More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

Rabat Road trees would not survive being transplanted

June 19, 2018

Tuesady, June 19, 2018

Rabat Road trees would not survive being transplanted – expert

Revised plans reduced the number by 60

Keith Micallef

Photo: Chris Sant Fournier (Times of Malta)

Updated 10am – Added PD statement

A biodiversity expert has branded a plan to uproot dozens of trees along the so-called ‘Rabat Road’ the result of an unprecedented “wave of environmental destruction” financed through taxpayers’ money.

Alfred Baldacchino said measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees from Rabat Road and import mature ones were doomed

Alfred Baldacchino said measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees from Rabat Road and import mature ones were doomed.

Alfred Baldacchino also warned that measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees and then import mature ones were doomed to fail.

Mr Baldacchino gave this damning assessment when the Times of Malta sought his views on a controversial €55 million project to upgrade the arterial road from the foot of Saqqajja Hill down to Mrieħel.

The Central Link Project, as it is known, came under a barrage of criticism following a story published last Saturday, which highlighted the large number of mature Aleppo pines facing the axe.

Read: Official promises about Rabat road trees rubbished by eNGO

Despite official Transport Malta plans identifying every tree earmarked for uprooting, the Transport Ministry said this was not the case. In a statement it acknowledged that trees would have to be uprooted and transplanted, but insisted 212 additional trees would be planted.

A few hours after the controversy erupted, a batch of revised plans were uploaded on the Planning Authority’s website. Compared to the original ones, the number of trees identified for uprooting in the stretch of road from Mount Carmel Hospital to the foot of Saqqajja Hill was revised downwards by about 60.

However, no change whatsoever was noted in the rest of the route from Attard to Mrieħel, where another significant number of trees could be uprooted.

In his reaction, Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the Environmental Protection Directorate at the now defunct Malta Environment and Planning Authority, did not mince his words at his disapproval for the uprooting of the mature trees.

“By being given the wrong advice, Transport Minister Ian Borg has been put in an embarrassing situation. Aleppo pine trees cannot be transplanted,” he explained. “Similar trees which were uprooted from Castille Square near the Manuel Dimech monument and transplanted elsewhere – including at the Pietà pinetum – did not survive,” Mr Baldacchino added.

He also pointed out that importing mature trees was another measure doomed to fail and on which the minister has been misadvised.

TIMES TALK: ‘Some trees survived the war, but not this Environment Minister’

“The measure was taken some years ago when the new bus terminus was being constructed, prior to the Arriva takeover. The majority of the imported mature trees died,” he remarked.

“More often than not transplanting and importing mature trees is a waste of energy and money. While each tree costs about €500 to transplant, importing one costs thousands,” he said.

“If such money was used to plant locally grown trees, the result would be much better, given that these would need some years to grow.”

Mr Baldacchino was also in contact with the minister himself in an attempt to draw his attention to the facts.

The former Mepa official summed up his feelings by saying the situation on the environment was of huge concern.

“I have never witnessed such a wave of environmental destruction from taxpayers’ money with the blessing of those who are responsible to safeguard biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino said.

He noted it was also very telling that none of the online petitions to save the trees were coming from the Opposition ranks.

This trend has to stop’ – PD

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the PD noted that Malta’s environmental regulator had turned down just two of 67 applications to uproot trees last year.

The same trend could be seen in the first four months of the year, with 32 ERA approvals and not a single rejection, they said. The information came as a result of parliamentary questions made by PD MP Godfrey Farrugia.

Dr Farrugia and fellow PD MP Marlene Farrugia have asked parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee to review the ERA’s and Plant Protection Directorate’s existing policies and regulations.

“Our country is already arid and we have to preserve what greenery is left, not continue to destroy until no trees are left,” the party sad. “This has become a matter of grave urgency.”

Environment Resource Authority Mission Statement – Alfred E. Baldacchinio

Who we are

The Environment and Resources Authority shall safeguard the environment to achieve a sustainable quality of life. 

Our Mission
“To safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”

Our Goals

“·         To mainstream environmental targets and objectives across Government and society.

·         To take the leading role in advising Government on environmental policy-making at the national level, as well as in the context of international environmental negotiations.

·         To develop evidence-based policy; backed by a robust data gathering structure.

·         To draw up plans, provide a licensing regime and monitor activities having an environmental impact and to integrate environmental considerations within the development control process.”

Our Philosophy 

“As the national regulator on the environment, we shall also maintain consultation with stakeholders so as to promote and instill sound environmental management.”