issue of prevention. While stating that a primary management goal in a strategic approach to deal with biological invasions is prevention, this aspect is not addressed in the guidelines which focus on providing guidance on how to deal with major plant invaders that are already present in the Maltese islands.

“The element of prevention is however integrated in relevant provisions of domestic legislation,” states the document.

The Convention on Biological Diversity – of which Malta is a signatory – lays down a global framework for governments and other organisations to develop strategies to prevent the introduction of, and promote the management of impacts of  Invasive Alien Species.

“Malta has legal obligations under this Convention which is also transposed into EU Legislation. This is not completely addressed in the document,” said Baldacchino.

According to Baldacchino MEPA has “the potential, the resources, and the expertise” to produce a proactive document on how to honour its national and international legal obligations.

“But MEPA is so shy and impotent in enforcement, that it prefers to tackle the negative impacts at an economical, social and ecological expense, rather than to address the source. This MEPA document spells it all out”.

Baldacchino is now concerned that through such guidelines, it will be administratively easier for invasive alien species to be introduced than to be removed. “To eradicate these invasive plants one needs a permit from MEPA. But their introduction in the country is accorded red carpet treatment,” Baldacchino said.

The Hottentot fig

Carpobrotus edulis, an invasive plant known as the Cape or Hottentot Fig. is an aggressive species that climbs over other plant and kills, and is credited with wiping out 80% of Minorca’s endemic species, according to Natura 2000, the official newsletter of the European Commission’s directorate general for the environment. The plant reproduces through seeds and vcgetatively, by means of trailing stems and broken-off segments and can be dispersed by mammals, including rodents. Seeds that have not  germinated can remain viable in the soil for at least two yeas.

listed as one of the 100 of the Worst Invasive Species

The plant was successfully eliminated from the   Spanish island of Minorca through an EU-funded project. The plant, already popular in private homes, was used to embellish the Manuel Dimech Bridge project and the airport roundabouts by the Environment Landscapes Consortium.

Contacted last year, the ELC strongly denied that the plant posed any threat to Maltese biodiversity. insisting that when these plants are used in controlled landscapes they are never invasive. But biologist Alan Deidun disputed this claim, insisting that it is impossible to speak of “controlled environments” for plant species which can spread relatively easily.

Deidun claimed that despite being planted in roundabouts, the plant still manages to spread. carpeting whole swathes along cliff areas, especially in the southwest of the islands, which generally tend to harbour species of conservation importance.

The ELC nursery manager said the plant is very well adapted to the Maltese climate, being extremely wind and fire-resistant with the ability to take saline water.