Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125

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Let’s hide our face in shame following more information on trees – 2

December 22, 2012

times

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of trees and fortified cities

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Last month was not a good one for trees, not so kindly handled by three contributions to The Times. The director of Mepa’s environment protection directorate was the harbinger (November 13), followed by Mepa board member Giovanni Bonello (November 18), with a past Minister for the Environment completely missing the wood for the trees (November 25).
Bonello’s well-researched, in-depth contribution emphasised the need for better appreciation of fortifications. A very admirable work, though I feel the need to dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
During the Great Siege, the Knights, while defending this barren island, were not in the best of moods to plant trees. It is understandable that paintings of battles do not show any trees in the vicinity of fortifications.
One has to admit that some of the trees, more than 50 years old today, are growing in the vicinity or inside fortifications and some can be of concern. However, one has to accept that such old trees now form part of an ecosystem and one cannot bulldoze the natural heritage to solve an aesthetic problem, creating a more sensitive ecological one.
I would never have planted the Ficus nitida trees in front of the law courts, for example. When the area was dug up, it showed the beautiful hidden magnificent underground arched passages. Today, these accommodate the city’s hidden sewers and priceless, neglected, damaged water cisterns. Some tree roots have also crept in.
Over the years, these trees have become the roost for white wagtails wintering in the Maltese islands. It is an opportunity for a scientific study of such a roost (unless they sought refuge in a walled fortified city for protection). Only a professional plan of action can contribute to a solution, certainly not heavy machinery with men wielding chainsaws. It has to be done gradually with the input of all stakeholders, no matter how “philistine” or “ignoramus” they are in the cultural heritage.
It is indeed surprising how the Ministry for the Environment and its entourage, past and present, are so good at coining adjectives for those who have the environment at heart, the main stakeholders. The November contributions refer to “treehuggers’, “chorus of tree-huggers”, “fifty shades of philistine”, “complete ignoramus on cultural heritage”, “crass ignorance and crasser arrogance of self proclaimed DIY environmentalists”, and “self-anointed custodians of the heritage kingdom”. I know a couple more, not coined this November  (for some other varied coined adjectives please see: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121209/opinion/Trees-and-the-fortifications.448816). If the Ministry for the Environment and its chorus were as good at protecting the environment as they are in coining such adjectives, Malta’s environment would be heaven on earth. Such adjectives, though, are of great satisfaction for environmentalists. Drowning men clutch at straws and shun stakeholders’ altruistic hands.
The strongest points of Bonello’s contribution regarding fortifications make me feel very sad, even though historical fortifications are not my battle horse.
“Nowhere in the world are fortifications more extensive, more impressive, more outstanding than they are in Malta.” “It is to be self-evident, that if a nation has something really precious to boast of, it would want its treasures seen, and seen to their best advantage.” “…people would do their utmost to enhance the visibility of anything inestimable.” “Those who still have them, flaunt them, enhance them, try to squeeze every cent of added value from them.” I feel as strongly as Bonello does regarding such a priceless, unique heritage.
“Over the past two centuries many conspired to debase them.” Yes, not even two World Wars managed to indent such majestic fortifications despite the fact that warfare became much more sophisticated. But after Malta gained independence, the jewel in the crown of our majestic walled fortifications was the first to bite the dust. King Carnival (KC) was helped by Maltese politicians to win the fortified city with just one stroke of a pen! One has to be genuinely demented to inherit the works of the best architect who constructed a monumental façade, and replace it with a garage door to let KC go through without a fight. If only the fortified Valletta gate was hidden behind some trees, KC would not have gone through!

vallettagate

Even the past colonisers realised the importance of Malta’s historical past. When Malta gained Independence in 1964 the responsibility of historical protection passed to Maltese Politicians. It did not take them long to replace this with a garage door (see below)

800px-Valletta_City_Gate

The garage door built  after independence, replacing the Valletta City Gate. It makes it easier for King Carnival with his carnival floats to pass through

A one-in-a-million chance of rehabilitating the fortified Valletta gate was lost when Mepa, the environment watchdog, decided to send such a gate to the photographic album of history, endorsing an €80 million government project.

Borrowing another quote from the learned judge, “Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” Many will walk through such a joke, be they ignoramuses, tree huggers, DIY environmentalists, all shades of philistines, historians, researchers, politicians, clergy or men in the street. It will be the extension of the king carnival joke, with piano music in the background. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

66dfb482b95fc5e5d67279ae159512681882420801-1346759704-5045ec18-360x251

“Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” (Giovanni Bonello). The plans for the City Gate Project approved by MEPA in 2010. Undoubtedly taking in considration that King Carnival can still pass through with ease. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

Who can now dethrone King Carnival from Valletta, the magnificent fortified walled city? If only KC was a tree, the magnificent Valletta’s fortification gate could still be seen!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
Alfred Baldacchino was assistant director responsible for the protection of biodiversity within Mepa.

Original article

Of trees and fortified cities – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121222/opinion/Of-trees-and-fortified-cities.450506

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

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

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121118/life-features/Let-s-hide-the-majestic-bastions.445894


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

 


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.