Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

The news of the restoration of Wied il-Qlejgħa, alias Chadwick lakes, is good news. Not least because the ‘cleaning of valleys’ has been put to bed.

The largest dam at Wied il-Qlejgħa in all its glory

The measures highlighted in the media for such restoration are also something to look forward to, namely: restoration of dilapidated rubble walls; removal of the playing area; removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna; removal of accumulated sediment behind dams; restoration and utilisation of the Fiddien pumping station; and the planning of walking trails.

Dilapidated rubble walls – not an uncommon site after some heavy rainfall

Valleys in the Maltese islands are a sensitive ecological areas – much ignored, unappreciated and abused. These have been abandoned and mismanaged for years, making their restoration more delicate. They are dried river beds, once adorned with dwarf hippopotamus and endemic swan. Climate change reduced these rich fresh water habitats to what they are today.

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.

 

Dilapidated rubble walls is the first item that should be addressed, thus stopping soil erosion, one of the main culprits for the filling up of the dams.

The use of gabbjuni (big cages) to repair/replace rubble walls should not even be considered. A look at the 30-year-old gabbjuni installed along the valley, shows how barren they are. Not even the tenacious invasive cape sorell (l-ingliża) has managed to colonise any of them.

The play area in the midst of willow trees. Now who would have thought of this?

The removal of the playing area in the midst of the valley is a sine qua non. I wonder who was the architect who conceived this idea in the middle of one of the largest valley in the Maltese Islands!

Alien invasive eucalyptus trees dominate the valley. One might have to tread careful here because these can be protected by the latest tree protection regulations issued by ERA.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and  fauna is another step in the right direction.

No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour. It is not just bulldozing them on the lines of how the Ministry of Transport bulldozes trees. The invasive species of flora have to be gradually removed  in some areas, while being replaced by indigenous species.

Invasive species growing in Wied il-Qlejgħa include: she oak (less than a dozen), castor oil trees (less than 100), acacias and eucalyptus (more than a score and twenty of each species).

Their removal has to be professional so as not to contribute further to their dispersal. This applies mainly to the castor oil tree which has to be uprooted, and burned on site thus eliminating the possibility of giving it a free ride and opportunity to its seeds to germinate on new reclaimed grounds.

Furthermore, indigenous species which grow in the valley, such as poplar trees, willows, almond trees, lentisks, olive trees, chaste trees,  should not be mistaken for invasive species and removed. Not a far-fetched concern.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna is another step in the right direction. No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour

On the other hand, the notorious lately introduced red swamp crayfish also abounds in the valley, detrimental to any fresh aquatic life such as indigenous painted frog and its tadpole, dragonflies and water beetles larvae. The person who introduced such alien species, should be chained to a poplar tree until the last crayfish is collected.

The indigenous poplar tree – adorns its natural habitat. No it is not dead.

On the other hand indigenous trees adapted to such a riverine habitat include the poplar tree, already established in the valley, willow (two species also established), chaste tree (of which there is half a dozen) and rare species of ash and elm.

AmbjentMalta can start propagating them immediately so that they will be readily available for planting as standard trees as soon as a parcel of the valley has been restored.

There are also a number of indigenous flora, some  rare and scarce aquatic species, such as water cress, sanicle-leaved water crowfoot, and bulbous buttercup. Others not so rare are greater plantain, creeping cinquefoil, rushes and sedges.

Rare and scarce aquatic plants whose seeds aestivate in the sediment. (Photos by Stephen Mifsud).

 

Another delicate exercise is the removal of debris, and sediment accumulated behind the two main water dams. Presumably, one would think, this would be undertaken during the hot summer months when the cisterns are dry. This means that the top layer of the sediment will be full of seeds and ova of species frequenting the aquatic habitat. The collecting of approximately 15 cm of scraped surface sediment to be redeposited in the restored parts, would contribute to the survival of these rare species.

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

The valley bottom is constantly being abused by off-roading motorbikes as one can see from the erosion of footpaths and fresh tyre marks.

One of the shallow dams closest to Fiddien has also been damaged to make easier access.

Modern environment friendly public access gate

So the suggestions for walking trails is another positive approach, especially if these are somewhat raised from the ground, for the convenience of wild fauna.

Furthermore, public access gates can be installed along the way, as a measure for controlling bikes – motor or manual.

I know that if Dr Daniel Micallef, one of the few politicians with environment at heart, could see this, I am sure he would send some people to hell.

The Fiddien box, which was restored during the time when Daniel Micallef was Minister for Education and Environment, has long been vandalised and the heavy water pump has seemingly disappeared – hopefully taken by the Water Services Corporation for safe keeping?

The plans for their restoration and educational use is also another positive step.

The second dam, needing some structural repairs, still contributes its best for the storage of water, before it passes it to Wied tal-Isperanza.

Once restoration works are completed, the valley has to be monitored and managed. Traffic management tops the list.

This will ensure that the number of vehicles frequently jamming the area on public holidays and Sundays will not bring such restoration to naught by their haphazard parking. So it would be beneficial to one and all if the road through the valley is made one way: from Imtarfa to Mosta.

The farming community can have an identification permit displayed on car windscreens, to allow them to use it both ways during working days.

The proof of this EU funded pudding is in the eating.

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/xqed-naghmlu-bl-ilma-tax-xita/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/water-harvesting-culture/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/aghmel-xita-aghmel-2/

 

 

 

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Environmentalists vs government over trees

May 25, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012 

Report: Kristina Chetcuti
Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Environmentalists vs government over trees

The bastions of Mdina seem to be the setting for a battle scene once again. The dissent, this time round, concerns the rehabilitation of the ditch gardens, now being converted into a recreation park, which has left environmentalists very unimpressed.
Until recently, the Mdina ditch was an underutilised ground that was inaccessible to the public, which the Rural Affairs Ministry has tried to change. However, the plan has failed to convince some people.
“This is the work of architects with no background in environmental management. This is vandalism,” said Alfred E. Baldacchino, former assistant director at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.
The work includes the uprooting of more than 270 citrus trees lining the bastion walls. About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.
“This is not the right time for uprooting. We are in spring, blossoming time. It is a trauma for the trees. There is no guarantee they will survive,” said Mr Baldacchino.
Similarly, environmentalist Antonio Anastasi said on Facebook that if the uprooting had to happen, it should have been done without removing all the trees’ foliage.
Mr Baldacchino questioned the reason for moving them only by a couple of metres, calling it a “sheer waste of money”. The estimated value of the project – to be completed this year – is €1,200,000.
On site, a crane was uprooting the trees to loud pumping music.
“Look at that, all the roots of these citrus trees are sawn off with a chainsaw so that they fit in the new hole. They should at least make the hole bigger,” he said.
The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.
A spokesman explained the trees being transplanted to the other side of the counterscarp were being moved to “expose the scale and majesty of the bastions”.
Mr Baldacchino pointed out that citrus trees did not grow tall and could not obstruct the view of the bastions. However, he also
noted that, before being uprooted, the trees were being pruned hastily.


“When you prune, trees ‘weep’. You need to coat them immediately to protect them from insects,” he explained. He also believes that the project does not embrace Maltese biodiversity. “Turf, for example, is not part of the Maltese ecosystem and it’s very expensive to maintain because it needs a lot of watering. We need gardens that highlight the
biodiversity of the place. “Why are we just recreating a Victorian garden?”
The government insists the project includes an “intensive water management exercise” through a water catchment on St Paul’s
bastion. “All the water received during the last year has been diverted toward an existing reservoir in the courtyard of Vilhena Palace,”
a ministry spokesman said.
“This will serve as one of the backup reservoirs for the main reservoir behind the counterscarp in the ditch and may be replenished by bowser during dry seasons.”
The project proposes to collect the greater part of the rainwater run-off in shallow reservoirs that have been creatively designed by taking advantage of the difference in the levels of the grounds.
A Mepa spokesman said all permits were in hand and continuous archaeological monitoring was being carried out during the works.
In the meantime, a petition against the pruning of trees – Save Malta’s Trees – sponsored by columnist Pamela Hansen is doing the rounds online and has already garnered more than 200signatures.

The original article and video in The Times can be seen on:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120525/local/-Battle-scene-at-Mdina-ditch.421226

See more exchange of views on the Save the Tree group on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

Those who want to sign the petititon can do so on:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/629/494/052/save-maltas-trees/

An old legally protected Olive Tree heavily pruned on the 16th May 2012. A few days later it was uprooted and disappeared.

All the old legally protected Oive Trees in the ditch were heavily pruned and a few days later they were uprooted and all disappeared.

Additional comments by A E Baldacchino

• “About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.”
Buskett is small woodland with forest remnants of Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. It has been declared an EU Natura 2000 site following submission by Government. Despite this the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs has been consistently claiming that Buskett is a garden. Buskett is crying for the strengthening of the population of wild trees which once graced this woodland, and which today are on the verge of extinction. Indigenous rare trees which should be planted at Buskett are the Ash, the Bay Tree, Elm, Hawthorn, Mastic Tree, Buckthorn, Poplar, Holm Oak and others. Yet the Minster responsible for landscaping has chosen to plant the uprooted citrus trees from Mdina Ditch at Buskett.
• “The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.”
The dozen or so old established protected Olive trees were first heavily pruned. Then one by one, by the 20th May 2012, they were all uprooted and carried away from the site.

The remains of the grove of citrus trees after a substantial number were uprooted to mke way for a ‘garden’. Part of the ditch opposite the bastions is covered by a beautiful cover of Ivy, providing much needed adequate habitat for local fauna. All the greenery is probably waiting for the chain saw to clear it to make way for a ‘garden’. No details as to the future of such natural habitat are availed.

The out of the way sign showing the financial help received room the European Union with regards to the Mdina project.