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!

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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/

 

 

 


A window pain for sure

March 15, 2017

A window pain for sure

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Alfred E Baldacchino

The Azure Window at Dwejra succumbed to the forces of nature on March 8. It was swallowed by the deep blue abyss. There it joined the cave it once proudly held so high above. There was nothing we could do about it.

Not even control people from roaming over its fragile top.

The Azure Window at Dwejra, Gozo before Wednesday, 8 March 2017,  09.23.

The adjacent inland sea was another sea cave, as were the surroundings of Fungus Rock. Time neither waits nor asks for any permit from any authority. Nor does it inform anyone beforehand of its brusque actions. When it is time up, it is time up.

Those who remember the Azure Window can never contain the void it left behind. The aesthetic landscape so damningly torn can never be restored. Its romantic aura now engulfed by emptiness can only lead to tears. Its contribution to the fabric of the Maltese islands is an unbearable pain.

The last time the Azure Window played Hobson’s choice was in Game of Thrones. It must have been painful to look at the scandalous scene where geological remains and ecological micro-niches were commercially exploited without respect.

The exploitation of fossils and micro-habitats at Dwejra during the filming of Game of Thrones.

The endemic Maltese Everlasting threatened by the invasive Hotentot Fig at Dwejra.

Could it be that the Azure Window could not withstand the ongoing rape of the historical, geological, ecological and social environs? Could it be that it could not bear anymore the onslaught on precious indigenous species, some fossilised? Could it be that it could not stand the sight of invasive species encroaching on restricted endemic species? Could it be that it could no longer sustain the past rock-cutting explosives in the vicinity and the relatively recent illegal explosives to widen the passageway to the inland sea?

Could it be that it could not stand and stare at the rife illegal exploitation of the rich, unique marine life and the blatant theft of underwater archaeological remains? Could it have been jealous of the illegal buildings in its shadow, which mushroomed with political blessings, having a stronger hold on their bedrock than the hidden, submarine, disjointed bedding plate it stood on?

Could it be that being a proud part of such a rich but abused national heritage was enough to shatter the window pane, to the extent that it did not want to look and be part of such a rape anymore? Could it be that smiling faces, not shedding any tears for the onslaught on such a heritage, led to profound heartbreaks?

Will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance?

This lone, overpowering geological giant has in no uncertain way disassociated itself completely from such exploitation.

The Azure Window is now far from this madding crowd, safely and silently contributing to an underwater habitat for the indigenous marine species. The fauna which once caressed its fragile underwater hold are now embraced by the new myriad mazes it offers.

Dwejra is poorer without the Azure Window, no doubt about it. But it is still very rich in the indigenous biodiversity of the area.

The numerous fossils at Dwejra daily trodden upon by the numerous boots of tourists and locals.

Not only endangered indigenous biodiversity, but also endemic species, which together with the Azure Window have graced and enriched the area without much appreciation.

Consider the extent to which Dwejra is regarded as a special area of conservation of European Union importance. It is a Natura 2000 site, a site which hopefully one day will be professionally managed and protected for future generations, as is morally and legally obliged.

Would it be too optimistic to expect that the Azure Window’s pain, brought about by its disappearance, can instill the real appreciation of our rich, not-yet-understood, natural heritage we have been entrusted to safeguard? Would it be too much to implement professionally sound environmental principles to make up for this national loss?

Can the Azure Window open a social vision to lead many to see and understand that no amount of richness or gigantic strength can stop the natural powers from the inevitable brusque actions, which one day will see them dethroned and naked serving willy-nilly as a habitat for less honourable beings?

Or will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance? Wouldn’t be surprised at all. There are competent individuals who can tear the place apart!

Many have shed a tear for the loss of such a natural national icon, pointing the finger at nature for taking the Azure Window away and depriving locals, future generations and tourists of its majesty. Can all the tears spilled over such a loss wash away the pecuniary blinkers which are blinding many with greed, leading to uncontrolled, irreversible ecological, economic and social destruction?

One hopes, as the Singaporean political activist Alex Tan  believes, that “Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again”, even if this is at a great cost. The view from the Azure Window is there for all those who have eyes to see.

Breaking news: it has been officially announced that it has been decided not to ‘rebuild’ the Azure Window. These fairy-tale decisions from this EU member state dispel any doubt of the miserable, deep depths the endemic political intelligence is in. I have no tears; there is only pain.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

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

see also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/dwejra-gone-with-the-wind/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/dwejra-developments/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Glyphosate & you – with addenda

January 17, 2017

gravatar

Glyphosate & you – with addenda

Tuesday, 17th January 2016.

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the article in the Times of Malta, which was also posted on this blog, the Minsiter for the Environemnt, made a statement on Glyphosate during the parliamentary sitting of 16th January, 2017.

I am posting a photo shot of such comments, downloaded from the Minister’s Facebook page, and kindly forwarded to me by the Clean Food Movement.

2017.01.16 - ministru fil-parlament.png

A clear, official indication that the commercial rules of the free market come before any concerns for human health, the safeguarding of the ecosystem, and additional public expenditure to correct the negative impacts. All in the name of commerce!

This despite the official EU claims that the EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides, because this is the responsibility of the Member States, as explained in the previous post on this blog. I still cannot find any reference where the EU concluded that glyphosate is not cancerogenic.

Previous findings from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that glyphosate is a ‘probable carcinogen’.

A study was conducted over two years at Kings College, London. It found that residues of popular weedkiller glyphosate found in food can cause fatty liver disease.

Rats were administered a very low daily dose of four nanograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day. To put that into perspective this is 75,000 times below the levels of glyphosate permitted in the EU in our food.

According to lead researcher Dr Michael Antoniou, previous studies on human urine found that we often consume around a thousand times the amount of glyphosate the rats consumed. Regulators globally accept toxicity studies in rats as indicators of human health risk, making this a signiÏcant, a truly disturbing, discovery.

Glyphosate has only now been recognised as a cause of the liver disease (nonalcoholic fatts liver disease), which can cause fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, spiderlike blood vessels, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, and swelling of the legs and abdomen, and mental confusion.

I do honestly hope that no politician can dare say that there is nothing wrong with this as long as it is not cancer.

dead bee 16Unfortunately, I can only join the bees and say: “Thank you Honourable Minister” for the heroic efforts towards human health and the environment. Future generations will be grateful for the ‘price’ they will have to pay.

further reading:

Glyphosate & you – http://wp.me/pL6Mk-16E

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

 

 

 


Glyphosate & you

January 16, 2017

times of malta

‘EU’s permission to ban glyphosate is not needed’

Monday, January 16, 2017

 Sarah Carabott

 

photo-pesticides

Placing peticides on the market is the role of the member states. Photo: Shutterstock

Malta can still decide to ban products containing the weedkiller glyphosate and does not need any EU permission, environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino insists.

Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the environment directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, was contacted after this newspaper was informed the government would only ban the use of glyphosate when such a move was ordered by the EU.

Only last summer, the Environment Ministry said the government had started the process to ban glyphosate. However, only products containing both the active substance glyphosate and the co-formulant POE-tallowamine are being banned. This, according to the ministry, includes Hopper Blu, Roundup, Roundup Max and Seccherba Respect.

stephanie-seneff-glyphosate

The price society pays to have ‘cheap’ food. Is it worth it?

A study has just been released showing that Roundup caused liver disease in rats. The World Health Organisation’s cancer agency says glyphosate itself is a “probable carcinogen”. Mr Baldacchino said the government was right to vote last June against the use of glyphosate in line with the precautionary principle cited by environmental groups, which stated that potentially hazardous substances should not be used unless they were proven to be safe.

What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones

“But it seems the Environment Minister’s spokeswoman wants the minister to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.” “The EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides. It is the role and responsibility of the member states to do so and the regulator in this area is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.”

“Malta can still decide to ban products containing glyphosate if it is not sure that the chemicals can have negative health and ecological impacts,” he insisted. Mr Baldacchino noted that it had already been proven that glyphosate killed bees, directly when they came in contact with the product and also by killing the flowers they fed on. Traces of the chemical had also been found in honey.

dead bee 16“What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones, and this includes NGOs, technical experts, health experts, environmentalists and beekeepers,” he said.

The ministry, Mr Baldacchino continued, should also make clear what its intentions were and how it would enforce the ban. He wondered who would monitor what chemicals were used in herbicides and pesticides.

In a letter sent to the Environment Minister, the Clean Food Movement expressed dismay at the ministry’s watered-down position, saying the ban had turned out to be “no more than window dressing”.

“We are now more concerned than ever about the possible continued use of glyphosate on these islands,” the letter to the minister read.

Contacted in his capacity as chemical expert, Alfred Vella, the University rector, said herbicides containing more than one active ingredient did exist. POE-tallowamine was frequently present in herbicide compositions to serve as a “surfactant”, which was not designed to kill weeds but to make the delivery of the actual toxic chemical, such as glyphosate, more effective in its action. Still, at high enough concentration, POE tallowamine itself did have toxic properties in the case of certain organisms, he said.

Concern usually revolved around the stability and durability of herbicides and pesticides after being dispersed in the environment. If their stability was high and they remained on edible produce for far too long, it meant they could be consumed together with the vegetables containing them. There were also concerns about their solubility in water, as rainwater would be able to take chemicals down to the water table or nearby seawater.

On the other hand, chemicals that were not easily soluble in water were normally quite soluble in fatty matter, meaning they could be absorbed through the skin if contaminated harvested produce came in contact with animals or people.

killed by public funds

The price the ecosystem pays to have ‘cheap food. Is it worth it?

Prof. Vella acknowledged there was concern about pesticides and herbicides in general, however, he advised on looking at both sides of the coin. The use of pesticides allowed agriculture to produce food in much larger volumes and cheaper prices than without the chemicals.

While it was possible to live in a pesticide-free environment, society would likely have to pay a price. Apart from increased cost of foods, the decline in production could cut off some people’s access to meat, fruit and vegetables and that would also have health consequences, Prof. Vella pointed out.

______________________________________________________

Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

dead bee 8

who is paying for this if we may ask?

No, that’s the role of member states but active substances in the pesticides have to be approved at EU level. Once an active substance is approved at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticide formulation is done at a later stage by individual member states before they grant, refuse or restrict the use of pesticides formulations at national level.

In their authorisation decision, member states can therefore define the conditions for use of the product, for instance, restricted to certain crops, for professional use or for use in glass houses only.

*Information taken from the European Commission site.

______________________________________________________

 

further reading:

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/


Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

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

effect-of-x-f

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

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

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

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

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

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

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

effect-of-x-f-2

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

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

butchered tree 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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


Trees and invasive species

July 9, 2016

times of malta

Trees and invasives

Saturday, 9th July 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It was definitely good news to hear the new Environment Minister announce two new regulations for the protection of biodiversity during the last meeting of the Permanent Committee of the House of Representatives for the Environment and Development Planning (June 28).

trees

Trees growing as they should grow, not like those at the University Campus. Photo Times of Malta.

Good news to hear that two sets of regulations will soon be published: one on the promised and much awaited protection of trees and the other on the transposition of the new EU regulations on invasive species. Credit has to be given where due.

butchered tree 7

Endemic ‘landscaping’ in the Maltese Islands. And also on the University Campus. Photo A E Baldacchino.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds. And that they will also include provisions which will put an end to barbaric practices such as those which took place at the University campus, where close to 60 indigenous mature olive trees were butchered.

José Herrera’s brief reference to invasive species shows he is in need of urgent help and exposure to the definition of invasive species. It would be to his benefit if he were to read, even if only the preamble, the EU regulations about invasive species which his ministry is about to transpose to local legislation.

Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of October 22, 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, will definitely put Herrera in a better position to understand the obligations of this legal instrument on invasive species.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds.

The more so since these EU regulations contain many references to other EU and international conventions binding legislation on invasive species.

Such references will enable Herrera to understand the real legal and technical definition of invasive species in the field of the protection of biodiversity. He will then certainly realise how poor the definition he has been handed is, on which unfortunately he is basing the whole concept for the protection of trees.

Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18

Fountain grass – one of the recently introduced invasive species – growing profusely at the Għammieri car park. This does not have any impacts on any gene pool, but it is growing wild in an area which is under the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.

It would be a great help to him if he arrived at his own conclusion on these international legal provisions, and being a legal person it should not be that difficult.

Herrera’s body language and brief speech on the advice given by his technocrats regarding such EU obligations put him in an embarrassing and uneasy position especially when referring to the scientific aspect of invasive species. He showed that he is not au courant with such important legal instruments.

It is quite evident that these have not yet been brought to his attention although one cannot understand how this can be done by technocrats who may not be aware of them.

Sempreviva-ta'-Għawdex---mhedda

Hottentot fig – one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Yet planted and paid for by public funds for landscaping purposes. The photo shows how it is suffocating the endemic Maltese Everlasting (Sempreviva ta’ Għawdex) in Dwejra Gozo. It does not have anything to do with polluting the local gene pool of any indigenous species, yet it is one of the worst invaders.

Invasive species control is not only relevant to the pollution of the gene pool of indigenous species, as Herrera seems to have been advised. The negative social, economic and ecological impacts of imported invasive species such as fountain grass, siris tree, hotentot fig, tomato leafminer, and the red palm weevil (just to mention a few), do not have anything to do with the pollution of the gene pool.

Most of these invasive species have and some are still being used in this so-called ‘landscaping’ paid from public funds by one of his colleagues.

One invasive species mentioned is related to agriculture. The Plant Health Department, which is in his portfolio, can shed a lot of light on the negative impacts of invasive species.

2008.01.15---dead-palm-tree-at-Imtarfa

One of the 5000+ dead palm trees killed by the red-palm weevil, imported with palm trees to be used for landscaping purposes. Profits were made, but society and the environment are still paying the cost of such a short-sighted political decision.

Herrera’s speech also shows his need to widen his view on what is an invasive species. Admittedly, he is still green on this delicate subject matter, which makes such need more urgent. The definition he is projecting can only have come from technocrats who have never attended or been exposed to international meetings on the subject, be it that of the Bern Convention, or the Convention on Biological Diversity or of the European Union. If they had, Herrera would be in a more comfortable position.

The first decision taken by Herrera as an Environment Minister against the continued use of glyphosate was widely applauded. This he achieved because he wisely and attentively heard all stakeholders and took the decision himself. A decision which made him stand head and shoulder above all the other EU environment ministers, taking in consideration the social and ecological impacts of the further use of this pesticide.

It is an open secret that his technocrats’ advice was diametrically opposite before Herrera decided to listen to what others were saying. It now seems that the same blinkered scenario is leading Herrera on the same negative footsteps with regards to invasive species.

The above are some of the Government's publications, all adequate administrative and legal tools which can make any green dream come true. Yet they are mostly ignored and hardly enforced at all. Why? I hate to think that these were published just for the attention of the EU and its Member States. Or perhaps to take the public for a ride? But if not so, then why are they not taken into official decisions and enforced?

Code of Conduct on Invasive Alien Spaces. This booklet was financed by the Ministry of Finance, the Economy and Investment through the Fund for Hosting International Conferences in Malta (MFEI Circular 5/09).   Surely a must read for every Minister of the Environment, before taking any stand on invasive alien species. Incidentally the species behind bars in the picture is a hottentot fig flower.)

If the regulations covering the protection of trees are to address invasive species as explained and projected by the Minister, than these are bound to fail even before publication.

With regards to the other local regulations transposing the EU regulations, being regulations already approved and published by the EU, these are already in force in toto in all EU states. It would indeed be a great pity if Herrara’s new regulations contradict others.

Whether Herrera choses to dance to his technocrats’ music, and bar all other views with regards to the obligations of international and EU obligations, is up to him. As Environment Minister, Herrera is responsible for the administration, monitoring, implementation and enforcement of these EU obligations on invasive species; even if these are ignored by one of his colleagues.

This is a collective responsibility shared with his Cabinet colleagues. And one cannot image any technocrat worth his mettle to even think that requests to honour EU obligations on invasive species regulations can be attributed to any fundamentalist.

It is assumed that Herrera can easily understand these legal obligations, when and if these are brought to his attention.

One regrets to say that EU Environmental Acquis with regards to protection, management, enforcement, communication, education and public awareness in the Maltese islands are at their lowest ebb since accession to the EU in 2004.

Herrera has a golden opportunity to address this, but not through half-baked, possibly contradicting regulations and comments not exactly in line with EU obligations being suggested by his technocrats.

One cannot put all the blame on Herrera. He should be given the time and opportunity to inform himself, hear carefully and more important, to listen.

Whether he desires to do so, to be able to reach his own reasoned political decision, is completely up to him. I just cannot understand why he is making it so difficult for himself.

The political duty and decision to inform himself better before concluding is solely Herrera’s, and not that of any of his technocrats. Once bitten twice shy as he is sure to know.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading on trees and invasive species:

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/butchered-olive-trees/

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/maltese-trees-conserving-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/l-%c2%adispeci-invazivi-u-l%c2%ad-mepa/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/l%c2%ad-akacja-tal%c2%ad-harir-%c2%ad-sigra-invaziva/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-sigar-fil-bliet-u-fl-irhula-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%e2%80%93-a-european-concern/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-mdina-ditch-trees-is-the-eu-really-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/is-sigar-maltin-2/