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: 

A tree, a Minister and the EU

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment hit by EU funds

The environmental destruction of Malta

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 


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’

 


Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

September 16, 2019

Monday, 16th September 2019

Ivan Camilleri

 

When is a rubble wall not a rubble wall? Structures put up along the Tal-Balal road. Photos: Chris Sant Fournierħ

The “fake” rubble walls being built along arterial roads, sometimes in place of traditional ones, are illegal, according to a former director of the planning authority.

“A look at the ‘rubble walls’ which Infrastructure Malta is building, some replacing protected old ones, reveals that they are just dummy, fake walls,” said Alfred Baldacchino.

He was asked for his opinion following an inspection of the walls by Times of Malta.

The faux rubble walls are made up of an aesthetic façade of local stone cladding set against large ‘franka’ blocks. This does not conform to regulations on how rubble walls – which are protected by law – should be constructed, he said, calling for an investigation.

Kilometres of ‘fake’ rubble walls are being built along newly constructed major roads – proof, said Mr Baldacchino, that “the government does not give a hoot about protecting the island’s heritage”.

A case in point is some 2.5 kilometres of what, according to Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg, were new “rubble” walls built along the perimeter of the road connecting San Ġwann to Naxxar, better known as Tal-Balal.

Plans submitted by Infrastructure Malta for the Tal-Balal road widening project described the new walls as rubble walls and not cladded walls.

However, a quick inspection shows them to be constructed of a superficial cladding made up of old and new stone set on large blocks of limestone.

Not only would this appear to fall foul of laws protecting Malta’s traditional rubble walls but they also present an environmental eyesore. Large tracts of wall are exposed at the back – left without cladding – jarring with the rural setting they are supposed to protect.

“To add insult to injury,” said Mr Baldacchino, “the walls are covered in concrete topping, which is also against the regulations, preventing the free percolation of rainwater through the structure.”

A senior government official who works with the government’s Valley Management section at the Transport Ministry told Times of Malta that the ministry had received warnings about the damage that was being done.

Warnings about damage that was being done

However, the road contractors appear to have been given the green light despite these warnings, said the source, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Times of Malta has been seeking the position of the Planning Authority on the matter for nearly a month, sending precise details of the roads and walls in question.

However, despite being the authority responsible for the protection of rubble walls, it has failed to reply to questions, one being whether the Tal-Balal rubble walls are in line with the relevant legal notice. Neither were replies to questions received from the Environment and Resources Authority, which is responsible for the protection of the environment.

A spokeswoman for the ERA initially said it was looking into the case but later passed the buck to the PA. “It is the Planning Authority which is the competent authority for implementing and enforcing this legislation,” she said.

Cladded walls cost significantly less to build than true rubble walls.

Infrastructure Malta was asked which it was being billed by the road contractors for, but it too failed to reply to questions.

Mr Baldacchino was scathing: “The roads agency and the ministry seem to think that they are exempt from local legislation. The problem is that besides the destruction of the environment, these roads are also financed by EU money.

“This should be investigated,” he said. Infrastructure Malta was already in hot water over the Tal-Balal Tal-Balal project when it started to build sections of the road without applying for a permit.

 

This concrete is against the regulations, preventing water drainage through rubble walls.

What does the law say?

The legal notice entitled ‘Rubble Walls and Rural Structures’, last amended in 2007, declared rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures to be protected.

This was in view of their historical and architectural importance, their exceptional beauty, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna, and their vital importance in the conservation of soil and water.

According to these rules, a rubble wall means a dry-stone wall, built in loose unhewn or rough-dressed stones which stands by gravity and friction without the use of mortar.

The Planning Authority is declared in the law as the competent authority responsible for the administration and implementation of these regulations.

The relevent regulation regrding rubble walls can be accessed through this link:

http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lom&itemid=11490&l=1

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


“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


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

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

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

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


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!


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/

 

 

 


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/