No future for Maltese trees

June 23, 2020

Monday, 22nd June, 2020

No future for Maltese trees

Alfred E Baldacchino

The feeling that indigenous Maltese trees and biodiversity have no future is increasing from day to day, despite national and international obligations.

There are four ministers who are involved with trees and biodiversity: Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg; Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, and Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia.

A 100 year old indigenous Holm Oak chopped by the Ministry. Could easily have been saved, but it is not an electricity pole.

The minister under whose watch biodiversity loss is increasing by leaps and bounds is without doubt Borg. To add insult to injury the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is importing a number of ‘indigenous’ trees, only for political numerical reasons: planted, some in pots, or distributed to local councils.

No biodiversity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases and the contamination of the local gene pool; just a waste of resources which could be used for the benefit of a new local industry propagating indigenous trees.

The tarmacking and concreting of valley paths, the cosmetic rubble walls, built with EU funds, further add to biodiversity loss.

If there was a reward for a politician who contributed so much to biodiversity loss, the transport minister would win it hands down. History will surely document this.

Ian Borg’s rubble walls: more concrete, iron netting and no ecological niches, so diametric opposite to Legal Notice 169 of 2004. And they are still not covered by a top concrete layering.

The 15-year-old notorious ELC, pocketing €8 million per year, introducing invasive species all over, ignoring the EU Environment Acquis, mutilating a number of street trees, is now under the auspices of the Minister for Tourism. This ministry’s vision on biodiversity is also based on the importation of more trees.

Agriculture Minister Refalo is responsible for the phytosanitary of trees and other flora. There is never a word to protect indigenous trees from risks by importation of so many foreign imports.

No biodivesity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases

Environment Minister Farrugia has the utmost responsibility regarding protection and management of trees and biodiversity.

The protected Elderberry tree left for dying at the Central Link Project, Attard, by Ian Borg’s Ministry, irrispective of ERA conditions or not.

His Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) is the focal point and competent authority of the European Union with regard to biodiversity.

On paper, ERA is very professional and publishes regulations and guidelines on biodiversity to honour EU obligations, and declares Natura 2000 sites, though left unmanaged, such as Buskett. In practice it is almost non-existent. Nobody takes any notice of these. The tree protection regulations and guidelines, and the way trees are being decimated all over the islands, by ERA’s permits or not, are there for one and all to see..

The Environment Ministry dishes out €30,000 to local councils to plant trees. Not a bad idea, but not when lists of imported exotics, some invasive trees are given to choose from, and conditions imposed to plant some in pots, as if to accommodate somebody.

During summer months these can be seen either parched dry, or on the verge of kissing their roots goodbye. In Attard the potted trees have been changed once or more.  The roots and soil in the pots become so hot that it would be a miracle if trees survive.

Ambjent Malta, once in the portfolio of the Environment Ministry, was short-lived.  These had the foresight to start a nursery to propagate Maltese biodiversity. But the change of hands at Castille saw that this was disbanded. The only remnant is the livery on vehicles they used. Ambjent Malta was also supposed to manage Natura 2000 sites.

If the government has the will to honour its electoral manifesto and the European Union Environment Acquis, it would not have fragmented such responsibilities in a way to make nobody accountable.

There is no will, no intention, no desire, no vision, no plan, no sensitivity to rise to such a national socioecological responsibility. Only the dictatorial urge to destroy, for political commercial purposes, some with EU funds.

Financial resources, managed by the environment minister, can contribute to a professional set up to see to the conservation of local biodiversity.

We need to do away with the present scenario where ministers compete with one another on who imports most trees, destroying Maltese indigenous ones in the process.

What future does all this offer to Maltese indigenous trees? No wonder that many are concluding that the government has a road map to make Malta the Easter Island in the Mediterranean!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino, former MEPA Assistant director

 

related articles: 

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More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

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A tree, a Minister and the EU

January 25, 2020

Alfred E Baldacchino

Sunday, 2 February, 2020

Civil society lodged an appeal in the Courts of Justice after the Planning Authority approved (with the help of Environment and Resources Authority)  the Attard Central Link project in July 2019. The development is being funded by national and EU funds.

The court decision is expected on February 14, but Infrastructure Malta, also in the portfolio of Ian Borg, defied everyone and decided to start with the works.

They are demolishing everything in their path: trees, biodiversity, cultivated fields, farmhouses… anything as long as they get things done their own way.

The excavations along the route have almost been completed, irrespective of the fact that the court’s decision has not been taken.

Would one be wrong in saying that this is putting the courts in an embarrassing position, having to decide on something which has almost been completed?

Is this the way that public and European funds are managed to get things done?

Does this ministry believe that there is no-one in government or from civil society who can object to such a dictatorial fashion of getting things done? Does this not give the impression that Infrastructure Malta believes it has more power than a prime minister?

Getting thing done by Infrastructure Malta: unprofessionally uprooting a protected tree

The environmental impact assessment regarding the works – an assessment which was challenged in court – gives an indication of the richness of the biodiversity that would be destroyed by the works.

A call was received on January 21, regarding a rare tree – an elderberry tree – which had been uprooted days previously. This tree is protected by Legal Notice 258 of 2018.

But for Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta this is just another piece of paper they can ignore in getting things done, like they did at Wied Qirda, with many rubble walls, and all those concreted country paths in valleys, naturally using national and EU funds.

Such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister

Considering the complete disregard the Ministry of Infrastructure has for the protection of biodiversity – and considering the impotence of ERA, especially when confronted by this ministry – accompanied by a friend of mine, we decided to save this tree: voluntarily, using our own time and expenses.

So, on January 22, we went on site equipped with two secateurs and took all the possible cuttings from the almost dead tree, thrown and tied by the side of an adjacent field not to interfere with Infrastructure works. It took us two and a half hours to take all cuttings, which once cleaned and processed, would easily contribute to approximately 2,000 cuttings ready for propagation.

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All possible cuttings taken from Infrastructure Malta’s massacre of the protected elderberry tree

Using our own personal car, we filled it with this precious propagation stock and drove to Ambjent Malta, seeking their help to preserve this rare protected species. They willingly obliged, but more help was needed.

The root ball could not be transported in our private car, so we asked for help to transport it for propagation too.

Some telephone calls had to be made to the so-called ‘higher authorities’ to save this important protected tree.

But the effort did save some red faces too, and Ambjent Malta was accompanied to the place where the half-dead tree was lying. It was transported and professionally replanted by Ambjent Malta within a couple of minutes.

Job done. Following the timely, intervention of two volunteers, the protected tree is given a good chance to survive with the help of Ambjent Malta.

Now if two individuals on their own voluntary initiative wanted to save a rare protected tree, why couldn’t Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta do this, considering the millions of public and EU funds they boast they have? They don’t simply because they do not care and do not want to.

Were ERA not so impotent when it comes to Infrastructure Malta, among others, it could easily have saved the tree.

The political, legal and administrative strength of ERA, one would assume, is much stronger than that of two private individuals. So why did they not take any action to save the tree in question? ERA would probably learn about all this destruction of biodiversity from the press.

Cabinet’s responsibility is collective. This means that such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister. Everybody who is not politically convinced that a circle is square is deeply concerned, because the way the Central Link Project is being managed – getting things done irrespective of everything, be it legal, be it administrative, be it the EU, or ignoring all stakeholders – makes a mockery of the new prime minister’s assurances and efforts to address the rule of law and the environment. How is this possible? Strange bedfellows, one would assume.

Good governance relies on the rule of law. There are many who really have the true, unselfish, good of the country at heart, and who are not imbibed with partisan politics. It is just political garbage that is getting things done without any professionalism and bereft of any good governance, using public and EU funds for such environmental destruction.

Getting things done because I say so can easily mean ‘I came, I saw, I destroyed’.

The European Union should make it a point that when it gives funds to any country, not least Malta, it should ensure that this is not used to destroy biodiversity in violation of its very own environment acquis.

Indeed, some do need to have wings clipped.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Mark Anthony Falzon is not appearing this week.

related articles:

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/the-architect-the-judge-the-house-and-the-illegal-driveway.686056

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/workers-at-wied-qirda-ignore-regulators-orders-to-stop.750328

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’


The environmental destruction of Malta

November 19, 2019

Tuesday, 19th November 2019

The environmental destruction of Malta

Alfred E. Baldacchino

How to destroy a valley with EU funds.

The recent destruction at Wied Qirda by Infrastructure Malta is no surprise at all. Environment destruction has become synonymous with the agency in the ministry of Ian Borg.

This long wave of destruction is endless. Thousands of public trees (even the ministry has lost count of numbers) and the destruction of national biodiversity seem to be part of their interpretation of their mission statement, “to ensure [public   infrastructure] can sustainably and dynamically support the country’s current and future economic, environmental and social development”.

Concreting a valley bottom at Wied l-Isqof by Infrastructure Malta

Destruction of trees by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof.

The covering with concrete/tarmac of valley paths at Wied l-Isqof, Rabat, Wied Ħesri, il-Lunzjata limits of Rabat, Imselliet, Wied is-Sewda, Wied Qirda and a number of valleys in Gozo, among others, means all have suffered extensive environmental damage.

Destroying old traditional rubble walls, replacing them with large franka stone blocks cladded with used building stones to give the impression that they are ħitan tax-xulliel is another contribution, while covering such new walls with concrete further renders them useless as an ecological habitat.

These can be seen at Buqana l/o Rabat, San Ġwann, Bir id-Deheb, Żejtun, everywhere where one can see a bulldozer paid for by the ministry with EU funds.

Such environmental destruction does not help any minister, especially one who is aspiring to climb the hierarchy in his political party.

Destruction of biodiversity at il-Lunzjata by Infrastructure Malta “in the name of farmers”.

Large franka blocks, cladded with used building stone, with a concrete top layer. Infrastructure Malta refer to these as ‘new rubble walls’.

Standard replies from Infrastructure Malta are nothing but puerile, devoid of any biodiversity protection and sustainability concepts. Who can believe IM today except those who are politically convinced that a circle is square? Even the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is not always consulted.

One cannot help but think that this is the dictatorial fashion in which IM are spending EU funds, ignoring any suggestions, criticism and appeals by stakeholders.

The Central Link Project is another case where stakeholders are going to court regarding the way decisions have been taken without adequate consultation.

It is only natural that one asks the European Union if it can stop such destruction of priceless biodiversity in our small island, which is being financed by their funds.

It would also be helpful if European Union representatives come to see the works being done and not only meet officials behind closed doors but also meet the stakeholders, who are  ignored and not consulted.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment cannot stand by and stare at such destruction

Butchered trees at Santa Lucia where a journalist was threatened – 04.08.2019. 

The usual lame excuse by the ministry, that such destruction in valleys and country paths is to accommodate farmers, is indeed hilarious. To the extent that such valley roads are being tarmacked in lieu of potholed secondary streets in towns and villages, unless of course IM believes that there are no such roads to address.

The desperate position of Infrastructure Malta reached culmination point when it stated Wied Qirda was being tarmacked in an area which has for the last two years been earmarked for expropriation.

Works by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof concreting valley paths and dislodging rubble walls “in the interest of farmers”.

Are we expected to applaud such ‘good governance’: tarmacking a private valley path which has as yet to be expropriated?

The news that the ministry of Ian Borg will also take over Ta’ Qali to transform it into a national park makes many hold their breath.

The mentality, lack of vision on biodiversity and approach of destroying the natural environment by this ministry’s agency cannot but lead to another environmental disaster, funded by the EU.

About 8 indigenous Holm Oak trees eradicated from Balzan valley, near Lija Cemetery, to widen the road. Works done by Infrastructure Malta.

The importation of trees grown in different habitats overseas, even if they are indigenous, to be planted as new trees or to replace mature ones would only please the chosen ‘landscaper’ or his representative.

For the record, “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed a tribunal’s (The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal) decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court” for ordering the ministry to make available the public contract between government and ELC. Another official stand by this ministry against freedom of information on environmental matters.

One would be justified to ask what minister Borg is trying to achieve?

With his Infrastructure Malta at the helm of such destructive projects, he stands to lose not only his environmental credibility, if there is anything left to lose, but also his approach at handling, implementing and ensuring “sustainably and dynamically support the ongoing optimisation of the road network”.

Work is being executed by unprofessional personnel, who cannot see any light towards the need of the professional use, management and protection of biodiversity in a sustainable way, but blindfoldedly bulldoze over all stakeholders.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment, which has been loaned to us by future generations, cannot stand by and stare at such destruction.

Not everybody has a square-circled mentality in this country, and there are many conscientious people too in the party to which Minister Borg belongs.

Who would have thought that an old friend of mine with whom environmental matters were discussed would today be opposing such noble environmental principles?

It is important that future generations will know who was at the helm of such environmental destruction with the help of EU funds. Funds which could have been better used in a sustainable way for the benefit of society and the environment.

The legacy of environmental devastation, left by Infrastructure Malta, is there for one and all to see. Wied Qirda is another such legacy in their long list.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles:

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/the-architect-the-judge-the-house-and-the-illegal-driveway.686056

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/workers-at-wied-qirda-ignore-regulators-orders-to-stop.750328

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’

 


Environment Landscaping Conundrum

September 10, 2019

The environment landscaping problem

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

One of the environmental legacies from such ‘landscaping’ “secret contract” – the ubiquitous invasive fountain grass.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) report of September 2017, “landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership” was a matter for which an agreement was entered into on October 31, 2002 between the government (Ministry of Finance) and the Environment Landscaping Consortium (ELC) “for managing government resources, which were made at its disposal to deliver the landscaping projects in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated in the agreement.”

This agreement “was not derived through competitive tendering procedures” but awarded “through direct negotiations with ELC following a call for an expression of interest.”

The government further opted to extend this contract twice, namely in 2007 and 2012 through two direct orders which “also deviate from the spirit of competition promoted by the Public Procurement Regulations where it is stipulated that material contacts are to be subject to a European Union wide call for tenders”.

According to the NAO, “the contractual rates negotiated are not favourable to the government” because of such procedures.

This contract expires at the end of 2019, having to date received from the government approximately €8 million per year (that is, €136 million in total).

The NAO report goes into detail about the contractual deficiencies of this agreement. Amongst these, the report outlined how the parties’ documents did not reconcile on various aspects of service delivery. It noted that the Project Management Committee was non-functioning and that there was non-receipt of a number of reports, particularly the quarterly management accounts, which “constitutes a contractual breach”.

The report noted the use of pesticides at Buskett Gardens’ orchards despite the restrictions within an EU Natura 2000 site, and also how documentation relating to a detailed survey of the sites could not be traced by the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The NAO also outlined how work was carried out without any authorisation and that work on four projects, which had to be completed by 2017 and which were to be carried out by the contractor at no additional cost to the government, had not yet commenced.

There was mention of how the government had not kept abreast on the status of the contractual clause needing to be fulfilled whereby the government had agreed to finance an in-house training course for students following horticulture studies at MCAST. There was also mention of the government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input, which was not conducive to a balanced partnership.

The report noted how the contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities and that the operational and financial information gaps were not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement. It went on to note: “The contractor’s non-compliance remains evident on a number of issues.

In some cases, deviations from contractual clauses that date back to 2002 impact negatively on the government’s direct and broader interests.”

Bad planning, wrong use and waste of scarce water resources.                    Photo A E Baldacchino 2011.07.01.

The NAO report refers only to the financial and commercial aspects of this PPP contract. The national and EU obligations with regards to biodiversity are not entered into.

A copy of this public agreement was requested on June 23, 2015. This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, as was the subsequent appeal dated August 13, 2015.A request was filed with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner on August 19, 2015. The Commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 considered “that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.”

 

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum

 

The Commissioner’s decision went on to say that, hence, “in the spirit of transparency and accountability as contemplated by the Act, the MTI [Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure] is instructed to accede to Mr Baldacchino’s request by not later than twenty-five (25) working days from the receipt of this decision”.

Following this ruling, an appeal was lodged by the said Ministry to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (14.09.2107) waived the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection ruling (19.01.2016), and ordered that a copy of the agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2002 should be given to the applicant.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal in its ruling (27/2016) concluded, amongst other things, that “in the said agreement, there is no information of a commercial nature that cannot be made public and that in terms of article 35(2) of the said Act, it is in the public interest that such an agreement be made public.”

The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure was unhappy with this ruling. An email from the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government in October 2017 subsequently explained: “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed the Tribunal’s decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court”, arguing that the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Data should be declared “null and void”.

maintenance of public gardens –  pruning agony.

Judgement had to be reached by December 2017, but the sitting has been postponed and postponed again. The decision is still pending.

Considering the Freedom of Information Act (Chap. 496 of the Laws of Malta) and considering that, as a member of the European Union and also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention (Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), one would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But after four years from the initial request for a copy of this agreement, such a contract is still not publicly available.

One would have thought that the ELC – the government’s private partner – would be proud to inform everyone how they utilised the €136 million from public funds in relation to their contractual obligations.

The NAO’s report (page 55) concludes: “Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, the government’s position shifted from one where action could be initiated to dissolve this PPP Agreement, to one where prolonged weak enforcement implied tacit consent”.

 

The Fountain grass will long be remembered after the demise of the ELC.  It will be up top the social, financial and ecological expenses to control and manage such an EU listed invasive species used in local ‘landscaping’.

The Ministry for Finance has opted for the second position and continued to vote €8 million per annum. What will be the stand taken by the Ministry of Finance vis-à-vis the coming budget with regards to this ‘secret agreement’? Hopefully the Ministry for the Environment, who is now responsible for this ‘secret contract’, will put its foot down.

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

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updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 


“For our trees”

July 30, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Sunday, 28th July 2019, saw a strong determined crowd (2000 +/-) show their disappointment, disagreement and anger towards the recently approved Attard Central Link Project, a projects funded by EU funds.

Individuals from all levels of primary, secondary and tertiary education, young and old, from all walks of life, attended for this symbolic protest, expressing their concerns about the destruction of trees and other biodiversity, and other negative impacts this project will be having on the social, environmental and ecological fabric of the area, with far reaching consequences.

Some tied themselves to the trees adorning the Rabat Road, trees which are not necessarily earmarked for destruction, but nonetheless representing the 500+ trees officially granted a permit by ERA to be removed, transplanted or destroyed.

Congratulations for the 19-year-old Sasha Vella and friends, who organised such activity, despite “pitiful attempts by partisan forces” to undermine their work. It was indeed encouraging to see so many youths and others so concerned about our environment. No wonder Sasha Vella was over-whelmed by the response.

Congratulations also to all those who turned up to encourage and support such a voice for the environment.

The following are some of the posters and messages which were used for this activity for our trees. It definitely show that there is a voice, getting stronger, which is being professionally, sincerely, without any political influence, used to show the stand being taken for our environment in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

related article:

Environment hit by EU funds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Environment hit by EU funds

July 27, 2019

Saturday, 27th July, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.

There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.

The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.

Here is a résumé of the questions:

Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.

There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.

There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.

The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.

Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).

Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.

There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.

Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely be­yond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?

None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to bene­fit from this EU-funded project.

None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Im­pact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.

He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.

In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.

This trophy was first awarded to MEPA in 2015. Despite the fact that the year 2019 is not yet out, this has been awarded to the Planning Authority and the Infrastructure Malta for the environmental devastation that they are involved in.

 

So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction

The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.

With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.

Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.

This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.

All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.

The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.

How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.

Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.

If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.

ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.

On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.

Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


Dwejra: Tribunal dazzled by delight

July 8, 2019

 

Monday, 8th July 2019

Alfred Baldacchino

A recent decision by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has overturned a Planning Authority decision, ordering it to approve a permit for the extension of a restaurant, the installation of light and increasing the number of tables and chairs in an EU Natura 2000 site in Dwejra.

Without any doubt, this throws a lot of light on the official political disrespect, disinterest, exploitation and disregard for the environment as well as national and international legislation.

Dwejra is a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation with regard to biodiversity, in line with the Birds and Habitat Directives. It is part of the EU Natura 2000 network because of its importance to the EU.

The Malta Environment and Resources Authority is the responsible competent authority recognised by the EU. Competent national authorities are those entitled to give authorisation or consent to a plan or project in Natura 2000 sites.

 

Dwejra is the best remaining site on the islands for astronomical observations. Photo provided by the Physics Department and the Institute for Astronomy and Space Sciences

Dwejra is also designated as a ‘dark sky heritage area’ in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Article 6 of the EU Habitat Directive can be regarded as a key framework for giving effect to the principle of integration with regard to the management of the protected areas in a sustainable way and sets the limits of activities that can impact negatively on protected areas.

In an international context, Article 6 also helps to achieve the aims of relevant international nature conservation conventions such as the Berne Convention and the Biodiversity Convention (Malta is a party to both), while at the same time creating a more detailed framework for site conservation and protection than these conventions themselves do.

Where assessment is required by Article 6 (3) it takes the form of an assessment under Directive 85/337/EEC (on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment), where public consultation is necessary.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the possible longer-term implications of the Aarhus Convention, which emphasises the importance of public consultation in relation to environmental decision-making.

According to Habitat Directive’s article 6 (2) “any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level

“In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of the Habitat Directive (para 4), the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”

An EU Commission publication dated 2000, Managing Natura 2000 Sites – The provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE, explains that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, (like Dwejra) the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbances of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this directive”.

The article also states that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration… as well as disturbances…” of species and habitats for which the sites have been designated and should also be implemented if necessary outside the sites. (Article 6 (2)).

Disturbances include, among others, noise and source of light.

The intensity, duration and frequency of repetition of disturbance are, therefore, important parameters and can be regarded as a significant disturbance.

Even a plan or project that includes conservation management among its objectives may still require assessment.

Although the management plan for Dwejra has long been drawn up with the help of EU funds, and approved by the EU, it is still gathering dust on the ministry’s bookshelf.

There is still no administrative set-up for its implementation, enforcement, management, administration, education and no stakeholders are involved, as obliged by the management plan.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level. Can the ERA contest such a decision in court, especially when the Minister for the Environment has publicly stated that he does not agree with this permit? If not, does this decision mean the ERA is impotent as a competent authority responsible for EU obligations when confronted by such a tribunal?

Do the citizens have to refer the matter to the EU to achieve what the ERA should be on the front line defending on their behalf?

This is definitely another decision reached by hand-picked political academics,whose short-sighted decision embarrassed Malta with regard to its international obligations.

If such a tribunal is independent, then the responsibility has to be carried by those people involved in such a decision and who have completely ignored and defied the decision made by two national competent authorities and also the public with great political and environmental consequences.

It is high time the EU DG Environment investigates how Natura 2000 sites in Malta are being brought to disrepute.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

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

related articles:

Dwejra: Gone with the wind

A window pain for sure

Sifting solidified sand at Dwejra

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

March 4, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Monday, 4th March, 2019

Having received a number of photos from many environmental friends, I paid a visit to Wied l-Isqof, yesterday, Sunday 3rd March 2019 to see for myself what is being done.

The photos taken shows the great irresponsibility in the work being supported, and financed by the Ministry for Transport. To the extent that now I regard biodiversity destruction in the Maltese Islands as synonymous with the works undertaken by this Ministry (also keeping in mind that the Planning Authority is also in the portfolio of this Minsiter)

Following a lengthy exchange of emails with officials of the Ministry for Transport, all I could get from them is an apologetic reply:

Grazzi hafna tal-email tieghek u kif ghidtlek f’korrospondenza precedenti u anki meta ltqajna fil-passat, it-tnejn li ahna nixtiequ l-gid tal-bdiewa taghna li b’tant dedikazzjoni jiehdu hsieb l-ucuh tal-ghelieqi fil-pajjiz, xi haga li hija mportanti ghal biodiversità. 

Fuq sigar, sfortunatament dawn tqacctu bil-maltemp imma ser inkunu qed inhawlu sigar indigeni kid tajjeb irtakomandajtilna int f’rapporti li kkumissjonajnik biex taghmel ghalina.

 Meaning: Many thanks for your email and as I told you before in previous correspondence, even when we met in the past, both of us have the interest of  our farmers, who with so much dedication cultivate their fields in the country, something, which is important for biodiversity.

With regards to trees, unfortunately these were damaged by the storm, but we are going to plant indigenous trees as you so rightly recommended in your reports which we have commissioned you to compile for us.

NO,  definitely not, this is not in the interest of the farmers. They will have to pay a heavy price because of such works. And there were other suggestions in the reports mention. Works being undertaken are diametrically opposite to the recommendations made.

 Furthermore information forwarded by me to the Ministry for Transport, and others, have all been ignored, , which leads me to conclude that they are reluctant to stop the destruction being done:

  • the country paths in valleys are being turned into highways ;
  • some areas in the valleys seem more like urban squares – big enough to hold political or public meetings.
  • the complete destruction of vegetation and other fauna in the pathways have all been destroyed;
  • the concrete paths made are, in some places, lower than the foundation of the rubble walls. These will eventually all collapse;
  • The valley bed has been reduced to a gutter, with a four-lane concrete road taking its place;
  • European Union money is being used for this destruction of biodiversity. Something which the EU is, not only against, but has a program to conserve biodiversity by 2020.
  • It is not true that the trees at Wied l-Isqof were damaged by the latest strong winds, but by the irresistible chainsaws paid for by the Ministry for Transport.

All these are, according to the Ministry for Transport, in ‘the interest of our farmers’. NO this is not in the interest of our farmers as far as I am concerned. They will have to pay dearly for such mismanagement of the environment.  Most of the works can be done with more thought, more professionalism, and more attention to local and international obligations. But it seems this is not in the interest of the Ministry for Transport. It seems that they are having more fun in such destruction, and how they are spending the EU money, despite the public outcry and criticism of such destruction so loud on social media.

I believe that this follows the complete failure in managing transport by the Ministry for Transport who are now turning to exploit every country path, in ’the name of farmers’ to widen and give it a fresh covering of concrete so that it can be used as a by-pass for traffic. Naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

This is being done in a number of valleys both in Malta and in Gozo.

Hope I won’t be disturbing the Environment and Resources Authority, but can they intervene please to stop such destruction of our biodiversity?

Some of the photos taken yesterday, of the works blessed, authorised and paid for by the Ministry of Transport, from public and EU funds, naturally for the ‘benefit of farmers’

rubble wall foundation exposed – naturally in the farmers’ interests

Valley bed filled in. No problem it is only destroying biodiversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More effects of the strong winds? Why not tell this to the marines?

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the benefit of our farmers: a four-lane concrete road in the valley bottom!

 

The valley bed reduced to a gutter to make way for a four-lanes concrete road.

More destruction of the valley bed, naturally ‘for the benefit of farmers’ too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice farmers, rejoice. This is all being done in your name. You can now also race your pickup trucks without any fear of having them scratched. Rejoice.

Future Ministers will have to apply for EU funds to restore collapsed rubble walls which collapsed through the help of EU funds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A country path for the benefit of our farmers! It has to be the Ministry for Transport to come up with such a vision, naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

 

Will we be having horse racing in this country path built for the benefit of farmers, and also to accommodate the former too?

Ministry officials ‘experts’ say that this tree was damaged by the strong winds. The winds must have been carrying chainsaws to achieve this. And the winds must have been God sent to eliminate the tree which was obstructing the country path!


Overshoot-and-collapse

October 16, 2018

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Local mass media daily carry news of an alarming increase in traffic accidents, some with loss of life; injuries and deaths in the neck-breaking rush of the construction industry; the alarming increase in criminal activities, some leading to manslaughter and even murder; already seven in less than nine months.

Not necessarily hitting the headlines are the number of physical and psychological impacts on both the old and young population, especially children.

“A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken,” said one of the government’s last two electoral manifestos. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Unless the socio-ecological fabric of our country walks hand in hand with the economic factor, the former will have to pay externalities – the hidden costs – of short-sighted commercial decisions. The latter are putting the carrying capacity of our country under heavy pressure.

The overshooting of the carrying capacity was emphatically stressed by a pro-rector at the University, jokingly or not, saying that the government should consider buying Pantalleria.

Any sociologist qualified in population dynamics and population ecology can easily expound on the naturally occurring negative impacts of an over-populated affluent society, now rumoured to double.

The carrying capacity of a country is the number of people, animals or crops, which a region can support without environmental (social and ecological) degradation. When population exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of its environment, it leads to an ‘overshoot’. The environment usually has mechanisms in place to prevent such overshoot – often referred to as ‘overshoot-and-collapse’.

A country’s biocapacity deficit increases as either its population or its per capita consumption grows: faster if both grow. Decline is then faster than growth leading to social and ecological dysfunction.

The biocapacity or biological capacity of an ecosystem is an estimate of its production of certain biological materials, such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the ecological footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the environment it lives in, this can be called an ‘ecological overshoot’.

I tend to believe that this is not the government’s intention, though I am afraid I cannot see any official measures in place to prevent this – not even from the handpicked Planning Authority or the Environment and Resources Authority. It would be a great injustice to our younger and future generations if they find themselves in this cul de sac.

The accelerating mismanagement of the socio-ecological fabric is contributing to such overshoot-and-collapse. This can be gathered from the decimation, with official consent, of biodiversity: land, ecosystem, air and water resources. The lack of enforcement of the national and international obligations, including those of the EU, make it seem as if these, as well as official authorities referred to, exist only on paper.

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future through good governance in the light of such principles; but it gives me great heartaches when I remember such signed commitments. Allow me to quote some:

“Social justice also means environmental justice. It means clean air. It means that everybody has a right to live without fear in our country and feel safe. Social justice means the creation of a society which thinks about everybody. These are the foundation of what we believe in” (forward to Labour Electoral Manifesto 2017).

“Environmental protection will be given priority and weight in all major Government decisions” (page 117).

“Protection of outside development zones will be strengthened. A new government led by Joseph Muscat will be committed that no major public project will be constructed in ODZ” (page 117).

“We believe that Malta should be in the front line in environmental standards. Not because of the obligations of European directives, but because this is what our children deserve” (2013, page 93).

“A new government will take more seriously and with greater commitment environmental matters. We are going to work with determination so that the lost time will be regained, aware that there are difficult decisions to be taken, among which is the reform of Mepa, from its roots. We are going to take this measure in the environmental interest of our country so that we will be in a better position to address the challenges” (2013, page 93).

“A better environment leads to better health. A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken. Our aim is that we will make our country one of the best in air quality; water conservation; waste management; drainage treatment; and other related fields. Therefore, a new government commits itself to better considerably these fields, to ensure a better environmental heritage to our children” (2013, page 96).

“We will focus with more professionality on the protection of biodiversity and natural species in our country, while we will ensure honouring all the obligations of our country for the protection of biodiversity” (2013, page 100).

“A new government acknowledges and recognises the professional work and the professionals in the environmental field. Therefore, we will create a structure which recognises and better leads the professions in this field, while encouraging more professional specialisation (2013, page 101).

“Environment will be given the priority it deserves and this will be incorporated with that of the present Resource Authority and so establish the Environment and Resource Authority, which will be more proactive and strategic and which will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection of the environment and resources, while also assuming the important role of an environmental regulator which presently our country does not have” (2013, page 94).

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future

These are all commendable, noble commitments, with which I fully agree. I have been working for the best part of my life towards such aims, because I love my country, its people and its environment. So, I feel it is my obligation and my responsibility to say that the way official decisions are presently being taken and implemented are diametrically opposite to such commitments – commitments which our country not only deserves, but also demands. The government is responsible to implement such commitments. Unfortunately, I cannot see any, not even in their embryonic stage.

I also remember a circular e-mail (February 20, 2013) titled “Your priorities are our priorities” from Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, confirming that: “I will be personally accountable for delivery.”

Regrettably, with hindsight, I would not be surprised if I am laughed off, or told that these are now past the best-before date.

The people of Malta, irrespective of their political beliefs, deserve to feel confident of a better, safer, peaceful, healthier, common future, living in a healthy environment, as after all has been officially promised.

Science never lies. So would I be expecting too much if I say that I am eagerly looking forward to immediate action, in the interest of the young and future generation, who have lent this country to us? I am sure that anybody with a genuine socialist background not only would agree with these principles and commitments, but would also take immediate measures to implement them. Not so if one is blinded by the capitalist system. Unless of course, I am corrected again.

“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave,”  said Tavis Smiley, the American talk-show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Tree protection laws ‘pruned for developers’

June 1, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ivan Martin

Robust laws protecting trees were “pruned” years ago and fresh efforts by this government to revive them left a lot to be desired, a veteran environmental expert told the Times of Malta.

“It is obvious trees are seen as an obstacle to development and roadworks. Why else would this administration be taking so long to reverse a decision, made by their predecessors, if not to continue facilitating construction,” the former deputy director at the environment protection directorate, Alfred Baldacchino, said.

Conservationists on Tuesday called for an investigation into the needless “massacre” of trees in various localities, saying the laws had to be bolstered.

A number of trees – some of them landmarks – were removed from urban areas over the past weeks, including 14 mulberry trees in Victoria, a Holm oak tree just outside the Upper Barrakka, in Valletta, and the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija.

Mr Baldacchino said the scaling back of the protective status enjoyed by various tree species had started as a result of pressure on successive administrations by the construction and roadworks lobbies.

He was among the officials responsible for drafting the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations back in 2001. This included a list of about 54 species that could not be removed.

Mr Baldacchino said that although the original law contained loopholes that allowed protected trees to be uprooted or chopped down if special permission was obtained, the authorities still came under pressure from “certain interests” to amend the law.

“Eventually, the government gave in and, in 2011, the law I had drafted was amended. I protested at the decision but, ultimately, this is what happened,” Mr Baldacchino recalled.

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27 and some clauses were reworded. A section of the original law, protecting “all trees older than 50 years” irrespective of whether they were on the protected list or not, was removed entirely.

The government last February announced plans to review the laws protecting trees and woodlands, however, although a public consultation period closed in March, Mr Baldacchino pointed out there was still no word on when the reformed law would be enacted.

“This is what happens in this country, we drag our feet and, in the meantime, old trees are cut down to make way for slightly wider roads or someone else wanting to enlarge a garage,” Mr Baldacchino said.

The remains of the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

New regulations on the protection of trees would be submitted to the Cabinet in the coming weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, sources at the Environment and Resources Authority said complaints on the cutting down of trees had been received in recent weeks and a meeting on the matter was scheduled to be held in the next few days.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Some photographic evidence of recently destroyed trees 

The iconic 300 year old carob tree at Lija. According to comments by the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, this tree was not protected. So it was chopped down to make way for a garage.

 

This historic tree Holm Oak indigenous Maltese tree, at the entrance of the Upper Barrakka gardens, adjacent to the Office of the Prime Minster, had withstood World War II, but did not withstand the decision of the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees. It was chopped and destroyed during the silent hours of the night.

In a statement, the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, said that “the tree had been sick and deteriorating fast, especially following strong winds in the past weeks” (sic.). (TOM, May 30, 2018).

A line of eight old Holm Oaks at Lija, including one 100 years old, were all chopped down after the Minster for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, confirmed that these trees were not protected.

 

 

After my attention was drawn by the public to this cypress tree which was damaged by winds, I drew the attention of the Environment and Resource Authority, in the Ministry for the Environment, so that measures could be taken to save the tree. The now short standard reply from the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, was: “Ġentilment ninfurmak li s-siġra taċ-Ċipress f’Santa Venera mhix protetta u għaldaqstant ma tirrikjedix permess.”  (We would like to kindly inform you that the Cypress tree in Santa Venera is not protected, and as such it does not need any permit).!!

A tamarix tree on the Sliema promenade disappeared during the night. No comments from the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees, except that government workers were seem on the following morning clearing up the mess.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

 

other related articles:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/trees-hit-headlines/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/lija-tree-felling-a-result-of-jose-herreras-failure-environmentalist-says-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/lija-tree-felling-a-result-of-jose-herreras-failure-environmentalist-says/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/our-landscaping-needs-professional-updating/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/lija-oak-cemetery/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/there-is-no-respite-for-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/destroying-trees-to-make-way-for-cars-is-a-big-mistake/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/


EU funds endanger Buskett N2K site

May 13, 2017

Saturday, 13th May, 2017

Endangering Buskett 
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is a Tree Protection Area, with some trees protected for their antiquity, a scheduled woodland, an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, a Site of European Importance, a Special Area of Conservation, a Bird Protection Area, and above all an EU Natura 2000 site.

The remains of an Ash Tree, after being handled by a Landscaper, in the Natura 2000 Buskett.

Yet, to date Buskett has never been professionally managed, especially on the lines of EU obligations. Never. There is absolutely no will, no vision, and no professional commitment. To the extent that a past environment minister was made to believe that Buskett is a garden. There were plans to transform this important ecological habitat into a ‘quality garden’ on the lines eventually implemented at the Mdina Ditch.

One would have thought that this was just a political flash in the pan by a gullible politician who was taken in by those with commercial interests. But to this day, professional environmental responsibilities still have not reached the level of Cabinet’s political acumen.

The only type of management approved by the Authority for the Protection of the Environment is the chopping down of protected trees, such as this one in Buskett – A Natura 2000 site.

As an EU member, Malta had to have management plans implemented for all Natura 2000 sites by six years after accession. This deadline was not met.

Following public consultations, later approved by the government, and boasted about by the incumbent Minister for the Environment, management plans are not yet implemented, and it seems they will never be.

A recent visit to Buskett revealed the complete political failure, lack of professionalism and irresponsibility with regards to the management of this important EU Natura 2000 site.

Clearance of important natural habitat in a Natura 2000 site to restore of a rubble wall.

An extensive area of maquis was recklessly bulldozed and obliterated to enable the restoration of a rubble wall. While the restoration of rubble walls is necessary, and those in hand are being professionally built, this can never justify the massacre of flora and fauna: habitat and species of European importance.

The rich maquis habitat as it was before it was bulldozed with the blessing of the Ministry for the Environment.

I wandered around Buskett and I could see piles of earth and stones dumped on sensitive habitats: habitats important for rare and endangered species, all listed in the data sheets sent to the EU to justify the importance of such a Special Area of Conservation of European Interest.

A butchered Ash Tree where, a couple of weeks before, I was photographing its new seeds.

Piles of stones and earth dumped on sensitive habitat in this EU Natura 2000 site.

It is heartbreaking to see two protected and rare hawthorn trees that were chopped from ground level to make way for machinery, earth and stone dumping. A rare protected ash tree was heavily butchered.

Unfortunately European Union funds are being mismanaged, endangering an important sensitive habitat which according to EU legislation, the Minister for the Environment is obliged to protect on behalf of Malta and the EU.

According to the EU Habitats Directive (article 6.3), an appropriate assessment has to be drawn up for any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site, but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective.

The national competent authority for the EU Habitats Directive (the Environment and Resource Authority – ERA) shall eventually endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. ERA is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the general public.

Two mature protected hawthorn trees in this Natura 2000 site, 2.5 metres high, were raised to the ground seemingly by the approval of the Ministry for the Environment and ERA 

Can the minister publish the appropriate assessment made (naturally if it has been done), which enabled the ERA board to approve such works in this important Natura 2000 site?

If not available, then ERA approved such works blindfolded, which is very irresponsible, or else the ministry is in complete darkness of its responsibility, and its personnel is on a wild unmonitored spree to obliterate a delicate natural habitat just to restore a rubble wall. Ironically, posters at Buskett advertise these works as an EU-funded Life Saving Project.

It seems that following the acquiring of EU funds, the most important thing is to nail a poster acknowledging EU. How these funds are spent, and whether they are in line with the obligations of the EU Environment Acquis, is not important, not even to the Ministry.

Considering the fact that the minister’s Environment and Resource Authority board is made up of the cream of the crop of Maltese academics, such officially approved ecological damage with EU funds is worse than one can image, both from a professional, an administrative and a political point of view.

60 mature olive trees were chopped down by the approval and financing of the University of Malta, following populist demands. So if it can be done on the University campus, why not on public land?

It reminds me of the massacre of 60 established olive trees on the university campus, where no one batted an eye. We now have to suffer this ecological destruction in a Special Area of Conservation of national and European importance. Seems that academic qualifications today at best are of secondary importance when one sits on a political board.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications, approved not only by politicians but also by the top academic institution of this unfortunate country that seems to sit and tacitly approve?

This is a glaring declaration of total failure of the ministry’s obligations with regards to the protection of the environment. It seems that the latest environment ministers, one from either side of the local political hegemony, are competing among themselves as to who is the most committed to the destruction of biodiversity.

It would do no harm to remind, once again, the environmental promise contained in the 2013 electoral manifesto:

“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.”

A visit to Buskett where this EU Natura 2000 site is being endangered by EU funds, shows not only how an environmental regulator did never exist in the past, but also how the present one is working diametrically opposite to what has been promised and contrary to national and international obligations. Not only is it not functioning, but it is officially involved in such ecological damage.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications?

The minister has gone on record as saying that he has a “sound environmental policy”. Buskett Natura 2000 site, shows the lack of a will to protect biodiversity, as promised, all the result of such a “sound environmental policy”.

 

The result of the ‘sound environmental policy’ with which some are very proud.  Seeing all the above official ecological damage, this is the best diplomacy I could manage. And I am sure there are many others who feel the way I do.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

see also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/another-buskett-onslaught/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/buskett-%e2%80%93-a-special-area-of-conservation-in-the-eu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/il-buskett/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/a-cash-cow-in-the-ditch/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-garden-at-mdina-ditch-officially-inaugurated/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/


EU to vote on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

February 22, 2017

EU to vote on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Wednesday, 22nd February, 2017

The European Commission’s legal act (fourth update) on the draft EDC (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) criteria proposal is to be discussed on the 28th of February by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF), section phytopharmaceuticals.

Human exposure to EDCs occurs via ingestion of food, dust and water, via inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and through the skin. EDCs can also be transferred from the pregnant woman to the developing fetus or child through the placenta and breast milk. Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable populations to be affected by developmental exposures, and the effect of exposures to EDCs may not become evident until later in life. Research also shows that it may increase the susceptibility to non-communicable diseases.

maxresdefaultEndocrinologists are at the core of solving the most pressing health problems of our time, from diabetes and obesity to infertility, bone health, and hormone-related cancers. The Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization of scientists devoted to hormone research and physicians who care for people with hormone-related conditions.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that, can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

The Endocrine Society has issued a press release dated 14th February, 2017, expressing disappointment in the European Commission’s revised proposal on defining and identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), citing unnecessarily narrow criteria for identifying EDCs that will make it nearly impossible for regulatory agencies to meet the unrealistically high burden of proof and protect the public from dangerous chemicals.

The Society opposes this European Commission’s proposal because it includes broad exemptions that ignore the ability of a chemical to interfere with the endocrine system. The Commission has only presented the criteria amendment for discussion. Since the “negligible risk” derogation amendment will have significant impact on how many endocrine disrupting pesticides will be banned, the two proposals should be discussed together.

More than 1,300 studies have found connections between endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) exposure and serious health conditions such as infertility, diabetes, obesity, hormone-related cancers and neurological disorders, according to the Endocrine Society’s 2015 Scientific Statement.

Enforcement of these regulations requires the European Commission to propose criteria to identify EDCs. The latest proposal from the European Commission does not include categories for identifying EDCs.

facebook_edcsFailure to effectively regulate EDCs comes with a high price tag. Recent studies have found that adverse health effects from EDC exposure cost the European Union more than €163 billion each year in healthcare expenses and lost productivity.

It’s in your hands to select a set of criteria that will provide a high level of protection for humans, animals and the environment, from the harmful effects that pesticides can cause.

The next Standing Committee has this proposal on its desk so that Member States can vote on on the 28th of February.

Please make your voice heard and show that you want Malta to vote NO at this meeting (Malta will be represented by MCCAA), and should ask for more improvements in the C omission’s proposal. Please find useful contact details below.

The responsible Ministers are:  

Hon. Christopher Fearne, Minister for Health (responsible for Environmental Healthchris@chrisfearne.com

Hon. Helena Dalli – Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties – (responsible for MCCAA)  helena.dalli@gov.mt

Hon. José Herrera – Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (responsible for Environment and Resources Authorityjose.herrera@gov.mt

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) (The statutory Authority to promote, maintain and encourage competition, to safeguard the interests of consumers.info@mccaa.org.mt

 

related readings:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/herr-era-and-glyphosate/


Herr-ERA and glyphosate

February 17, 2017

times of malta

Friday, February 17, 2017

Herr-ERA and glyphosate

Alfred E. Baldacchino

glyphosate-monographGlyphosate’s main aim is to kill. A Glyphosate monograph published by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) highlights its negative impacts.

Its residues are so widespread in foods, particularly those containing cereals or GM corn or soy-derived products. Detected in drinking water, wine and beer, and even in non-food products derived from GM cotton, it was also found in human urine in Europe (and Malta), and in the USA, where it was also found in breast milk.

Acute symptoms include abdominal pain, gastrointestinal infections, itchy or burning skin, skin infections, blisters, burning or weeping eyes, blurred vision, conjunctivitis, headaches, fever, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, raised blood pressure, dizziness, chest pains, numbness, insomnia, depression, debilitation, difficulty in breathing, respiratory infections, dry cough, sore throat, and unpleasant taste in the mouth. Doctors in Argentina reported vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory problems and skin rashes in association with aerial spraying of glyphosate.

glyphosate-health-impactsOther effects include balance disorder, reduced cognitive capacity, seizures, impaired vision, smell, hearing and taste, drop in blood pressure, twitches and tics, muscle paralysis, peripheral neuropathy, loss of gross and fine motor skills, excessive sweating, and severe fatigue.

Exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides, even at very low doses, may result in reproductive problems including miscarriages, pre-term deliveries, low birth weights, and birth defects.

Other adverse effects are in sexual and other cell differentiation, bone metabolism, liver metabolism, reproduction, development and behaviour, and hormone-dependent diseases such as breast and prostate cancer (Gasnier et al. 2009).

monsanto-eat-with-mask-on1Laboratory studies show that very low levels of glyphosate, Roundup, POEA, and the metabolite AMPA all kill human umbilical, embryonic and placental cells. Roundup can kill testicular cells, reduce sperm numbers, increase abnormal sperm, and retard skeletal development.

Kidney and liver are the main target organs for glyphosate, as reported from laboratory studies, including cell damage and death, DNA damage and tumours. It is regarded as a Highly Hazardous Pesticide as defined by PAN (PAN International 2016b) and by FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Management as implemented by FAO in Mozambique (Come et al. 2013).

Emerging evidence shows that glyphosate can affect brain areas associated with Parkinson’s disease. Its exposure is also related with parkinsonian, Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism.

The placing on the market of glyphosate is the role of the minister responsible for the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority

Several studies indicate that glyphosate formulations may interfere with the immune system resulting in adverse respiratory effects including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune skin and mucous membrane effects.

Glyphosate has direct and indirect eco-toxicological effects especially the bexx-f'mater-deiunprecedented elimination of flora termed weeds, which are essential to most beneficial species. Direct and indirect effects have cascading impacts on the food chain and on biodiversity.

Earthworms and a number of beneficial insects useful in biological control, particularly predatory mites, carabid beetles, ladybirds, and green lacewings all dead bee 13are negatively effected by lady-birdglyphosate. At levels commonly found in agricultural settings, it impairs honeybees’ cognitive capacities affecting their navigation with potential long-term negative consequences for colony foraging success.

Its subtle effects cause disruption of the ecosystem that are of greatest concern, particularly effects on the agroecosystem.

lacewingThe Minister for the Environment was quoted (January 2017) saying that “the government would continue to oppose glyphosate in EU discussions, but could not implement a unilateral ban due to European single market rules.” Malta’s voting on related matters at EU discussions are all abstentions.

An EU Commission Fact sheet on glyphosate, dated 29 June 2016, says the authorisation of placing pesticides on the market is the role of the Member States. “Once an active substance has been approved or renewed at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticides formulation is done at a later stage by individual Members States before they grant, refuse or restrict its use at national level.”

The placing on the market of glyphosate is role of the minister responsible for the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) – the regulator. The environmental health impacts of glyphosate is the responsibility of the Minister for Health.

Herrera is only the operator. His main responsibility is the protection of biodiversity, as explained above. Herrera’s ERA should be in the front line on preventing glyphosate impacts on biodiversity to prevent biodiversity loss. ERA is also the Competent Authority for the EU Water Framework Directive, thus responsible for the vulnerable areas of Malta’s groundwater.

herr-era-cartoon

ERA should advice the Minster on Malta’s international responsibilities. It is not right that Herrera is left alone without any help from other authorities involved. Unless of course he has direction to walk it alone.

Malta Taghna lkoll is also clear on this. “The Environment and Resource Authority will be more proactive and strategic and will focus in a more specific way, on the conservation, protection and the amelioration of the environment and resources…” (p. 94);

“We will strengthen the monitoring of the market to see that products which will be on the market will not be of any health detriment, especially for children.” (p. 133); malta-taghna-lkolland

“We believe that Malta should be in the front line on environmental standards. Not because of obligation of any EU Directive, but because this is what our children deserve” (p 92).

Unless of course Herr-ERA and co believe that these are now past their best by date.

What a high price we are paying for such ‘cheap food’.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/glyphosate-il-prezz-gholi-li-qed-inhallsu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/glyphosate-you-with-addenda/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/glyphosate/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

 


Susa perikoluża għatba ‘l bogħod minn Malta

February 9, 2017

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Il-Ġimgħa, 9 ta’ Frar, 2017

Ħabib tiegħi poġġa l-ħolqa fuq il-facebook ta’ artiklu li deher fuq in-Newsbook dwar susa perikoluża, għatba ‘l bogħod minn Malta, li qed teqred is-siġar tal-ħarrub,

Skont Newsbook, id-Direttorat għas-Saħħa tal-Pjanti qal fi stqarrija li s-susa bl-isem xjentifiku ta’ Xylosandrus compactus ġiet innutata f’Ragusa Sqallija fir-rebbiegħa tas-sena l-oħra, fejn qerdet ħafna friegħi mis-siġra tal-ħarruba.

Filwaqt li l-awtoritajiet Taljani nedew miżuri sabiex dan l-insett jiġi kkontrollat, dan infirex matul is-sajf u l-ħarifa.

Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.

Il-kobor ta’ dan l-insett ivarja bejn il-1.4mm u l-1.9mm, u għandu forma kemxejn tonda u ċilindrika, u huwa ta’ lewn kannelli jew sewdieni.

Il-vittmi ta’ dan l-insett bosta drabi huma siġar u arbuxelli li jkunu diġa ddgħajfu minn qabel, iżda ġew rappurtati każi ta’ siġar friski li nqerdu mis-susa.

Id-Direttorat irrimarka li din hija waħda mill-ftit susi li jinfestaw u jeqirdu pjanti b’saħħithom, u tappartjeni għal familja ta’ susa li hi differenti mill-familji l-oħra minħabba l-mod kif tħaffer fiz-zokk.

———-0———-

Christian Borg fuq il-facebook kiteb hekk:

“Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.”

Tajjeb li jsiru studji, imma f’dak l-istadju ma jidrilniex li jkun daqxejn tard wisq?? Espert zgur li minix, imma cert li jistghu jittiehdu iktar mizuri biex nevitaw milli jidhol dan l-insett.

X’tahseb Alfred E. Baldacchino?!

———-0———-

Nirringrazzja lil Christian Borg li ġibidli l-attenzjoni u staqsini x’naħseb.

Xi tridni naħseb Christian? In-nies ta’ dan il-pajjiż jidhru determinati li jagħmluh deżert mingħajr ebda siġra. Naraw l-importazzjoni ta’ speċi invażivi bl-addoċċ u mingħajr kontrol, xi kultant ukoll imħallsa minn flus pubbliċi; nfiq ta’ €57 miljun minn flus pubbliċi u tal-EU wkoll biex l-ilma tax-xita narmuh il-baħar, waqt li dak tal-pjan jitella’ kif ġie ġie, bla kontrol ta’ xejn. Meta ħadd ma għandu l-ebda ħjiel, jew xi xewqa li jkun jaf bid-diżastru li qed inġubu fuqna, anzi nonfqu l-flus biex inġubuh b’idejna, x’tistenna?

Mill-esperjenza li għandi ta’ dan il-pajjiż, issa nistennew u nitolbu biex din is-susa ma ssibx ruħha hawn Malta. U meta tidħol imbagħad ngħidu li daħlet u nibku ftit ukoll u ngħidu ara x’ġaralna! Imbagħad inwaqqfu l-importazzjoni ta’ dawk is-siġar li din is-susa tista’ tiġi magħhom. Jew inkella nivvintaw xi bexx biex inbigħuh lil dawk li għandhom xi siġra tal-ħarrub biex inkomplu ngħinu lil dawk li l-għan tagħhom huwa li jagħmlu l-qliegħ mill-injuranza ta’ dawk li jmexxu.

Din il-ħanfusa hija indiġena għall-pajjiżi mill-orient, u nfirxet permezz tal-kummerċ. Hija tattakka madwar 200 speċi ta’ pjanta.
U jekk tgħidli li qed nesaġera, infakkret f’meta daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm – ir-red palm weevil. Minkejja li kien hemm pariri biex ma jiġux importati siġar tal-palm minħabba dan il-bumunqar, xorta ġew importati. U minn fejn? Minn dawk il-pajjiżi fejn dan kien qed jagħmel ħerba bla rażan. Sallum inqerdu ‘l fuq minn 5000 siġra tal-palm.
U hekk naħseb li sejjer jiġri minn dan il-susa sewda tal-friegħi (black twig borer).
Ir-responsabbiltà biex jittieħdu passi hija tal-ERA – l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u tar-Riżorsi). Din għanda l-għodda legali kollha biex twaqqaf id-dħul ta’ din il-ħanfusa. U magħha hemm ukoll is-Segretarjat tal-Agrikultura. Dawn it-tnejn qegħdin fil-Ministeru tal-Ambjent.
Issemma wkoll li “Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.”
Dan jgħati ‘l wieħed x’jifhem li d-Direttorat diġa qata’ qalbu li jwaqqaf id-dħul ta’ din il-ħanfusa f’pajjiżna, u qed jagħmel studju biex jikkontrollaha meta tidħol. Imma ma hemm l-ebda viżjoni, ħeġġa jew determinazzjoni biex din il-ħanfusa ma titħallhiex tidħol. L-istess kif ġara meta daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm.
U ngħid jien, meta l-Università ħallset biex 60 siġra taż-żebbuġ inħasdu metru ‘l fuq mill-art, għax kif intqal kienu qed iwaqqgħu ftit weraq fuq il-karozzi, u qisu ma ġara xejn, taħseb li l-Università ta’ Malta, għandha xi viżjoni, ħeġġa jew interess fil-ħarsien tas-siġar u kif sejra titwaqqaf din is-susa sewda tal-friegħi milli tidħol hawn Malta?
Kull ma nista’ nagħmel jien, Christian, huwa li nitlob ‘l Alla biex jgħinna ftit ħalli nużaw imqar niskata intelliġenza minn dak li tagħna, forsi nbexxqu ftit għajnejna mill-għamad tal-kilba tal-flus li qed jaħkimna, jagħmina u li sejjer jeqridna.
aebaldacchino@gmail.com
ara wkoll:

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

Mid-October 2013, saw Xylella fastidiosa, the olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) recorded in Italy: its first record for Europe. By April 2015 it had infected up to a million olive trees, many of them century-old, in the southern region of Apulia. This invasive disease is believed to have been introduced by ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where it is also causing havoc.

By July 2015 it quickly spread to Corsica, in municipalities of Nice, and Mandelieu-la-Napoule and by late October in Alpes-Maritimes in France. August 2016 saw it in Germany infecting oleander plants.

November 2016 found OQDS in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in a garden centre on three cherry trees and an oleander.

OQDS is regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. It infects grapevines, peaches, citrus, oak, sycamore, and many other trees and ornamental plants, such as spurge, lavender and rosemary. No cure has yet been found for such disease, as the European Food Safety Organisation has warned.

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) had since 1981 listed it on its A1 list of pests recommended for regulation as quarantine pests, regarding it as representing a very serious threat for the EPPO region

effect-of-x-f

Symptoms of OQDS, regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world.

Across Europe, 359 plant species have been identified as susceptible to Xylella. Many of these species show no symptoms of the disease, and provide a reservoir for reinfection of other plants, thus making Xylella difficult to control and making phytosanitary certificates  useless

This bacterium thrives in the water-conducting vessels (xylem) of plants. It invades these vessels and blocks the transport of water and other soluble mineral nutrients. This leads to the drying, scorching, wilting of the foliage, and eventually the collapse and death of the tree.

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

It spreads with the help of insects such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs, which feed on the plant xylem. These insects do not fly long distances, but can be helped by the wind, by other animals, and by vehicular transport.

Spain and France were deeply concerned when Xylella was recorded for the first time in 2013. Their production of olive oil and wine is under a great threat. The matter was also raised at European Union level.

Italy is heavily affected, considering that the only method to date to control such disease is by eradication of the infected million olive trees. These contribute to 40 per cent of the olive oil produced in Italy. Besides the economic loss, the social and ecological impacts are beyond any estimate.

effect-of-x-f-2

Olive trees which succumbed to OQDS. Not that we really need Xylella to reduce our olive trees to such a state. The sight of the 60 olive trees on Malta University campus were similarly aesthetically reduced and paid for by University funds. Perhaps the University’s educational pro-active vision wanted to show the people a picture of things to come if Xylella succeeds in being imported in Malta. The only difference would be that they will give up their  ghost for ever.  

Malta is blessed that it is an island surrounded by an expanse of sea that makes it impossible for these xylem-feeding insects to arrive naturally. But… it seems that we never learn.

butchered tree 7

Pruned olive trees which once enhanced the campus of the University of Malta. A mis-management exercise of the highest grade.

Palm trees were imported for landscaping purposes from areas known to be infected by the Asian red palm weevil. More than 5,000 palm trees have been lost to date. Timber introduced the African long-horned mulberry beetle, which besides killing most of the mulberry trees in the islands, now has turned its attention to the white mulberry, carob and fig tree.

Imported geraniums by garden centres have also helped to introduce the geranium bronze butterfly from South Africa. All of these have been introduced by trees and plants carrying a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin, to confirm that they were all disease free. How many imported tomato seedlings accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, introduced the South American tomato moth (Tuta absoluta)?

Trees and other plants mainly, for landscaping and ornamental purposes, are still being imported from countries which are infected with this OQDS.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible to ensure that such invasive species and other pathogens are not introduced in Malta, both through the Environment and Resource Authority, and also through its Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Department of Agriculture. Once there was a renowned experimental farm at Għammieri, which today is more concerned with domestic dogs, cats, and birds.

A very good animation video has been produced by the Plant Health Department. Very good. What is needed now is urgent action.

Environmental responsibilities are far from being helped by the Ministry of Landscaping. Doors are flung wide open for exotic species to be planted in ‘landscaping’ projects, paid out of public funds, administered through an €8 million yearly budget, according to a secret agreement which, despite the Commissioner for Data Protection’s ruling, is still being withheld.

If Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination

Those handful of pro-business politicians and their acolytes might ask if they are expected to stop the importation of exotic species. The question is whether such politicians are worried, not only for the young developing olive oil industry in Malta which is trying hard to acquire an EU/EC Declaration of Conformity (DOC) for CE Marking, but also for the wine and citrus industry. And naturally the islands ecosystem which if, God forbid, Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination.

Prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure at all. That would be the day when one can honestly boast of a sound environmental policy. From experience, political action in this regard will only be considered when the social, economic and environmental fabric have bit the dust, or as it is said, when all the horses have bolted.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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


Il-masterplan għal Paceville

December 4, 2016

il-mument

Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Diċembru 2016

Amy Borg

Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ

F’intervista ma’ il-mument, Alfred E. Baldacchino jitkellem dwar il-konflitti ta’ interess fix-xogħol biex sar il-masterplan għal Paceville, fuq min taqa’ r-responsabbiltà u x’għandha tkun it-triq ‘il quddiem hekk kif ħamest ijiem oħra jagħlaq il-periodu tal-konsultazzjoni pubblika li kellha tiġġedded minħabba l-protesti u l-ilmenti tar-residenti u sidien ta’ negozji.

Kif għandu jsir masterplan għal Paceville? 

Paceville kiber mingħajr ebda pjan, għalhekk hemm bżonn wieħed illum qabel għada. Dan ma jfissirx li għandu jsir fuq xewqat dojoq kummerċjali mingħajr ħjiel ta’ risponsabbiltajiet soċjali, kummerċjali, saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika, ambjentali fis-sens wiesa’ kollha tal-kelma, kif ukoll għajxien ħieni u anki obbligi, kemm nazzjonali u internazzjonali, li l-pajjiż għandu.

Waqt laqgħa ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Ambjent, l-Awtorita’ għall-Ippjanar stiednet lill-konsulenti barranin li għamlu l-masterplan. Ma taħsibx li dawn kellhom jiltaqgħu mal-pubbliku qabel fassluh?

Fi kliem il-konsulenti barranin stess, dawn għamlu dak li ġew mitluba jagħmlu u xejn iżjed. Qalu li ma ħadux inkonsiderazzjoni ebda studju jew risponsabbiltà tal-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, tal-externalities, jiġifieri dawk il-piżijiet u l-prezzijiet ekonomiċi moħbija; u ma taw l-ebda kas tal-ħsibijet, suġġerimenti, xewqat tal-istakeholders, lanqas tar-residenti.

F’kelma waħda dawn ma għamlu l-ebda konsiderazzjoni socioambjentali. Dan juri n-nuqqas ta’ responsabbilta’ u l-faqar tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’dan il-qasam, minkejja li hija mħallsa minn flus pubbliċi u mmexxija minn akkademiċi li suppost jifhmu u jafu li huma għandhom responsabbiltà lejn il-poplu Malti li qed iħallashom.

Taħseb li l-politiku għandu jerfa responsabbilità wara li ħareġ li jista’ jkun hemm konflitt ta interess għall-kumpanija li ntagħżlet mill-Gvern?

F’pajjiż demokratiku, il-politiċi magħżula mill-poplu jmexxu f’isem il-poplu li fdalhom ir-responsabbiltà. Dawn għandhom jagħmluh b’diskuzzjonijiet wiesgħa biex il-poplu kollu jħossu li huwa parti mid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu. Hekk dawn ikunu magħġuna biex ikunu ta’ ġid ekonomiku, soċjali u ambjentali, għall-ġid ta’ kulħadd.

Għandhom jaraw ukoll li dawk li jmexxu entitajiet uffiċjali f’isem il-poplu, jimxu fuq dan il-prinċipju. Għalhekk, il-politiku li fi ħdan il-portfolio tiegħu taqa’ l-entità li tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huwa l-bniedem responsabbli politikament. Barra minn hekk, jekk dan il-politikant ma jerfax ir-responsabbiltà tiegħu, allura l-Kabinett huwa kollettivament responsabbli.

Allura x’kellu jkun l-irwol tal-Awtorità għall-Ippjanar fit-tħejjija għall-masterplan ta Paceville? 

pa-cartoon

Il-viżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar Maltija, imneżża minn kull viżjoni ambjentali u soċjali.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hija magħmula minn nies akkademiċi u b’esperjenza f’dan il-qasam, imħallsa minn flus pubbliċi, bir-responsabbiltà individwalment u kollettivament, li jaraw li deċiżjonijiet li jittieħu minnhom ikunu fl-interess nazzjonali, jiġifieri, fl-interess kollettiv wiesa’ soċjali, ekonomiku u ambjentali.

L-Awtorità għandha l-obbligu li tisma’, u tagħmilha ħafif u xejn diffiċli biex dawk l-istakeholders kollha li għandhom xi interess fuq is-suġġett, ikunu jistgħu jwasslu s-suġġerimenti u l-kummenti tagħhom, il-biżgħat u l-ħsibijiet tagħhom biex minn imexxi jkun jista’ jieħu deċiżjoni fl-interess ta’ poplu.

Milli wieħed jista’ jara, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar aktar ixxaqleb lejn idejat kummerċjali milli għandha xi interess minimu dwar l-ambjent jew li tagħti xi widen lill-leħen tal-poplu.

X’taħseb dwar il-high rise buildings f’dan il-masterplan?

Dan il-viżjoni tal-high rise buildings saret qisha ossessjoni, bħal ta’ dak it-tifel li ma joqgħodx kwiet sakemm bis-sewwa jew bid-dnewwa jaħtaf dak li jrid. Il-ftit studju li sar juri li dawn ma humiex adattati għal Malta mill-aspett soċjoekonomiku. Ma nafux x’effett sejrin ikollhom fuq il-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, fuq is-saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika tal-poplu u fuq il-kummerċ taż-żgħir, fuq ir-riżorsi naturali tal-pajjiż, u anki fuq il-biodiversità.

Dan it-tip ta’ żvilupp, dejjem bl-għerf tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fit-tmun, inħoss li aktar huwa bħal xi ħadd li jrid jimla’ vażett li jesa’ litru b’għaxar litri. Il-ħela ta’ riżorsi wkoll iddgħajjef l-istruttura ekonomika, soċjali u ambjentali li diġà teżisti.

Minn dik il-laqgħa l-pubbliku qajjem diversi kwistjonijiet u rabja wkoll. X’tikkumenta?

Veru li matul il-laqgħa tal-Kumitat Parlamentari msemmija kien hemm rabja li wasslet ukoll għall-ibbujjar. Din l-imġieba jien ma naqbelx magħha. Imma mill-banda l-oħra meta wħud iħossuhom marsusa f’rokna, imżebilha, iffrustati, ikkalpestati, inġurjati, u jaraw ħwejjiġhom li jistgħu jittieħdu għar-rejba tal-ftit, f’rapport uffiċjali li sewa €300,000, din hija r-reazzjoni li wieħed jistenna’ b’mod naturali. Aktar u aktar meta dan ir-rapport huwa mħallas minn flus pubbliċi li anki l-istakeholders mingħajr ma kienu jafu minn qabel, ħallsu għalih mingħajr ma kellhom l-iċken kontribut.

X’tikkumenta dwar kif wieġbu l-konsulenti barranin għall-mistoqsijiet tal-pubbliku?

Wieħed seta’ jara li l-konsulenti barranin kienu imbarazzati sewwa. Tant hu hekk, li meta kienu ssikkati bil-mistoqsijiet, qalu li huma għamlu dikjarazzjoni verbali lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li kien hemm studji li l-kumpanija tagħhom għamlet għal xi żviluppatur li x-xewqat tiegħu dehru fil-masterplan.

Qalu wkoll b’mod ċar li kull masterplan ma jistax jirnexxi jekk ma jkunx hemm studji dwar l-externalities. Komplew żiedu li huma għamlu dak li ġew mitluba biss. Ma għamlu l-ebda studji li juru l-externalities tal-masterplan. Lanqas ma ngħatalhom xi rapport jew ħjiel tal-biżgħat tal-istakeholdres.

Dawn iwasslu biex ir-rapport xejn ma jidher profesjonali. L-istess bħal dak taż-Żonqor f’Marsaskala. Ħadmu fuq tagħrif mogħoddi lilhom mill-klient, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u tawh ftit kulur, dehra sabiħa u firma.

X’nuqqasijiet fih il-masterplan?

aeb-quote

Fir-rigward tal-qasam kummerċjali goff, ma hemm xejn nieqes: perfett. Ma nstema’ l-ebda kumment kontra dan il-masterplan minn dan is-settur. Minn naħa tal-istakeholders (mhux qed ninkludi lil ERA bħala stakeholder) mhux talli ma kienx hemm nuqqasijiet, talli ma kien hemm xejn li jitkellem fuq l-impatti negattivi ekonomiċi, soċjali u ambjentali: kemm fuq ġewwa tal-masterplan, kemm tal-madwar, kif ukoll tal-pajjiż kollu. Bil-PA fit-tmun ma niskanta xejn. Anżi nistennihom.

L-ERA għada ma tidherx u bla vuċi. U qed jingħad li ma tistax tappella għax l-ERA qiegħda fuq il-board tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar!

Li kieku kelli niddeskrivi dan il-masterplan, kont ngħidlu Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ.

Taħseb li l-ħsibijiet ta kulħadd jistgħu jkunu inkorporati fil-masterplan bla ma jkun hemm kunflitti bejn parti jew oħra?

Kif qalu l-konsulenti barranin, l-ebda masterplan ma jista’ jirnexxi mingħajr studji dwar l-externalities tiegħu. U kif qalu wkoll, ma kien hemm l-ebda talba minn għand il-klient tagħhom, il-Planning Authority, li suppost tippreżenta l-interessi tal-poplu, biex huma jagħmlu dan. Jekk il-mastserplan, bħal kull deċiżjoni oħra, ma jkollux, ma jiħux u ma jkunx irid jieħu l-kummenti ta’ kull stakeholder, din tkun deċiżjoni imposta fuq kulħadd.

Mingħajr dubju, il-kummenti, is-suġġerimenti u l-ħsibijiet tal-istakeholders jwassalu biex ikollhom sehem fid-deċiżjoni biex ikunu jistgħu jgħidu li huma parti mid-deċiżjoni li tkun fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Dan ma tantx jidher li huwa l-interess tal-Planning Authority.

Il-Gvern qed jisħaq li qed joffri lill-pubbliku politika dwar l-ambjent b’saħħitha. Taqbel?

Dan smajtu. U anki qrajtu. Imma ma nista’ naraħ imkien, la fid-deċiżjonijet u lanqas fi proġetti.

Meta niftakar fiż-Żonqor f’Marsascala; fi pjani mressqa mill-MEPA li dgħajfu jew ħattew kull pjan li kien hemm u li fuqu setgħet kompliet tinbena l-politika ambjentali; fil-landscaping imsejjes fuq siġar eżotiċi importati bi dħul ta’ mard u speċi invażivi, ma nistax ma ngħidx li din hija aktar politika ta’ konvenjenża milli politika ta’ konvinżjoni.

Meta nqis li ħafna minn dawn l-attivitajiet huma mħallsa minn flus pubblici u bi ftehimiet sigrieti, ma nafx kif xi ħadd serju jista’ jsejjah din bħala politika ambjentali b’saħħitha.  Aktar naraha bħala waħda msewwsa b’deċiżjonijiet ta’ viżjoni kummerċjali mgħammda bil-barka uffiċjali.

X’għandha tkun il-politika dwar l-ambjent għall-pajjiżna?

Politika ambjentali b’saħħitha hija msejjsa fuq qafas li jiġbor fih id-direttivi, ir-regolamenti, u d-deċiżjonijiet kollha tal-Unjoni Ewropa. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali li tinjora dan il-qafas.

Lanqas ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent tkun maħkuma mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u fejn anki  tlaqqa’ l-poplu għall-konsultazzjoni meta d-deċiżjoni tkun diġà meħuda, u xi kultant il-bidu tal-iżvilupp ikun diġà beda.

Dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet għandhom ikunu awtonomi u jaħdmu f’isem il-poplu u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri mingħajr ebda indħil. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn dawn l-awtoritajiet aktar ikunu lesti biex jogħġbu lill-politikant milli biex jaqdu dmirhom lejn il-poplu u l-pajjiż.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Ara ukoll

Paceville’s hide and seek – https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/pacevilles-hide-and-seek/


Paceville’s hide and seek

November 8, 2016

times-of-malta

Tuesday, 8th November 2016

Paceville’s hide and seek

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Mott MacDonald and Broadway Malyan were commissioned by the Planning Authority to draw up a master plan for Paceville. A master plan described by the PA, their client, as one that “creates inviting public spaces, opens up views to the sea, and makes the most of the impressive coastline”, “it builds (my italics) an iconic skyline and a real sense of place”. The PA boasts that they have “looked at the bigger picture, to deliver something for everyone in Malta.”

How very true. When it comes to building and overlooking the nitty gritty and externalities of such developments, especially monstrous ones, there is no one better than the PA to build and just look at the bigger picture.

The PA brought over their international consultants for the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Environment and Planning’s meeting on 2nd November. The room was bursting at its seams with stakeholders from all walks of life, all searching for information on a master plan they had unknowingly paid for without any input from them, but just from the selected few, or let’s say, the PA.

Unfortunately the consultants’ explanations raised more questions than answers. It was more like a mix and match master plan: wish lists, selected suggestions, hidden justifications, and discreet terms of reference, with the Planning Authority in the driving seat dishing €300,000 for their desired choice.

Without exception, stakeholders present on 2nd November, all (except ERA) painfully sought information about how the hidden externalities of this master plan would affect them. How will these impact the present commercial community of Paceville and beyond?

How will the well-being of the present and future residents, and all commuters to the area be affected, both physically and psychologically? How will the residents’ private properties be impacted, some even worried that their property will be expropriated to accommodate private commercial purposes?

Considering the high population density of the area and beyond, one of the highest in Europe, can this be borne by the Island’s carrying capacity?

pa-cartoon

Malta Planning Authority’s pie in the sky

 

What will be the impact on the acute daily traffic problems, now acknowledged by the Minister for transport? Not just in Paceville, but also in the surrounding environs?

Is the proposed land reclamation in line with Malta’s international obligations ?

What are the impacts on the terrestrial and marine biodiversity?

Are some of the designs in the master plan put forward by the local Authority, or are they original designs of the consultants?

What was the relationship of the consultants, directly or indirectly, with developer(s) interested in the area?

How will such a master plan further deplete the scarce natural resources of the island?

In what way will the infrastructure of the area have to be redesigned?

Not one adequate or satisfactory reply was forthcoming from the consultants, who admitted that they did not undertake any engagements that were not requested. It is vital, though, that any master plan has to have full understanding of such externalities. No such studies were made, and there is no stakeholders report, they confirmed.

A clear case of putting the cart before the horse.

Nobody can be blamed for asking: is this mix and match master plan just a wild goose chase? Is it just to appease someone? Is it just to alienate the public from other matters? Is it in the national interest? And does all this have political blessings? Is this really happening in our Malta? Is there any conscientious politician personally deeply worried by this pie in the sky?

Nobody can be blamed for asking: is this mix and match master plan just a wild goose chase?

During a previous meeting of the Parliamentary Committee, representatives of the Environment and Resources Authority, who also sit on the PA executive committee, said that they are as much a stakeholder as the general public. But during the last sitting of the Parliamentary Committee their silence dwarfed all the vociferous demands of the worried stakeholders. Any church mouse would have envied such silence.

The Environment Minister has recently been quoted as saying that “Labour has provided the country with “strong environmental credentials”. If the above are part of these “strong environmental credentials”, then God help Malta. The minister might just as well have tried to convince us that a circle is square.

This Paceville master plan has concretely served to prove how correct American political satirist PJ O’Rourke was when he said: “No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power.”

Let’s have a master plan for Paceville by all means. But a professional one where every stakeholder can say that he was part of the decision.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Question time

October 22, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 22nd October, 1946

cleaner-and-greener-header

Alfred E Baldacchino

Afforestation is beneficial to society, to the ecosystem and also economically if this is undertaken in a professional way. The economic, ecological, and social benefits are priceless. It contributes to better health conditions, reduces stress, contributes to storage of water, and reduces erosion. In some countries afforestation is included in their gross national product.

buskett-h-004-16-05-14

What everybody is wishing, and hoping and waiting for, but…

Afforestation contributes to the control of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres and gives back the indispensable life bearing oxygen, thus also addressing Climate Change which is having such a tremendous social, economic and ecological negative impacts on life on this planet.

But to be able to plan with determination and achieve such noble aims these benefits have got to be appreciated and understood.

The fact that a report on afforestation has remained on the shelf for two long years clearly shows that there is no political will, no political desire or determination, no political appreciation, no political understanding, no political awareness of the responsibility in taking any action towards the achievement of such benefits.

Not only so but the decimation of trees and the planting of exotics and invasive species going on unchecked, with political blessings also leads one to conclude that there is an official hate for indigenous trees in Malta.

No public consultation has been held on such a report. The only thing that has been done is the usual ‘animated cartoons’ showing where such afforestation projects can take place.

Furthermore, the much promised tree protection regulations, which go hand in hand with such afforestation projects, and which have been drafted three years ago under the previous Minister Leo Brincat, are still ‘being studied’ after being initially shot down by some technocrats. The new Minister during the House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Environment and Development Planning, some months ago promised that they will soon be out for public consultation.

What is holding the implementation of such an afforestation report and the accompanying regulations for the protection of trees and afforestation?

Without doubt the highest hurdle towards achieving such benefits in the national interest is the lack of political will. This is further extended to the many political advisers who are not au courant on related national and international obligations, if they are even aware of the government’s electoral manifesto.

From past experience, one can see how MEPA handled such biodiversity obligations, before it shed its “Malta and Environment” responsibilities and changed its clothing to a PA. One can also see the decisions being hurriedly taken by this PA, blindfoldedly approving developmental permits without any concerns for anyone or anything, except developers.

It also seems that ERA, after three years in limbo, has been so blinded by the light of day that it cannot even find its own two feet and seems to be still under the beck and call of its past bedfellow. Could the implementation of such an afforestation report be seen as a stumbling block to the PA?

Sometimes I honestly hope that such an afforestation report is kept on the shelf and postponed sine die by the Minister for the Environment.  I believe that if it were to be implement with the political expertise he is dependent on, it would be another brick in the wall towards the further massacre of the environment, both with regards to the choice of species, and also with the now institutionalised pro-business vision, leading to the importation of indigenous trees used for such project because of pressure from ‘landscapers’. All contrary to international obligations such as the EU Environment Acquis, the Berne Convention, its recommendations and decisions, and also the Biodiversity Convention.

sleeping-dog-cartoon

… unfortunately

Where there is a will there is a way. Naturally where there is NO will there is NO way, afforestation or not. So the best step forward is to let sleeping dogs lie.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

For the views of the Dr Josè Herrera, Minister for sustainable development, the Environment and Climate Change see the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161022/opinion/Cleaner-and-greener.628708#.WAtVEVbhyoc.email

See also the following articles on my blog:

Another buskett onslaught

Trees butchered at university

Yet another toothless dog

Trees and invasive species

There is no respite for trees

The national wonders of tree pruning in Malta

Alien invasive species animation film

 


Another Buskett onslaught

September 15, 2016

times-of-malta

Another Buskett onslaught

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is one of the few remaining rich ecological areas. It is a tree protection area. It is also a bird protection area: birds of prey migrating in both spring and autumn and for other migrating, wintering and resident species.

Buskett supports eight different habitat types of EU Community interest, whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation (SAC). It also supports six different species of fauna (besides birds) and plant species of EU Community interest, whose conservation also demands the SAC designation.

At Buskett, there are 32 bird species recorded, all qualifying for special EU conservation measures with regard to their habitat to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. Because of this, Buskett is a special protection area (SPA).

Buskett is thus both an SPA and an SAC, making the place an EU Natura 2000 site. These are designed to afford protection to the most vulnerable species in Europe.

buskett

BUSKETT – an SPA, an SAC – and an EU NATURA 2000 site.

Within six years, at most, from the designation of a Natura 2000 site (from 2004, in our case), member states are obliged to establish priorities in the light of the importance of the sites for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type or a species for the coherence of Natura 2000 and in the light of the threats of degradation or destruction to which those sites are exposed.

 

Since EU accession in 2004, the environment has never been
so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today
 
The priority that has officially materialised so far is a rave party in the midst of this Natura 2000 site during a sensitive migration  for birds of prey. This despite the fact that EU funds were acquired for the rehabilitation of Buskett’s environment.

Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of its conservation objectives.

The competent national authority (the Environment and Resources Authority) has to agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and after having obtained the opinion of the public.

By December 2015, management plans for Malta’s Natura 2000 sites were ready and approved by the government after a public consultation exercise. However, Buskett is still under tremendous pressure and disturbance.

Highlighted negative impacts on this Natura 2000 site, according to the management plan, are noise and light pollution resulting in disturbance. Noise was attributed to large groups of people, unnecessary shouting and also the use of megaphones.

Light pollution was also referred to from a transient source, such as from a passing vehicle or from adjacent areas.

The management plan confirmed that “all these result in considerable disturbance to wildlife”.

The plan also recommends that the range, population size, roosting habitat and future prospects of migratory raptors are to be maintained; the future prospects of breeding and wintering passerines are to be improved.

buskett-kuccarda-bghadam-wrdpress-2

Buskett is a Special Protection Area (SPA) declared under the EU Bird Directive because of its importance for migratory birds of prey.

It further recommends that Buskett should receive full legal protection implemented according to national legislation and local polices. With regard to birds, one of the main objectives is to maintain its high ornithological value. These are all in line with obligations arising out of the EU environmental acquis, which have been transposed to local legislation.

The Minister for the Environment and his ERA seem to be yet oblivious to what has hit them. They failed terribly at their first hurdle, which seemingly was a bit too high for them. Now they seem to have been mesmerised by this rave party, which took place on September 7 in the midst of Buskett. This should never have been given a permit to be held –  unless, of course, it was held without any permit, which would still be of ERA’s concern.

 

2016-09-08-black-kitss-marcus-camilleri-wordpress-photo-3

One of the largest flocks of Black Kites congregating over Buskett EU Natura 2000 site on the 7th September 2016, waiting to roost in the trees, on the same day the rave party was held.

The minister and his ERA are intelligent enough, I believe, to see that such a rave party is diametrically opposed to the EU Natura 2000 obligations, especially in a sensitively bird of prey migratory period. Even genuine bird hunters and bird conservationists (who, in the recent past, have never seen eye to eye) have come out in force against such disturbances to this Natura 2000 site.

malta-taghna-lkoll“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.” So were the people promised in the Malta Tagħna Ikoll electoral manifesto in 2013.

But the people are still waiting for this promise to be realised and the responsibility of the environmental regulator (“which our country does not have”) to be effective.

Not only has Malta not become the “best in Europe”, as also promised, but, since accession to the EU in 2004, the environment has never been so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Honey Buzzard – Pernis apivoris  – il-kuċċarda
Black Kite – Milvus migrans – l-astun iswed
Marsh Harrier – Circus aeruginosus – il-bagħdan aħmar

 

photos-of-buskett

A photo of Buskett an EU Natura 2000 site, taken on 12th September 2016. For the attentino of ERA,  the promised environmental regulator.

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/buskett-%e2%80%93-a-special-area-of-conservation-in-the-eu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/il-buskett/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/the-eu-habitats-directive/

 

 

 


Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant

 

The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com