Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

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

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

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

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

Modern environment friendly public access gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Fallen trees and lost water

October 27, 2014

times of malta

Fallen trees and lost water

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the weekend thunderstorm, Monday 7th October dawned with broken trees, overflowing sewers and rivulets taking hold of sensitive traffic areas. This is just a harbinger of things to come every time it rains, let alone when it rains cats and dogs.

one-stemtree

Heavy crown on one single thin stalk

I drove by a tree which had succumbed to bouts of wind. Half of a fully mature 50 year old three-storey high ficus tree, on the periphery of a small grove, lay on its side. Unprofessional pruning contributed to its downfall. The size of its crown was too heavy for its long thin bare stalk. The remaining half of the tree displayed a top-heavy crown on a similar long thin stalk, possibly saved by the support of surrounding trees. If only the country had a Minister responsible for landscaping who had a vision backed up by professional experts to advise him on professional pruning and landscaping, such loss of trees would not occur. But there is not, and there never was any such Minister, except on paper.

I was hindered from approaching the tree by two rivulets, one on each side of the road, running towards Valley Road, Birkirkara. A couple of meters up the road, a manhole silently tried to outdo the dancing fountains at St. George’s square Valletta. Except that the water was coloured and it did not rely on electricity. I craved for a clothes peg to withstand the stench.

If only the country had a minister with a vision of how to manage and store the scarce natural resource that is water. But there is not, and there never was any such minister. Indeed, there was a day in the political life of this counlry when one incumbent found it difficult to distinguish between a water culvert and a sewer.

The damage done by the storm is the price of the lack of political vision, verging on laissez faire, and short-tenn decisions and mismanagement. Structures which allow the harvesting of rain water are not made use of. Age-old legislation is hardly ever enforced to the extent that following amendments to the law, it became the rule of thumb to channel collected rain water into the street. Compliance certificates are still being issued for buildings that allow rainwater to pour into the sewers.

If only the country had a minister with a vision of how to manage and store the scarce natural resource that is water.

But political ‘wisdom’ has come to the rescue. In a €52 million project, subsidised by EU funds, an underground tunnel has been excavated to channel ‘flood water’ from tha streets to the sea – sewage and all.

eu-bill-board

High and dry – the bill board advertising the EU sponsorship of the National Flood Relief Project

This ‘flood’ relief tunnel, that is, if it works as planned, will take away the pure rainwater and prevent It from replenishing the water table. This is not harvested either, but with politcal blessing is channelled to the streets, or to the sewers, from where it will burst out in fountains.

Mingled with the sewage, it will than flow again and run through the streets, hopefully directed to this ‘flood’ relief tunnel to be eventually channelled to the sea. Problem solved? Not exactly. It will be pumped up again by energy-consuming distillers to be channelled back to our taps.

Afer taking a photo or two of the broken tree and the spontaneous manhole-fountain, I returned home. I still needed the clothes peg.

 

sewer-rivulets.

Hours after it stopped raining, some manholes were still emptying their contents adding to rivulets running  along the streets.

Driving through such rivulets was Hobson’s choice, as other drivers wera constrained to do, washed and sprayed with sewage water in the process. Back home I had to wash the wheels and mudguards of the car to take away the stench. If only we had a minister responsible for health. We do not. We never did, because up to a decade or so ago, there was no need to see to such street health hazards.

The lack of political will, vision and professional management of natural resources, all with consequences paid for by society and biodiversity, are being passed from one political incumbent to his successor. The present vision is like one expounded by a blindfold poliltician walking through a tunnel in pitch darkness accompanied by his tall-wagging environmental watchdog trusted with planning and management. And during this long walk in the dark, in their efforts to manage natural resources, man and watchdog are happily engulfed by a concoction of rain water and sewage.

dogsilhouette

The indigenous political vison of managing natural resources, such as water.

This picture will get worse before it dawns. In the meantime, children are sponsored to catch a drop, while the EU provides politicians with millions to throw gallons into the sea!

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Other related articles:

X’qed nagħmluy bl-ilma tax-xita   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-IG   

An official water policy!   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-ag

Water harvesting culture   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-FB

When valuable rain sets in   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-FB

A vision buried at Nadur Cemetery  http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb

 

 

 

 


Cash cow in the ditch

April 2, 2014

times of malta

Wednesday, 2nd April 2014

Cash cow in the ditch

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

On the anniversary of the official opening of the ‘quality garden’ at Mdina Ditch,  6th March 2013.  I thought of revisiting this jewel in the crown of bad planning and management.

A bird’s eye view of the ditch from Howard Gardens prepared me for the worst. A water tanker was busily engaged close to a newly excavated cistern adjacent to Greek gate, connected with its umbilical chord: filling the cistern to quench the thirsty turf?

Statistic regarding the planning and management of the site were indeed shocking. The original 300 plus citrus trees had been numbered before uprooting. Some still sport their number, one labelled 270.  Only 151

Tree number 270 managed to remain on site.citrus remain. 30 laurel bushes, seemingly imported, replaced the citrus trees which had given up the ghost. The total number of trees in the ditch is 198.

Past the place where the 80 year old protected olive tree was uprooted and carted away, without any approval from that toothless environmental watchdog, I could not but ask why Maltese authorities, especially those entrusted with tree protection, hate trees so much?

Part of the ditch was always under lock and key contributing to a rich biodiversity. When the doors were flung wide open, local entrepreneurs swooped on the EU funds and with political blessings and direction, destroyed and eliminated such natural habitat to create a ‘quality garden’.

The deepest end of the ditch offered new surprises. A historic low arch leads to a platform of deck timber, approximately 20 m by 15 m, raised on strong iron beams. Why such waste of resources? It was surrounded by membrane which was covered with white spalls, like those which recently were spread around part of Howard Gardens. The area previously embraced a rich meadow full of local wild flowers, similar to an adjacent area. Was such platform meant to obliterate any sign of wild flowers with determination and vengeance? Was it meant to spend every cent of EU funds, no mater how?

the ghost platform

  The ghost platform

Adjacent to the platform is a new low rubble wall built with the use of concrete. According to the Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Rubble Regulations, 1997, a rubble wall is a dry stone wall, built in loose, unhewn stones which stand by gravity and friction without the use of mortar.

Around such barren, jarring monster of architectural acumen, without any consideration for biodiversity, are a numbers of lamp holders. In this ‘quality garden’, lamp lights total 161: tall, short, ground and flood lightings. Good business, considering that for every 1.2 tree there is one lamp light. And one has to include the electric elevator in this ‘quality garden’.

Some of the different lighting on site

Some of the different lighting on site

Light pollution is impacting nocturnal life, as it does in any garden and its surroundings. The amount of energy and carbon emission used daily to light the whole area further expose unprofessional landscaping, the more so since the same ministry was also responsible for biodiversity, and for the reduction of carbon emissions thus cutting down on use of electricity, both according to EU obligations?

the triumphant caper

Capers raising their heads in victory

I was always under the impression that the bastions, badly needing restoration, were accomplished in a professional way. But my optimism was short lived. After barely twelve months of restoration, a line of capers dotting the cordon and facade of the bastions are triumphantly showing their heads in victory. The invasive cape sorrel is waving its bright yellow flowers in spite; while wall snapdragon sports white bed slippers for the planners and advisers.

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

These wild flowers have already reclaimed and won back their previous foothold on the bastions. In a couple of year’s time, say five or six years, the restored bastions would once again have surrender to this vegetation, notwithstanding the 6 million euro injected from EU funds.

white snapdragon

A good opportunity has been missed. Was it bad workmanship? Was it unprofessional advice? Was it lack of experience in such delicate works, or was it the urgency to officially open this ‘quality garden’ before the election which contributed to such a waste of resources?

In such a ‘quality garden’ the lack of professional planning and environment management is supreme. Yet those responsible had the audacity to etch their names in stone on the monstrous black plaque. It is a shame that MEPA’s contribution is not also acknowledged. Neither is the EU who footed the bill.

During my two hour visit, the ‘quality garden’ felt more like a cemetery. I must admit though I saw one cabbage white and one red admiral butterfly, about a score of sparrows, and half a dozen people!

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars

I looked at this ‘quality garden’ from the heavily frequented professionally planned, though miserably managed, Howard Gardens above. I stared aimlessly, and could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars, in a grab, suck dry and go project. I can never come to terms with professionals claiming integrity who are on the wrong side of a decision. When wrong becomes right, nothing can be wrong anymore, and once this gathers momentum, nothing can stop it. Regrettably this mentality is gathering momentum at a very fast rate.

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second”. (John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


TREES – Open letter to the Prime Minister

September 30, 2012

28th September 2012

Dear Prime Minister Dr. Gonzi,

I would like to join Anna Spiteri’s appeal for the protection of the Senglea trees which are intended to be uprooted because of unjustified reasons, when less expensive measures can be taken to manage and incorporate them in the envisaged works. I would also like to add that the recent unprofessional uprooting of established trees which all have a role in the local ecosystem, seems to have run out of control. I have never experienced such misuse and mismanagement of such a natural heritage, done on an official basis, utilising both public and European funds.

Such use of public and European funds is not contributing to any protection, appreciation or to the safeguarding or embellishment of our urban landscape, thus having a drastic negative impact on the social and ecological environment
of the Maltese Islands.

While appreciating that considerable funds are being made available for such ‘landscaping’ and also government’s intervention to acquire European Union’s financial help towards such an aim, I regret to say that the way these resources are being used falls short of expectations and obligations, lacking any professional planning, wise use and proper management of local biodiversity. One cannot be blamed for thinking that the main aim of such activities is just commercial.

As you may be aware, a great number of trees were hacked, uprooted, transported and dumped elsewhere, from areas such as those at Fgura, Żebbuġ, Cospicua, Mdina Ditch, Mellieħa, Luqa, Santa Lucia, Raħal Gdid, Corradino, Marsa, Senglea, San Ġwann, and Victoria and Xewkija in Gozo. More uprooting and removal of trees is planned in connection with the EU TenT-financed project at Salina Road, Kennedy Grove, and the Coast Road, as well as the proposed uprooting of a substantial number of trees, including old Holm Oaks (Ballut) in Floriana and outside Valletta. I would also like to bring to your attention the destruction of indigenous protected trees which were planted by the late Prof. John Borg at San Anton Garden.

As you may also be aware, there is quite a public outcry at this lack of appreciation of local established trees and the complete disregard of public opinion. I am sure that you do agree that the public has a right to be involved in such decisions, a right which unfortunately is not being completely given.

I also regret to have to point out that the precious time, money and publication of local legislation and guidelines with regards to trees and local biodiversity are being ignored, as are the international obligations arising from various international environmental conventions, and the EU Environmental Acquis, also transposed into local legislation.

It is indeed a pity that such scarce resources are not being used and managed in a more professional, open way, both from the economic, ecological and social point of view. There is a great potential with the available resources that could offer more protection for the local biodiversity, a better balance of payment, more local opportunities and jobs in the protection of the local biodiversity, better embellishment of urban areas, the boosting of local environmental education the more so when the general public is crying for such measures. Unfortunately, because of myopic and other commercial reasons, all these are being ignored.

It would indeed be greatly appreciated if you can intervene in the interest of the people and the protection of local biodiversity, and ensure that such commercial activities do not have any negative impact on local biodiversity, that local and European funds are better utilised and better managed, and that the general public is involved in such decisions. After all these are all incorporated in a pre-electoral promise and are also incorporated in EU Environment Acquis obligations.

Regards

Alfred E. Baldacchino

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

SEE ALSO RELATED ARTICLES ON THIS BLOG

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentali…ent-over-trees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-md…eally-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/government-policy-on-trees/


Green dream and black nightmare

August 10, 2012

Friday,  August 10, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Green dream and black nightmare

During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.

Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.

The above are some of the Government’s publications: all official administrative and legislative tools which can definitely make any green dream a reality. But why are they ignored by Government itself? I cannot image that these have been published just for the attention of  the EU and its Member States. Or that these publications are meant to take the public for a ride? Then why are these ignored and not enforced?

Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.

The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.

All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.

An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.

Definitely not according to the guidelines and regulations referred to above!

Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.

Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.

But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.

The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.

The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!

Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.

Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.

BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.

What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.

The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

PS  – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times

See also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/