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

 


Wied il-Qlejgħa jispiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu

April 13, 2020

Samuel Lucas

Il-Ħamis, April 9, 2020

Wara li ftit tax-xhur ilu Wied il-Qlejgħa magħruf aħjar ma’ ħafna bħala Chadwick Lakes, irċieva tindifa papali sabiex ikun jista’ jżomm aktar ilma, dan spiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu.

Dan l-istazzjon mar fuq il-post fejn hemm hekk seta’ jara trakki ta’ ħamrija maqluha minn quadbikes li għal xi raġuni niżlu fil-parti fejn jinġema’ l-ilma.

Dan l-att vandalu sar waqt li bħalissa fl-istess wied għaddej proġett ta’ madwar ħames miljun ewro li jinvolvi t-tindif ta’ tlieta u ħamsin elf metru kubu ta’ ħamrija minn fejn jgħaddi l-ilma biex b’hekk il-Wied jiġi jesa’ ħamsa u tletin miljun litru ilma iżjed. Dan filwaqt li fost oħrajn se jitħawwlu ħames t’elef siġra fiż-żona.

 

 

Wied il-Qlejgħa jispiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu

 

L-ambjentalist Alfred Baldacchino li hu kwalifikat fl-ippjanar u l-immaniġġjar tal-ambjent spjega l-vandaliżmu li sar fil-wied fejn fosthom semma’ wkoll kif twaqqa’ ħajt li nbena lura fis seklu dsatax.

Baldacchino stqarr, “Qegħdin jagħmlu l-ħsara għaliex f’dak id-daqxejn ta’ ilma hemmek hemm ħafna Flora u Fauna li jkunu hemmek reqdin għal ġranet tax-Xitwa u meta issa jasal is-Sajf u r-Rebbiegħa jagħtu l-ħajja u tgħaffiġ bħal dak jagħmel ħafna ħsara.”

Huwa spjega wkoll kif xi persuni ħelsu minn speċi nvażivi li jistgħu jkunu ta’ ħsara għall-biodiversità fil-Wied.

Kompla jgħid, “Ġieli rajna fkieren tal-ilma ħelu li dawn jieklu kulma jsibu l-imrieżeb, l-iżrinġijiet, il-larvea ta’ ċertu insetti allura dan qed jonqos in-numru tagħhom. Insibu l-ħut tal-ilma ħelu li kull sena insibu min jiġu jitlaqhom hawnekk u dik qed tagħmel ħsara lill-biodiversità.”

B’hekk is-Sur Baldacchino appella sabiex il-pubbliku jinforma ruħu iktar sabiex dan il-wied meqjus bħala ġawhra f’pajjiżna jiġi preżervat bl-aħjar mod possibbli.

“Dan ix-xogħol biex jirnexxi irid ikollu ukoll l-għajnuna indiretta tal-pubbliku li l-pubbliku jagħraf li dan ix-xogħol qed isir għal ġib tiegħu.” Ikkonkluda jgħid.

Il-proġett li bħalissa għaddej fiċ-Chadwick Lakes mistenni jitlesta sentejn oħra.

 

Xi fawna invażiva li tinstab f’Wied il-Qlejgħa

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

artikli oħra dwar Wied il-Qlejgħa

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

Valley – check with likes

Wied il-Qlejgħa

 


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.

.

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 


Environment Landscaping Conundrum

September 10, 2019

The environment landscaping problem

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

maintenance of public gardens –  pruning agony.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

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Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

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

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

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

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

 


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/

 

 

 


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/


There is no respite for trees

June 18, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, June 18, 2016,

There is no respite for trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino
tree at Ta' Xbiex

The Ta’ Xbiex tree posted on facebook

The proposed uprooting of trees at the Ta’ Xbiex yacht marina provoked a flow of comments and criticism on the social media. This followed a decision to “condemn to death by Transport Malta with the blessing of Ta’ Xbiex local council and the hidden hand of the Gżira local council”. Incidentally, the Gżira local council also had a hidden hand in the butchering of the indigenous olive trees at the University campus.

It is now becoming more clear that one of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory. They certainly do not show any appreciation for such an important natural heritage, nor any respect for political commitments and (inter)national obligations.

The trees at Ta’ Xbiex intended for uprooting fall under the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and Landscaping. This ministry is becoming more and more notorious for the decimation of trees in the Maltese islands, both directly and indirectly. In fact, it would not be surprising to say that the Minister for Transport and Landscaping seems to be completely unaware of his party’s electoral manifesto.

manifest 2013Article 56 of the Labour electoral manifesto promises that the government will “continuously protect the existing trees in Maltese cities and villages and incentivise the planting of more trees, particularly indigenous trees”.

Section 9 commits the government, which “believes that Malta should be in the forefront in environmental standards. Not because there are obligations from the European directives but because this is what our children deserve.”

Despite such commitments, the devastation of urban trees has been going on even under the present administration.

To add insult to injury, the Minister for Transport and Landscaping is responsible for a public-private partnership agreement for which the Maltese public is now paying €8 million a year.

Penisetum - Vittoriosa - 2014.10 (5)What has one to show for all this public money spent in the last 14 years, that is €112 million? Invasive species spreading all over the islands, such as fountain grass, hottentot fig and siris tree, expanses of turf gulping scarce resources of water, most of which ends Penisetum - St. paul's Bay - 18.05.16up running down the adjacent streets, herbicides preventing Maltese wildflowers from propagating and offering an adequate habitat for pollinators such as bees and for insect larvae, mutilated and uprooted trees, annuals which are planted for a couple of weeks and then ploughed to be replaced by other annuals. All are endorsed and paid for by the said ministry.

Penisetum - Siri Tree - Vittoriosa - 20.10.13Considering the above promises, national and international obligations and subsequent damage to the local biodiversity, I asked for a copy of the agreement. Following a number of refusals by the Ministry for Transport and Landscaping, last January Penisetum - qormi 29.09.1119, the Commissioner for Data Protection “instructed the minister to forward a copy of such agreement”. But Joe Mizzi’s ministry is still objecting to handing it over.

One of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory

Penisetum - Mater Dei - 28.02.2014What is so scandalous in this agreement? What is the reason for objection when the Data Protection Commissioner “concluded that it does not contain any information having a commercial value”? It is an open secret that the original agreement was the result of a direct order and not made through a call for interest from various stakeholders. Why is the minister so keen to keep such an official public agreement Penisetum - Dingli - 07.12.14so close to his heart? Is there anything embarrassing in it? Is it possible that what is being paid from public funds is not exactly in line with what is stipulated in the agreement?

The protection of trees and the natural habitat is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, who is obliged to ensure that the number of national and international biodiversity obligations, including those of the Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18EU are honoured. Perhaps the new Environment Minister can give a helping hand to Mizzi and put his foot down on such destruction as he courageously and boldly did regarding the vote at the EU against the extended use of the herbicide glyphosate?

The introduction to the 2013 electoral manifesto, signed by Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, clearly states that: “For us Malta does not belong to this one or that one. It does not belong to any clique. Malta belongs neither to some politician nor to some political party. Those times are past.”

balzan 02,10,08Judging by the way trees are handled, it seems the ministry is still anchored to past times. One has only to look at all the disfigured urban trees, the spread of invasive species, the waste of resources, the spread of exotic species at the expense of indigenous trees to reach such a conclusion.

Besides, the Ministry for the Environment seems to think and believe that the public agreement that provides public funds for the above-mentioned environmental damage is its property.

zebbug entrance 09,08,13

€8 million are spent yearly from public funds for what is referred to as ‘landscaping’ purposes. It seems that it does not matter how these are spent, as long as they are spent. The above photos are some of the obscenities paid from such a vote, despite national, international and EU obligations. No wonder the Ministry responsible for Landscaping is constantly refusing to publish the official public agreement.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading on trees:

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

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/


National hobby of butchering trees

May 11, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 11th June 2016

National hobby of butchering trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Since the first day when the tree protection regulations of 2001 were amended in 2011, the future of trees in Malta was open to the whims and fancies of developers and so called ‘landscapers’ who butcher them to their hearts’ content.

butchered tree 3

A common sight of the trail left behind by Maltese landscapers, who now seem to have also been accepted by the University, unless one hears to the contrary.

Through these years, the environmental NGOs, or some of them, have protested and protested against such butchering of trees paid out of public funds. And the conscientious and intelligent general public also kept on protesting ad nauseam. But nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to hear and nobody seems to listen. Nobody is conscious about the environmental and social damage. And the butchering goes on and on and on.

It would do no harm if one is reminded of the Government’s ‘Malta Tagħna lkoll’ electoral manifesto with regards to trees and woodland:

We will constantly protect existing trees in the Maltese towns and villages, and we will encourage the planting of more trees, especially indigenous trees. page 101, article 56.

butchered tree 7

seems that this is the official accepted professional  protection and encouragement of trees in Malta

The government has been involved in a Private Public Partnership for the last 14 years. The total amount paid for this so called landscaping, for which there is no official regulator from the biodiversity and social aspects, is approximately €112 million, or €8 million each year. And what has the country got to show for it. Invasive species and exotic trees, imported species for such landscaping, even imported indigenous specimens, to the detriment of Maltese biodiversity and to society, and planting of annual flowers which are ploughed and uprooted after a couple of weeks.

Despite the number of national and international obligations including EU obligations, with regards to the control of invasive species, such ‘landscaping’ goes on without any consideration for them.

Furthermore, the use of expanses of turf gulping the scare resource of water with the use of added herbicides seems to be the cherry on the commercial cake of this private public agreement. To the extent that the Minister responsible for landscaping still persists in keeping this public agreement confidential, and endorses €8 million annually.

Why? What is there to be ashamed of, unless of course this mismanagement is not in line with the public contract?

In the meantime the Minster for Environment looks as if environment is not his responsibility.

butchered tree 5

One of the many olive trees which have been ‘professionally pruned’ on the University of Malta campus. If this ecological vandalism is accepted by the University of Malta, then I am sorry to say that the University has been taken for a ride. Twice. The University deserves much much better than this.

Such gross mismanagement and waste of public resources lacking any scientific and professional basis, ignoring international and EU obligations, to the detriment of society and the environment, now seems to have also infected, penetrated and hijacked the University of Malta.

The Times of Malta (May 7) produced photos of butchered trees in the precincts of the University of Malta –  66 mature olive trees. The institution, one would presume, is aware of the public outcry regarding the mismanagement of trees in the Maltese Islands for the last decade or so.

Who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees?

There are qualified professional staff at University who, I am sure, if they had been consulted would have strongly objected to such nonsensical, unprofessional butchering of trees.

The more so since during this time of the year the trees are in flower and are beneficial to pollinators, including bees. So who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees, especially when olive tree wood is so much in demand? Who is paying whom for such mismanagement? Who is going to pay for the damages done?

One wonders why such butchering was allowed on the University campus. Has it been an internal decision or was it an imposed decision from outside?

Civil society looks at University as the source from where trained professionals find their place in society and be involved in the professional running of the country. Civil society also pays to achieve this too. But the butchering of trees on the campus does not reflect any success of trained professionals in the field.

On the contrary such mismanagement officially approved on the campus, look more like a failure on the part of the University. One can add that lack of qualifications of self-proclaimed landscapers in the management of trees, has completely taken over any professional management one would expect from a University.

uom poster

picture says it all

Could this be the result that the educational system where each and every faculty is just concerned only in its narrow specialties, not caring a finger on the externalities or responsibilities that the decisions taken by their eventually qualified students on the wider social and environmental fabric of the island?

One can only hope and wait that one day, possibly yesterday, Malta too would have qualified professionals having a wider vision of social and environmental responsibilities, who are also accepted and involved in the governance of the country. The butchering of mature trees on the campus if anything, has severely dented the professionalism at University in this field. And everyone expects a strong reaction to address this mediocrity which now has been going on for far too long without anybody taking any responsibility for it.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further reading on this national hobby of butchering trrees

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/is-sigra-nazzjonali-u-l%c2%ad-politikanti-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/2-%c2%ad-is-%c2%adsigar-barranin-l%c2%ad-impatt-dirett-taghhom/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/sigar-maltin-u-sigar-mhux-maltin/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/hello-world/

 

 


It never rains, it pours

March 26, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 26th March 2016

It never rains, it pours
Alfred E. Baldacchino

The lack of rain this winter has become a great concern for many social leaders. Parched valleys, dried cisterns, empty wells, wilted vegetation, worried farmers, are just a harbinger of things to come during the coming hottest months of the year. This acute drought is making some leaders, whether political or religious, feel a little bit wet under the collar.

Seemingly as a last resort, I would say more for convenience sake to appease their faithful, these social leaders are either reverting to PR exercises instead of working on the long overdue water management plans, or praying the Creator, asking Him for His intervention to send us some of the much needed rain. What an embarrassment!

TOM photo

Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier – Times of Malta.

The Lord has always given us rain water for free during the years. He has also given us intelligence. One can see the results of such intelligence in past engineering works with regards to water harvesting. One can find and see the professional management of such a rare natural resource dating back to the times before Christ. Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. In fact the

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta. photo Keith Buhagiar

Maltese islands are dotted with historical professional engineering projects with the sole aim that not a drop of water is wasted. This has seen the population of these islands go through two world wars without having any problems with water, which the Lord sends us for free.

But in the last 50 years, when we took over the management of our Country, we became affluent, like affluent rats, and we boast about it. This has led us to put a price to everything, and discard natural resources which are given to us for free. We are convinced that we have complete control over the ecosystem. Free assets, such as water, are regarded as having no commercial, economic, social or environmental value, and these can be exploited whenever and however we want to.

Today we live for the day, and exploit everything that we lay our eyes and hands on. Mainly, with endemic political intelligence, we ruined, and are still in the process of doing, whole historical engineering networks which contribute to the storing of such a rare natural resource.

LN-376-of-2012

How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

page-1

Professional legislation with regards to the management and conservation of water was adulterated, to accommodate speculators, with an eye on votes. We lost sight of this natural resource to the extent that official entities, like MEPA, that notorious environmental watchdog, prefers planning to store cars instead of planning to catch and store every drop of the rare resource of free rain water.

In our desperate greed, we contributed to the flooding of inhabited areas where the relatively poor reside, besides neglecting the water table with regards to its replenishment, its conservation, its abuse, and the enforcement of legal protection.

But the endemic political acumen, came out with a solution. This led to the asking for help from the new milking cow. Approximately €57 million were used to dig an underground tunnel so that all the free rain water which we are gifted with, could be swept to the sea. Such a scenario emerged from the uncontrolled development and lack of planning as a result of which water could not seep into the aquifer. A pain in the neck when rain water floods our street because of such mismanagement.

If we made use of the intelligence the Almighty gave us, as our ancestors did, we would have restored all the historic cisterns and wells, build new ones to capture and collect all the water, and not ask school children to catch a drop, and throw millions of gallons out to sea. Imagine if the historic professional water management systems were appreciated, cared for, renovated and kept in a good shape. There would not be any reason to pray for rain. Imagine if large cisterns were built in all the school yards, of which there are so many.

Wouldn’t the €57 million have been well spent and such harvested natural resource be so beneficial in this time of drought? But such common sense was not so common with the planning authority, or else these were regarded as whitebait not palatable and attractive enough to the sharks!

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

The cemetery built in Nadur Gozo, disrupted and ruined the natural hydrological system and the professional engineering built by the Knights of Malta.

The religious authorities did not bat an eyelid for such waste of resources either. Not only so, but some had also a finger in the pie in the mismanagement of such a natural scarce resource. With MEPA’s blessing, they chose the largest water catchment area in Gozo where to build a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery consisting of 600 graves for the dead at the expense of the living. An appropriate adequate grave for present day intelligence.

In the process, a historical engineering system, which was used to catch free rain water and harvest it in various cisterns, was ruined. This system used to ensure enough adequate water for agricultural needs of the farmers along Wied il-Qasab during the long hot summer months. But because of such mismanagement and lack of professional planning, today when it rains, not only is the water not collected for agricultural use, it now floods the fields further down the valley. The result of the approved plans, by you know who, which interfered with the flow of water through the geological strata. And the cemetery was blessed too!

eco-1This is why I feel embarrassed to pray for rain. I am surprised at the audacity some have, especially those who believe that they are closer to the Lord than any other. Why should the Lord listen to us when a great percentage of such free rain water would be swept to the sea as unwanted, undesired and useless water. And it also floods agricultural land because of land mismanagement and land abuse. What an embarrassment to man’s intelligence. How shameful!

And in the meantime, despite such a drought, large expanses of turf are still being sprinkled (during the darkness of night) with the Minister for Landscaping’s blessings.

If I had to pen a tentative reply to such prayers, I would say: “Be blessed, go and repent.” And remember that “Water is the driving force of all nature” (Leonardo da Vinci).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Additional reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/dezert-niexef-nixfa-ta-ideat/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/l-immaniggar-tal-ilma-fmalta/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/in-nixfa-tax-xitwa-u-s-sigra-tal-lewz/

 https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/an-official-water-policy/


A splitting image of Mepa

August 3, 2015

times of malta

Monday, 3rd August, 2015

A splitting image of MEPA 

Alfred E Baldacchino

mepa logo-1

MEPA’s failure in its environmental responsibility started from day one. Barely a week from the ‘merger’ with the Environment Department, in 2001, I was told in a joking vein: “forget about environment; it is development which dictates here.”

And so it was to be. And so it is today. Honouring national and international environmental obligations, which were never understood or wanted to be understood by MEPA, seemed like trying to swim up the Niagara falls. Eventually, environment became MEPA’s Cinderella, leading to its present headless mummified state in limbo.

After two years in government, it has now been thought appropriate to resuscitate such a mummy. Despite being an electoral promise, the move is accompanied by a lot of fanfare and publicity, and this raises more questions than answers. Is it to hide past failures and the procrastination in making such move? Is it to detract from the fact that environment has been kept out of the portfolio of the Minster for the Environment but is in that of the Prime Minster? Is it to make up for the environmental degradation which also saw the Environment Directorate degenerate into a mummified orphaned headless Cinderella? Is it just meant for that part of the electorate who can be convinced that a circle is square?

To consolidate MEPA complete disregard for the environment, on its death bed MEPA, forwarded a report to the Prime Minister, a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that Żonqor was the best site for the university development. The report completely ignored the Environment Directorate, it’s acting Director (no Director since change of government) and the MEPA board too.

MEPA has stooped so low, with such farcical unprofessional behaviour along the years, that it has lost all credibility. It is in need of new image to “secure better planning”!  Is the colourful publicity and change of name merely dressing the old wolf in new sheep’s clothing? Many already see the Executive Council referred to in the new Bills, as already set up and running, as evidenced by the Żonqor report. It seems that the rape will go on, till there is nothing left to rape.

As advertised, MEPA will be no more, and will only be remembered in the books of history especially for its complete environmental failures. Few would shed a tear.

 

trophy

Future generations have a right to know who was responsible for the protection of the Maltese environment, which they have lent us.

I won’t. I have gone through the new environment bill. An exercise undertaken by a parliamentary secretary in the office of the prime minister. The new bill transposes all the environmental provisions from the MEPA Act (except for some ‘overlooked touches’): a cut and paste exercise to ensure that the EU Environment Aquis obligations are all there.

If the new Environment Act is to put the environment high on the agenda, why was it not possible to achieve such aims, with the same legal provisions, when it was under the responsibility of the Prime Minister? Is all this fanfare a confirmation of failure? MEPA has been declared a monster, without any political control, when as everybody knows it functions by political nods, as one concludes from a rationalised  żonqor point.

I honestly believe that the Minster for the Environment, Leo Brincat, can administer the environment on professional lines. Perhaps this is why he has been kept away from environmental responsibility, and MEPA, environment and all, are still not in his portfolio after two years. It is nice to have someone to shield the blows though!

One now hopes the Minster for the environment won’t be given a ‘promotion’ and be replaced by someone whose main qualification will be to convince us that he is ‘balancing’ environment and planning, naturally in the ‘national’ interest. This would only result in handing over of a mummified headless Cinderella from limbo, nicely adorned as a skeleton on a string, controlled by the Executive Council.

 

 

cartoon

What trust can one have in the headless skeleton, resuscitated and dressed as an Environmental Authority? In the absence of such trust, which is not easy to re-establish, it is very difficult to believe everything that is being said.

Those who yearn for a better future, better social wellbeing, a better environmental home, have to fasten their seatbelts. We are all in for a rough ride.

I sincerely wish all the good luck to the Environment Minister who will need all the help he can from genuine individuals and social entities, especially from the political field.

Unfortunately though he will have a lot of bones to pick with.

——————————————

PS – graphics were added to the original article.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Blinded by a pro-business vision – Alfred Baldacchino

June 21, 2015
 malta-todaySunday, 21 June 2015

Environment policy has been sacrificed in the name of short-sighted greed. Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, outlines how this was achieved

interviewed by Raphael Vassallo
 

Evidence for this was provided by none other than the CEO of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) at a parliamentary committee meeting last Monday: when he candidly admitted that the report authorising the selection of Zonqor Point for this project did not include any input from the environment Protection Directorate (EPD).

Alfred E. Baldacchino was present for that meeting, as he has been present for practically every environmental challenge to face Malta in recent years. I meet the former EPD assistant director at his Attard residence, and find him still re-living the arguments of Monday’s animated meeting.

Before turning to his complaints about the site-selection process, let’s talk a little about the site itself. Zonqor Point. Protestors were indignant to hear the place referred to by defenders of the project as a ‘wasteland’ and ‘dumpsite’. What is the significance of this area for people like Baldacchino?

alfred_baldacchino

Alfred E. Baldacchino (Photo: Ray Attard)

“My comments on the use – or rather, abuse – of this area are mainly based on the negative social and environmental aspects of this project. Because you cannot focus only on the social or environmental aspects; they go hand in hand. One might also add commercial aspects… but not on their own. Unfortunately, however, during last Monday’s discussion the project was being looked at just from a commercial point of view. And this is an official view of the project, by the competent authority: MEPA, which is still the authority responsible for the environment. And although the commercial returns, on their own, may be good, one cannot just ignore the social and environmental aspects. Because obviously, such a project will have externalities: hidden costs which eventually society and the environment will have to pay. Both socially, and ecologically…

This “greed”, he adds, has completely eliminated all social and environmental considerations from a decision which was taken almost as an obsession to develop this area.

“I like to base my arguments on the electoral manifesto of ‘the movement’. I won’t call it a ‘party’, because in my opinion, presently, it would be an insult to the Labour Party and to the concept of socialism. This is not a socialist party. It is a movement… in fact, the government never refers to itself as socialist. To use an environmentalist analogy: this is a socialist party genetically modified into a far right, capitalist movement. This is shown by the various decisions being taken, and also by the help it gets from official entities which are supposed to be qualified and responsible for the management of social and environmental matters…”

continued in part 2 on: http://wp.me/pL6Mk-T1

or

Read the full interview in MaltaToday

2015.06.21---zonqor-point

Żonqor Point which spurred civil society to make an environmental and social point in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

IR-RAPPORT TAL-MEPA DWAR IŻ-ŻONQOR

June 16, 2015

IR-RAPPORT TAL-MEPA DWAR IŻ-ŻONQOR

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It-Tnejn 15 ta’ Ġunju, 2015.

Nhar it-Tnejn, 15 ta’ Ġunju 2015, iltaqa’ l-Kumitat Permanenti tal-Kamra tad-Deputati dwar l-ambjent u l-ippjanar tal-iżvilupp. L-għan tal-laqgħa kien sabiex jiġi diskuss il-Preliminary Site Evaluation Report bid-data ta’ November 2014, dwar l-iżvilupp f’Ta’ Żonqor, li ġie mħejji mill-Uffiċjal Eżekuttiv Prinċipali tal-Awtorità Maltija għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar. Dan ir-rapport kien ġie mqiegħed fuq il-mejda tal-Kamra tad-deputati fis-25 ta’ Mejju 2015 mill-Prim Ministru.

Jiena kont mistieden għal din il-laqgħa fejn tkellimt fuq in-nuqqas ta’ tagħrif li ma kienx hemm fir-rapport u li mingħajru ma setgħetx tittieħed l-ebda deċiżjoni fl-interess soċjali u ambjentali. Il-punti ewlenin li tkellimt fuqhom huma dawn:

  1.  Dan ir-rapport fejn il-MEPA qed tagħti ħjiel li ż-Żonqor huwa tajjeb għall-bini tal-Università Amerikana, ma jgħid xejn dwar l-impatt negattiv kif il-wesgħa miftuha tal-inħawi (open spaces) sejra taffettwa b’mod negattiv is-saħħa tal-popolazzjoni, kemm tal-madwar kif ukoll tal-pajjiż. Dan l-iżvilupp mingħajr dubju jkollu kemm impatti mill-aspett fiżiku kif ukoll minn dak psikoloġiku, rekreattiv, xjentiku, edukattiv. Ir-rapport iqis biss l-aspett kummeċjali li fir-rapport ma jgħid xejn kontrih.
  2.  L-impatt tat-traffiku kemm fuq ir-residenti tal-post kif ukoll fuq l-inħawi tal-madwar lanqas mhu ta’ importanza milli jidher; ma jissemma xejn.
  3. Il-parti tar-rapport dwar l-ekosistema insejjaħlu miskin. Possibbli li fiż-żona msemmija fir-rapport ma tezizti l-ebda fawna xejn: molluski, rettili, insetti, u invertebratri oħra, kif ukoll għasafar, mammiferi, xejn. Minkejja li wħud minn dawn huma msemmija fid-direttivi tal-ambjent tal-Ewropa. Għal MEPA dawn ma jidhrux li huma ta’ xi importanza nazzjonali.
  4. Fir-rapport hemm referenza għall-kaċċa u l-nsib, u nqis il-kumment fuq dawn hu magħmul b’mod dispreġġattiv (para. 4.7). Hawn jingħad li minħabba l-kaċċa u l-insib il-post iddegrada aktar. Mingħajr ma nidhol fil-mertu ta’ dan il-kumment, jekk xejn dan juri li l-post huwa importanti għall-avifawna: għasafaar kemm residenti, tal-passa kemm fir-rebbiegħa kif ukoll fil-ħarifa, kif ukoll dawk li jqattgħu x-xitwa fil-post li juri kemm-il post huwa sinjur ekoloġikament.
  5. Imma fir-rapport tal-MEPA dan mhux importanti, ħlief id-degrazzjoni li għamlu l-kaċċaturi u n-nassab li qed tintuża biex tiġġustifika li l-post ma għandux valur ekoloġiku u hekk jista’ jinbena.
  6. In-nuqqas ta’ professjonalità tar-rapport. l-aktar fil-parti tal-biodiviersità, toħrog mill-fatt li l-ħaxixa Ngliża, tant invażiva li tikber anki wara tlett xhur fuq is-swar restawrati, tingħad li tikber biss iż-Żonqor u mkien f’Fort San Leonard. Dan inqisu li ntqal biex jiġġustifika li ż-Żonqor ma jimpurtax jekk jiġi żviluppat.
  7. In-nuqqas tal-għarfien tal-importanza tal-MEPA dwar il-biodiversità tal-post toħroġ minn Tabella 1, Stampa 2, f’paġna 6, fejn din turi l-klassifikazzjoni tal-għatja tal-art. Din ġiet inkluża biex turi l-faqar tal-post. Imma din turi biċ-ċar l-importaza tal-biodiversità tal-post, naturalemnt jekk wieħed ikun jaf jinterpreta. U dan minkejja li fir-rapport jingħad li dan il-post huwa mmirat għall-ħarsien minħabba raġunijiet ekoloġiċi (para 4.9). U ma ssemmew l-ebda speċi li jinstabu f’dan il-post li jagħmluh ta’ importanza ekoloġika. Ma naħsebx li kien jaqbel.
  8. Il-MEPA semmi ukoll xi passaġġi fiż-Żonqor li huma mimlija skart u materjal. Is-soluzzjoni ta’ dan huwa li dan il-post jiġi restawrat u mhux jintuża biex jiġġustifika li dan il-post għandu jiġi żviluppat. Anżi jekk dan jitħalla waħdu jirrestawra ruhu waħdu mingħajr ħtieġa ta’ ebda għajnuna mill-MEPA, jew minn xi żvilupp!
  9.  Jiddispjaċini ngħid li dan ir-rapport huwa miktub tant dilettantesk li jiżvija kemm il-Gvern, kif ukoll lil dawk li għandhom għal qalhom l-interess nazzjonali, dak ekoloġiku, u dak soċjali, kif ukoll dak kummerċjali. Inħoss li aktar qiegħed magħmul biex iġib il-boċċa ħdejn il-likk, kif wara kollox jixhed il-para 1.3.
  10. Fl-aħħarnett nixtieq niġbed l-attenzjoni tal-MEPA, għall-Programm Eelettorali tal-Gvern fuq l-Ambjent, Taqsima 9, paġna 93, fejn fost oħrajn jgħid:

Il-mira tagħna (tal-Gvern) hija cara: irridu nkunu ma’ ta’ quddiem nett għax hekk jixirqilna. Irridu nħallu wirt san lil ta’ warajna biex huma jkunu ahjar minna.

U jkompli f’paġna 100: “Nimplimentaw strategija cara  bbazata fuq best practices Ewropej li tpoggi l-ambjent fil-qalba tad-decizjonijiet, filwaqt li nimmiraw biex it-tkabbir ekonomiku jaghti kunsiderazzjoni xierqa lill-izvilupp sostenibbli u ambjentali.”

Wieħed hawn jistaqsi kif jista’ jintlaħaq dan il-għan mingħajr ma jkun hemm il-kontribut tad-Direttorat tal-Ambjent li, skont l-uffiċjal tal-MEPA, kif qal waqt il-laqgħa, kien hu li ma riedx jikkonsultah, għax ikkonsulta dawk li kienu jgawdu l-fiduċja tiegħu, u li xtaq li ma jsemmihomx!  U forsi għalhekk li d-Direttorat tal-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent għadu fil-limbo, u issa nafu uffiċjalment li dan mhux biss ma jistax jitkellem, imma lanqas biss jiġi kkonsultat.

Dan ir-rapport imur kontra din il-wegħda tal-Gvern.  Tant huwa fqir u dilettantesk li ma jagħmel l-ebda ġieh la lil minn kitbu, u lanqas lil ebda Awtorità li hija fdata biex tħares l-interessi soċjali u ambjentali ta’ dan il-pajjiż. Għalkemm illum mill-MEPA jiddispjaċini ngħid li wieħed jistenna kollox

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Alien invasive species – animation film

May 5, 2015

Alien invasive species – animation film

4th May, 2015

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Invasive alien species are causing havoc the world over, not least in our island. Little attention is being given to them locally. The price being paid by society and the environment is on the increase with little help from the official entities who are responsible to control such invasive species before they establish themselves in our ecosystem. The commercial and financial gain of the importation of species and their derivatives takes priority over the negatives financial impact borne by society and the environment.

Great Britain spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species.  The EU, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. The official vision of the prevention and control of local invasive species seems to be heading that way too for Malta.

Il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm

The Red-palm weevil devastating palm trees on the island, introduced by infected palm trees imported from infected areas, to be used for landscaping, despite advice to the contrary.

The recent locally introduced invasive alien species and the damages caused are known by one and all. These include the Red Palm Weevil which has to date destroyed about 1400 palm trees including a great percentage of mature and historical trees; the African brown mulberry long horn beetle which has decimated the great percentage of old mulberry trees in Malta, and now seemingly turning its attention to the fig trees and possibly citrus trees; a new beetle which is killing carob trees and other indigenous trees; and the geranium bronze butterfly which as yet is only impacting cultivated geraniums and has not as yet attacked the indigenous wild species of related geranium species.

Il-Ħanfusa-tl-Qrun-Twil-tat-Tut

The Brown mulberry longhorn beetle (Phryneta leprosa) introduced with the importation unfumigated of timber

As yet the disease (Xylella fastidiosa bacteria) which is spreading in Italy and attacking and destroying olive trees has not been recorded in Malta, as far as one is aware.  Italy may have to destroy about one million olive trees to control such disease and is under pressure by the EU to do so. But what is being done  to prevent the introduction of this disease with the olive trees still being imported from Italy despite such imminent danger?

The general public has been informed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, that all imported olive trees have to have a phytosanitary certificate, and olive trees are being monitored. This naïve statement shows the poor awareness of the dangers of such destruction of local olive trees, citrus trees and vines, and the industry they support. No proactive measure are being implemented, let  alone considered. Then when the horses bolt, a study will be commissioned on how to close the stable doors.

The species which carried the above recently introduced alien invasive species were all accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. It seems that the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Agriculture is following the footsteps of his predecessor under whose ‘reign’ the above invasive species were introduced. Unfortunately he seems to be more interested in finding a loop hole to ensure the shooting of birds during their spring migration than taking professional steps to protect local agriculture and the ecosystem of the Maltese Islands.

According to the EU, the disease affecting the olive trees in Italy, can also attack citrus trees and vines by the insect-transmitted bacteria, which causes the trees to wither and for which there is no remedy. Would be very interesting to see the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary if, God forbid, such a disease would establish itself also in Malta. Money talks and the people and the environment pays.

Platform Stop invasieve exoten, from the Netherlands has produced the following animation film on invasive species which one hopes will help politicians understand the negative impacts and the financial, social and ecological damages these can do. This animation film can be seen by clicking the following link, which also gives other links on data on invasive alien species:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFaQLShW0Zc

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Cooing, wooing and cackling

April 29, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 2nd May, 2015

Cooing, wooing and cackling

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The spring hunting referendum has come and gone. Not so for the migrating turtle doves and quails on their way to their breeding grounds to ensure the survival of the species. No cooing, no going for them.

During the first three days of the spring open season for the killing of mature birds going to breed, I was tending my various wild plants that I propagate, appreciating and learning more about the miracles of nature, and to help with Malta’s biodiversity. Some were sprouting while others were strongly developing and striving to achieve their aims, in buds patiently waiting to flower and subsequently seed. Spring is in the air.

Sardinian Warblr by Aron Tanti

Male Sardinian Warbler – Photo by Aaron Tanti

Close by on an open perch, a male Sardinian Warbler in full breeding plumage, and in courtship display, sang its heart out. A male Spanish Sparrow was singing nearby too, proud that its mate was safely sitting on the nest brooding the eggs: shortly a proud father to be.

All of a sudden the sound of gun fire rang from across the nearby valley and adjacent fields shattering the scene: “die, die, die. This is the way I derive my pleasure… die, die, die.”

The Sardinian Warbler and the Spanish Sparrow stopped dead. I could almost feel them eyeing me out of the corner of their eyes. An exclamatory fearful look, as if asking: “is this the best that you humans can do to give a helping hand to the ecosystem? Is this the way to quench your pleasure by taking lives? Do you realise the difficulties birds face on their way to breed? Surely not the result of the reputed intelligence?”

Spanish Sparrow - Michael Sammut

Malta Spanish Sparrow – Photo Michael Sammut

I felt ashamed and ridiculed by two living species which many look upon as being inferior. But after a while both the male Sardinian Warbler and the Spanish Sparrow once again burst out in song. A song of thanksgiving to the Creator for helping them to live another day. Not like the turtle doves and the quails which fell victims to an uncontrolled urge. The harsh cries “die, die, die” rang again a number of times. The Spanish Sparrow and the Sardinian Warbler did not take any chances and disappeared in the bushes. True they were not turtle doves and quails but it did happen to cuckoos, a lapwing, kestrels and a Dutch teenager.

I could not but plunge in a pensive mood. Half of the electorate had understood the miracles of nature. They wanted to do their utmost to support nature and all its wonders. Not just for themselves but also for our children who lent the ecosystem to us. They wanted to protect, guard, enjoy and share nature with others, not through plundering it for personal reasons.

Turtle dove - Aron Tanti

The Maltese Government has taken a derogation from the EU Birds Directive to allow the spring shooting of 11,000 turtle doves on their way to their breeding grounds. Photo Aaron Tanti.

The other half were dead keen to continue taking lives for their personal pleasure. And the most worrying part of it all was that this half of the electorate were supported by the leaders of the two main political parties!

What for? Definitely not for the sake of birds, nor for the sake of bird-shooters themselves, neither for the sake of the environment or for the sake of the people. As soon as the battle cry was over (it was just a battle, and certainly not war), the Prime Minster immediately called upon the leaders of those who wanted to continue taking lives for pleasure during the breeding season. In no uncertain terms, these ‘yes’ crowd, were told that the electorate had given them the ‘last chance’ to behave, and if not it would be the end of their spring birds-shooting spree!

The naive voters admired such a noble stand. The non-gullible felt that this Pontius Pilate move, was more like the rubbing of backs and the sharing of spoils: one bagging the dead turtles doves and quails in spring; the other the votes in the referendum and the Local Council election. The number of shot turtle doves and quails will be given in the obligatory report to be forwarded to the EU according to the derogation taken by Government. The wooing had been consummated, like the lives of turtle doves and quails! That is what I call politics. The people and the environment will as usual be footing the cost of their losses.

Claude Pepper (1900-1989), US senator and Member of the U.S. House of Representatives said: “If more politicians in this country were thinking about the next generation instead of the next election, it might be better for the United States and the world.” The latest spring hunting referendum confirms this without a shadow of a doubt.

The cackling started as I was finalising this article. Following the shooting of a kestrel which fell in the middle of a school yard during the students’ break, the Prime Minister, as he previously warned, closed the spring shooting season three days before its official closure. Whether this is through conviction or through convenience, one has to wait the advent of next spring to see whether this was really the ‘last chance’.

aebaldacchion@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


Let’s help the birds breed

April 2, 2015

times of malta

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Let’s help the birds breed

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I was introduced to birds before I could even speak. As a toddler, I used to frequent our house garden, observing the hens, rabbits and pigeons we kept for the occasional special lunch. But there was a rule for harvesting: the selected food for the table was not chosen haphazardly.

The brooding hens, nesting pigeons and rabbits with litters were spared and when they were harvested, they were not let loose and chased for the thrill of the kill.

juvenile-turtle-doves-in-malta---2012.07.01---Natalino-Fenech

If the parents did not escape the greed for the kill in spring, these juveniles would not have seen the light of day. Photo: Natalino Fenech 2012.07.01

Coming from Rabat, it was, at the time, almost impossible not to join relatives on trapping and shooting sprees, even at a tender age. I can still remember cycling, two hours before sunrise, to Dingli or Raba’ Nemel, to lay the nets for trapping finches or turtle doves. That was the way we were taught then. I also learnt to appreciate nature without the need to destroy it.

At the age of 12, we went to live in Cospicua. At first I thought I had lost the birds and the wildlife forever, though they were only a couple of kilometres away. My love for nature made me look for alternative ways. I used to go out for country walks on weekends and holidays, and I remember, in my early teens, buying magazines about nature. This opened the way for positive appreciation. I also bought a sophisticated ‘gun’, aiming at and shooting to my heart’s content, without the birds or other wildlife being harmed or even knowing about it. It was my first SLR camera.

quail-in-Malta-by-Natalino-Fenech

Quail – another breeding bird of the Maltese Islands, despite the urge to kill it. Photo: Natalino Fenech

Living in Cospicua, I experienced that sense of loss and anguish when birds were decimated and killed just for the fun of it, more so when this was claimed to be out of a love for birds.

The more I grew in years, knowledge and experience, the more satisfaction and pleasure did wildlife bring to me. The road was not an easy one: it was full of ups and downs. I often remind myself one is not paid to uphold one’s principles but one has to pay for them.

But I was determined to continue sharing my experience and knowledge with those who, though they really loved birds, unfortunately were never taught to express their appreciation in a positive way. Indeed, they were prevented from doing so because their love for birds was used or abused for political gain in exchange for their vote, irrespective of the negative psychological impact it had on them.

They formed part of a ‘minority’ that, instead of being encouraged to give their share, considering their knowledge, eagerness and enthusiasm, were abused for political gain.

What a wonderful place it would be if all those who love birds would work together to safeguard them so they could be positively appreciated and enjoyed by one and all, even by the shooters, for the benefit of the birds, the ecosystem and the country as a whole.

turtle-dove

How can one say that one loves birds and to show one’s appreciation one shoots to kill the bird one says one loves.

 

That is why I shall be voting No, to stop the hunting of birds during their breeding season. During their delicate time of reproduction, birds deserve the utmost care and protection. This is the basic concept of any true conservationist.

Voting No to spring shooting when the birds are on their way to breed will make us proud to be Maltese, at par with the best in the European Union. And only this will make birds and nature lovers unite.

I trust common sense will prevail.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


God and landscaping

January 9, 2015

God and landscaping

Friday, 9th January 2015.

with addenda by Alfred E. Baldacchino

Among the many exchanges of jokes and comments over the net, I received one such ‘joke’ from a friend of mine. Seems that Maltese environmentalists and their blogging have also managed to reach the Patron Saint of biodiversity, St. Francis. I thought it would be useful if I shared this with readers of my blog, always thanks to my friend Victor. And it was a bit too much of a temptation not to include some more details for the information of our Patron Saint.

GOD to ST. FRANCIS:    Frank,   …  You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS:    It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:    Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colourful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:    The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:    They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay

St. FRANCIS:    Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:    They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. FRANCIS:    No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:    Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. FRANCIS:    Yes, Sir.

GOD:    These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. FRANCIS:    You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:    What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

St. FRANCIS:    You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:    No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. FRANCIS:    After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:    And where do they get this mulch?

St. FRANCIS:    They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:    Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. CATHERINE:    ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about… ………………….. .

GOD:    Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

For the attention of St. Francis for his next meeting with the Lord.

In Malta, a barren rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, a member of the European Union, the elected representatives of the natives, have set up a Public Private Partnership (PPP) responsible for landscaping in the Malta, with a motto Making Malta and Gozo Greener. This has been done through a contract between the Minister of Finance representing the natives and five eminent businessmen. 8 million euros are made available per year, for seven years, to undertake, amongst others, all that you have listed above. There are no limits to the destruction and elimination of wild flora and trees, to green the island.

No further details are available because this contract, despite being made on behalf of the natives, is kept secret and guarded under lock and key. Whether this secrecy is kept because it embarrasses the signatories, or because there are other obligations which are not in the interest of the natives, one cannot say as yet.

2011.07.01 - wasting water resources - 1

Although the Lord can see their work wonders from up there, the attached photo would not do any harm as evidence and to confirm what you said.  If only I could send you their publications to see the rectangles, squares and circles of green!

Furthermore, if you can perhaps speak to the Lord to illuminate the intelligence of the leaders of this Country to help them appreciate the wonders of His creation, and the better use of resources be they natural or financial, it would be of great help.

PS. I thought you would also be interested to know that besides regarding wild flora NO,-NO,-NO,-NO-this-is-not-Seville.-It-is-the-professional-expert-pruning-and-lanscaping-in-Malta-approved-by-governmentas weeds, they do not appreciate your ‘stroke of genius’ in creating trees either. Look at the way they manage them. They say that trees attract birds (the few that are not shot that is), and the birds dirty the benches beneath. Trees shed their leaves and these dirty the pavements. Trees also damage the pavements and houses, they say. Lately I have heard that the swaying of leaves outsides schools distract the students inside. And most of the trees  finish as logs and mulch, as you said. Please ask the Lord to illuminate them with urgency. My impression is that they all believe in Him, or so they say.

 

 


Environmentalists argue weakness of governments on environmental issues

December 26, 2014

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Environmentalists argue weakness of governments

on environmental issues

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Kevin Schembri Orland

“The environment is nothing but a buzzword for politicians on both sides, a buzzword used by them to sound nice and be popular”, Environment photographer Guido Bonett told The Malta Independent.”There has been a gradual degradation of the environment. This is due to a number of things, one of which is the mentality, where they believe that if it doesn’t vote or make money then it is useless. The development boom over the past 30 years has been a real back-breaker as far as the environment is concerned”.

Swallowtail butterfly - Farfett tal-bużbież

Swallowtail butterfly – Farfett tal-bużbież

Roads also disrupt habitats. “I don’t even want to imagine what kind of damage works around the Salina Coast road has caused”. “One thing that really worries me is the state of insect life on the island. Take butterflies for example, we have already lost a number of species and this comes down to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. If we were to use insects as a thermometer for the wellbeing of the environment then it becomes obvious that we are in trouble. When I was younger, turning over a stone one would find a number of insects and arachnids, from scorpions to centipedes while today one would be lucky to find a couple of snails”.

As an example of species lost, Mr Bonnet said that the small copper butterfly hasn’t been sighted for over ten years. Turning to plants, he said we are losing species of plants just as we are losing species of insects.” One must look at nature as a guidocircle. If part of it is cut, then ripple effects will occur and man is part of this chain”.

Turning to marine life, he said that people who want to dispose of certain rubbish just chuck them into the sea. “The amount of sea pollution is staggering. When scouts hold a clean-up session at a beach, they collect around 50 sacks of garbage in a single morning”. Mr Bonett had a message to politicians, telling them to take the environment more seriously and not encroach on virgin land. “Decision makers need to realise that people who care about the environment have as many votes as those who don’t”.

Lack of appreciation a result of greed

“The fact that we are a small island means that developmental impacts on natural habitats are multiplied. In addition there is a lack of professional management with regard to such developments that leads to the loss of other resources. Take water for example, today we are no longer concerned with storing water when it rains, but rather pay a lot of money to funnel it out to sea. This affects wildlife as all species rely on water. There is also no professional planning when it coms to utilising such a scarce resource.

Landscaping is another problem, as it brings żringabout exotic invasive species of plants that contribute to the further destruction of the Maltese environment. If species being destroyed by development are utilised within the development, at least we would see some of what was taken given back to the eco-system”. “The ecosystem is like a web with everything intertwined. Without bees, for example, pollination would not occur, and thus flowers will not be able to multiply. If one is aware of such beneficial use of all living things, one would realise the importance of protecting such things as without them man wouldn’t be able to survive”.

Mr Baldacchino explained that insects provide food for other species, so aside from directly helping man, they help sustain other species thus creating a balance. Due to education and the availability of mass communication there is a strong awareness to the importance of our environment, he said. “We do tend to push the need to educate our children on the environment and while this is important it would take these children 25 years to really begin to contribute to society”. This shows a failure on the part of current generations who are trying to educate but not lead by example, he said.

Turning to the ‘Save the Countryside’ campaign launched by Din L-Art Helwa, Mr Bonett said; “I am very happy that Din L-Art Helwa took the initiative, which has seen many people showing interest in the environment”.  Mr Baldacchino said that the campaign focusses on saving wild species around the Maltese islands and the environment. “It is useless to protect species without protecting their habitats. This campaign is aimed at creating awareness and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the general public. The campaign is very stimulating and opens doors for future similar campaigns to help communicate and educate the public. It goes without saying that in a couple of years’ time, society and the eco-system will begin to pay the price for such neglect”.

“Membership in the EU means that we are obliged to transpose European legislation into local legislation and on paper, environmental legislation is sufficient. The main concern is, however, that nobody takes care of such legislation. It is not enforced, not administered and it is an open secret that nobody is eager to help the environment and everyone is just washing their hands of it. This is another failure of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility belongs to every Ministry and every person on this island whether he is a man off the street, the Minister of aebEnvironment, the Minister of Health or a member of the clergy. Without this delicate ecological balance, life cannot be sustained. Man is part of the eco-system,” Mr Baldacchino concluded.

“Considering the islands are relatively small, Malta has a large amount of species of flora. In the past they were used for traditional medicine and currently there is growing international awareness to the contribution that wild flora can give in medicine. In fact this movement is so great that many are turning back to traditional medicine”.

Everything is intertwined

“Pollution shows that man doesn’t care for tomorrow, that we are just living for today. We exploit what we can today and tomorrow, should the need arise, we would think about solving the problem. The idea that the earth has been loaned to us by future generations has been completely disregarded.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino believes that the lack of appreciation for the Maltese eco-system, resulting in extensive development, is a result of greed for materialistic items.

“On a positive note, we have seen great leaps in sewage treatment in Malta”, he said.

Loss of species

“I was brought up in Birkirkara, and from Valley road up to Farsons not a single house was built back then. What really scares me is the possibility of even more development”. Mentioning Ta Cenc, “It is one of the few areas people like me can go and relax in nature, where it is nice and quite, yet every time I’m there the possibility that this area could be built up creeps into my mind”.

Milky Orchid - Orkida tat-tikki

Milky Orchid – Orkida tat-tikki

Mr Bonett believes that Malta has very much become a consumer-based society and because of this, production continues to grow thus making the situation worse. “40 years ago the word environment did not even exist, so slight improvements have been seen. Over the past few months, however, we have gone backwards”.

“In my opinion, we have never had a single decent Minister for the environment, and none of them have an idea of what they are talking about. To these people, a piece of land filled with rocks and wildflowers is nothing more than an unproductive piece of land,” he said.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


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

 

 

 

 


MEPA leaves no stone unturned

August 19, 2014

times

Mepa leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta lately reported the construction of a dirt and concrete road on Comino, an island with barely half a dozen residents and an EU Natura 2000 site.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, thus also for Natura 2000 sites, was quick to show its surprise and lack of awareness of the matter.

It immediately issued an enforcement notice on the Commissioner of Land, on the grounds that Comino is government land. Pontius Pilate would have envied this. Incidentally, the Commissioner of Land falls within the portfolio of the Prime Minster.

Natura 2000 sites are sites listed according to important habitat types in the EU Habitats Directive. On accession, each member state has to declare such sites, and once approved by the EU Commission as Special Areas of Conservation, these form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network, all of European ecological importance.

Member states are obliged to draw up a management plan for each Natura 2000 site. Following agreement with the EU, Malta’s management plans were finalised by December 2013. What happened to these management plans: have these been shelved sine die?

According to the government’s electoral manifesto, the Environment Directorate had to be separated from the Planning Directorate. “The main aim of the separation will be to strengthen the respective autonomy of the two important parts”, “the environment will be given the priority it deserves” and “the environment and resources will be conserved, protected…” the new authority established “will assume the important role of a regulator which to date our country does not have”.

Furthermore, “a new government will be more seriously committed in the environmental field. We will work with determination so that we will recover the lost time, conscious that there are a number of difficult decisions to be taken, amongst them the Mepa reform. We will take these measures in the interest of the environment of our country so that we will be in a positon to address the challenge”. (Malta Tagħna Lkoll – Manifest Elettorali 2013 – section 9, pages 92 – 96)

Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before. After 18 months, the environment is still in limbo, still hijacked by Mepa.

2014.08.17 - mepa reform

A cartoon which appeared in the Sunday Times of Malta – 17 August, 2014

The political responsiblility today rests with a Parliamentary Secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister. This can lead one to rightly conclude that the aim behind the separation of the directorates is more a measure of convenience than of conviction. The status quo has definitely not strengthened the environment. It is contributing to its destruction.

The fact that the environment does not fall within the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but is still in Mepa’s grip, also shows the lack of good governance of this social, national and international responsibility. The damage and rampage going on in the environment, endorsed by the Competent Authority paid to ensure that this does not happen, is unbelievable.

The feeling of those who honestly have the national interest of society and the environment at heart is that the environment is not a priority on the govenment’s agenda, despite the fine words in the electoral manifesto. In fact,the environment is not on the agenda at all.

Mepa is on the front line, as a Competent Authority, leaving no stone unturned to accomodate widespread and massive development and to sanction illegalities, with a hugely negative impact on society and the environment.

I fear there is much more to come. Such laissez-faire in environmetal protection leads one to ask if Mepa is finding it difficult to honour its obligations. It seems as if it wants to imply that one should ask any related questions and forward any complaints on the environment to the European Commission, because Mepa is not interested, not willing and perhaps not competent to deliver.

 The Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for this Competent Authority, is miles away from a basic awareness of professional environmental management and planning, judging by his comments and stands taken.

And with such an official political lack of vision of environmental matters, despite the electoral manifesto, one can understand the sorry state to which the environment is degenerating.

 

“Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed, but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before”

Aware of Mepa’s workings, I can almost see another Montekristo on Comino, with Mepa eventually boasting that it has issued scores of enforcement notices to stop the rape – and doing nothing about it.

One such note has already been issued. Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken. And if the electoral manifesto is anything to go by, Mepa has ample directions, unless it has succumbed to a rubber stamp role.

“We believe that Malta should be in the forefront on environmental standards. Not because there is the obligation of European directions, but because our children deserves this.” Eloquent words in the manifesto, which every citizen of this country should applaud and look forward to achieve.

But with the Competent Authority finding it difficult to address a mere illegal dirt road in a Natura 2000 site, I very much doubt whether such an electoral promise can ever be achieved.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Imagine the stand Mepa will take with regard to the White Rocks development, extending into a Natura 2000 site, which will definitely be negatively impacted. The more so since the project cannot be regarded as a development related to the management of the site.

I believe that if the Prime Minister – who is responsible for Mepa, the Competent Authority for environmental matters – really wants to achieve the electoral promises made in the Labour Party’s manifesto, he has to seriously commit himself before it becomes almost impossible to achieve them.

“Our aim is clear: we want to be the best because this is what we deserve. We want to leave behind us a heritage to future generations so that these will be better than we are today.”

Too much time has already been wasted and much damage has been done.

With Mepa at the helm of environmental protection and management, there is no possibility at all for the government to achieve and honour its electoral promises.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Kunsilli Lokali… mill-Imdina għal Pembroke

July 7, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 7 ta’ Lulju, 2014

Kunsilli Lokali… mill-Imdina għal Pembroke
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Rajna u tkellimna dwar xogħolijiet li kellhom impatt negattiv fuq il-biodiversità. Tkellimna fuq ix-xogħol li sar fil-konfini tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina li jiġbor fih il-qerda tal-biodioversità fil-foss tal-Imdina fejn inqalgħu numru ta’ siġar biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità. Rajna ż-żrar li ntefa fil-madwar tal-ġnien Howard u fih tħawlu numru ta’ kaktus eżotiċi, biex kif intqal isebbah l-­ambjent. Rajna ukoll is-serħan tal-karozzi fuq it-Tomba fil-ġnien Howard. Rajna kif pjanti indiġeni tqaxxru mill-ġnien Howard u tħallew pjanti invażivi. Insomma rajna l-faqar ta’ dan il-Kunsill lejn l-apprezament u l-ħarsien tal-biodiversità Maltija, u kif il-qerda tagħha issir bil-għajnuna ta’ flus pubbliċi.

Xi kultant naħseb li qisu hemm xi taqtigħa bejn xi kunsilli biex jaraw min minnhom iħallas l-aktar biex tinqered il-biodiversità Maltija. Ftit wara li dehru dawn l-artikli fuq dan il-blog dwar ix-xogħol tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina, ċempilli ħabib tiegħi u qalli bil­-qerda li qed issir fix-xagħri ta’ Pembroke. Ħaddiema, li kif nista’ nifhem kellhom l-approvazzjoni u mħallsa mill-Kunsill ta’ Pembroke (sakemm ma kienux ta’ xi Ministeru), dehru fix-xagħri jaqtgħu l-ħaxix li huwa meqjus bħala ħaxix ħażin.

Il-ħaxix-imqaxxar-minn-Natura-2000

Il-ħaxix – ambjent naturali – imqaxxar mis-sit Natura 2000 f’Pembroke.  U dan mhux la tal-ewwel u lanqas tal-aħħar.

Ix-xagħri f’Pembroke ġiet dikjarata mill-gvern ta’ Malta bħala wesgħa li hija sinjura fil-pjanti indiġeni Maltin li jikbru waħdehom fis-selvaġġ. U din toffri ambjent naturali għall-fawna li tgħix fuqhom u madwarhom. Dan ix-xagħri f’Pembroke huwa meqjus bħala Żona Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni taħt id-Direttiva tal-Ambjenti Naturali tal-Unjoni Ewropa. Tant li kienet uffiċjalment imħarsa u ntbgħatek lill-Unjoni Ewropea bħala waħda mill-obbligi li kull pajjiż għandu meta jissieħeb biex jiddikjara żona li tkun sinjura fil-biodiversità, bħal fil-każ tax-xagħri ta’ Pembroke. Illum din hija meqjusa li għandha importanza internazzjonali, tant li titqies li hija ta’ importanza għall-UE u tifforma parti mix-xibka Natura 2000. Jidher li dan ix-xogħol sar qrib proġett li sar bil-flus tal-UE! U kull xogħol li jsir fiha jrid l-barka tal-MEPA!

Pembroke---Heritage-Trail

It-tabella li turi li l-heritage trail sar bi flus tal-UE. Il-ħaxix li tqaxxar kien biswit il-passaġġ u parti mill-ambjent naturali importanti. It-tneħħija tiegħu tmur kontra l-għan tal-heritage trail.

Meta mbgħad wieħed jisma’ u jara kif kunsill lokali li għandu ambjent daqshekk importanti fil-konfini tiegħu jonfoq flus pubbliċi biex jibgħat jew iħalli ħaddiema jaqtgħu l-ħaxix li jitqies bħala ħażin, wieħed ma jistax ma jgħidx li n-nuqqas ta’ għarfien u apprezzament tal-biodiversità tagħna f’dan il-pajjiż hija fil-qiegħ net, minkejja wegħdiet politiċi li saru, u obbligi internazzjonali li pajjizna għandu, sa mid-dħul tagħna fl-UE.

Ma naħsebx li wieħed ikun qed jgħid xejn ħazin li wħud mill-kunsilli lokali mhux biss ma għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-obbligi ta’ pajjiżna fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-biodiversità, imma lanqas għandhom ħjiel tal-programm elettorali tal-gvern. U lanqas ikun ħażin li wieħed jikkonkludi li xi kunsilli lokali jonqfu flus pubbliċi li jkollhom sempliċement biex ikunu nefquhom. Fin-nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni professjonali, tagħrif tekniku, kooperazzjoni ma’ entitajiet oħra governattivi, allura l-ħsara fil-qasam tal-ħarsien u apprezzament tal-biodiversità sejra tikber matul iż-żmien, obbligi u mhux obbligi,  wegħdiet u mhux.

Vandalism

Il-vandaliżmu li sar fil-heritage trail fin-Natura 2000 f’Pembroke. Mhux aħjar li l-flus marru biex ġew imsewwija dawn il-ħsarat milli biex għamlu l-ħsara lill-ambjent naturali tas-sit Natura 2000.

 

Niżżu ħajr ‘l Alla li  dan ma japplikax għall-kunsilli lokali kollha. Meta kunsill ifittex tagħrif professjonali u tekniku, jew inkella ikollu fi ħdanu xi membru li jkollu għarfien tal­-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ta’ dan il-wirt naturali, mill-ewwel wieħed jista’ jara ix-xogħol fejjiedi u professjonali tal-kunsill, bir-riżorsi jintefqu b’mod għaqli li jkun ta’ ġid kemm għas-soċjetà kif ukoll għall-biodiversità Maltija.

Smajt li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Pawl il-Baħar fuq pariri professjonali ta’ wieħed mill-membri tagħhom, li mhux biss huwa kwalifikat iżda għandu kuxjenza soċjali u ambjentali, ħa deċiżjoni li wieħed jittama li tiftaħ it-triq għall-kunsilli oħra biex jimxu fuqha. Il-Kunsill waqqaf il-bexx bl-erbiċida li kien isir fuq pjanti slavaġġ fl-inħawi. Bexx li kien joqtol il-ħajja ekoloġika kollha f’dan l-ambjent naturali, u li wkoll seta’ jkollhu impatt negattiv fuq l-ilma u jniġġeż inħawi oħra.

Dan ukoll wassal biex minbarra li ma baqgħux jinħlew bla ħtieġa riżorsi finanzjarji, li jistgħu jintużaw għal xogħol ieħor, twaqqfet ukoll il-ħsara fil-qasam soċjali u ambjentali. U wasal għal widnejja wkoll li kunsilli oħra ġirien ta’ San Pawl il-baħar imħajrin li jaħdmu ukoll fuq l-istess linja.

Wieħed jifhimha li mhux kulħadd huwa mistenni li jkun jaf kollox. U għalhekk hemm il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm diskuzzjonijet u direzzjoni fuq xogħol delikat li għandu jew jista’ jkollu impatt negattiv fuq il-biodiversità u s-soċjetà. Meta r-rieda tajba ma tkunx imsejsa fuq ħsibijiet u tagħrif xjentifiku u tekniku, din twassal għall-ħsara ambjentali u soċjali; bħal meta sikkina li biha jista’ jsir ħafna ġid, tingħata lil tarbija għada kif telqet timxi. Jekk il-kunsill lokali ikollhom direzzjoni professjonali jistgħu jagħmlu ħafna ġid fil-qasam soċjali u ambjentali.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ARA WKOLL:

Tkompli l-qerda fil-ġnien Howard… imma għaliex? http://wp.me/pL6Mk-H9

Ir-rabja tar-Rabtin… u bir-raġun http://wp.me/pL6Mk-D3

Cash cow in the ditch  http://wp.me/pL6Mk-Ek

 


IL­-ĦARSIEN SOĊJALI U AMBJENTALI TA’ PAJJIŻNA

April 29, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tlieta, 29 ta’ April, 2014

IL-­ĦARSIEN SOĊJALI U AMBJENTALI TA’ PAJJIŻNA

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

 Għal dawn l­-aħħar 40 sena, numru ta’ għaqdiet voluntarji ħadmu bla heda biex qajmu kuxjenza soċjali favur il­-ħarsien tal­-ambjent. Din wasslet biex twaqqaf id­-Dipartiment għall­-Ħarsien tal­-Ambjent,

Meta fl­-2002 l­-Awtorità tal­-Ippjanar ħatfet f’idejha r­-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali bil­-għajnuna politika, wasslet biex id­-Direttorat tal­Ambjent kważi ġie eliminat. Il­-MEPA qatt ma fehmet u għada sal-lum ma tistax u ma tridx tifhem ir­-responsabbiltà ambjentali u soċjali, tant li l-Direttorat tal­-Ambjent sar is­-Sindirella fil­-MEPA, u llum huwa orfni u jinstab fil­-limbu. Saħansitra llum din l­-Awtorità tinjora mhux biss legislazzjoni u regolamenti li għamlet hija stess, imma anki l­-obbligi internazzjonali bħal dawk tal­-UE. Il­-MEPA falliet kompletament fir­-responsabbiltajiet tagħha lejn il­-poplu u lejn l­ambjent tagħna lkoll, mingħajr ebda mistħija jew rimors.

Il­-MEPA falliet kompletament fir­-responsabbiltajiet tagħha lejn il­-poplu u lejn l­ambjent tagħna lkoll, mingħajr ebda mistħija jew rimors.

Il­-MEPA falliet kompletament fir-responsabbiltajiet tagħha  lejn il-poplu u lejn l­-ambjent tagħna lkoll, mingħajr ebda mistħija jew rimors.

Mhux hekk biss imma dak li nbena bil­-kontribut ta’ kulhadd, qiegħed jiġi mmermer u mormi. Dan jidher minn numru ta’ dokumenti pubblikati mill-MEPA stess li sejrin iwasslu biex l­-ambjent ikun jista’ jinħataf, jiġi stuprat u abbużat minm min jixtieq, mingħajr wisq xkiel u bil­-barka tal-MEPA. U mhux sejjer ikun faċli għall-Ministru tal­-ambjent meta jieħu f’idejh id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent.

Ħarsa lejn id­-dokumenti li l­-MEPA poġġiet quddiem il­-poplu biex tisma’ l-fehmiet tiegħu, jinkludu:

  • Politika ġdida għall­-iżvilupp barra ż­-żona tal­-iżvilupp (ODZ) fejn bil-kemm hemm referenza għall­-biodiversità u obbligi internazzjonali, u mingħajr konsultazzjoni ta’ xejn lanqas mal­-Ministeru tal­-ambjent.
  • It­-twaqqif ta’ Awtorità għall­-Iżvilupp tal­-Ippjanar (DPA) li aktar tgħin lil min jixtieq jisfrutta l­-ambjent milli tgħin lil min irid iħarsu.
  • L­-iSPED (Structrure Plan for Environment and Planning) li wkoll juri nuqqas ta’ viżjoni għall­-ħarsien tal­-ambjent u jikkonferma li l­MEPA qatt ma kellha xi rieda biex tifhem din ir­-responsabbiltà.

Meta l­-MEPA qiegħda fil­-portfolio tal­-Prim Ministru, wieħed jistaqsi jekk il­MEPA qabdetx din il­-linja għax taħseb li għandha r­-riħ fil­-qala.

Kien hemm it-­tama u x­-xewqa li partit li għandu viżjoni soċjali u ambjentali seta’ jwaqqaf din il­-ħsara nazzjonali. Imma mhux talli l­-ġerħa ambjentali ma bdietx tfieq, iżda sfortunatament bdiet tikkankra, dejjem grazzi lill­-MEPA.

Huwa b’dispjacir ngħid li minn dak li qed jiġri, dak li qed jitfassal, u dak li mhux qed isir biex l­-ambjent jiġi mħares fuq bażi professjonali, l­-viżjoni soċjali u ambjentali qabdet it­-triq aktar mgħaġġla biex titlef ruħha wara t­tlellix tal­-mument u t­-tinbix kummerċjali. U min hu responsabbli?

Irrid nagħmila ċara li fil­-MEPA hemm uffiċjali kwalifikati serji u professjonali fil­qasam tal­-immanniġġar nofsani (middle management). Li kieku dawn tħallew ifasslu d­-dokumenti fuq imsemmija li qed tfassal il­MEPA, kien ikun hemm aktar serjetà f’din il­-viżjoni. U dan iwassal biex wieħed jgħid li jew dawn in-nies professjonali ma kinux involuti jew inkella l­-pariri professjonali tagħhom ġew imwarrba. Jidher li l­moħħ li fassal id­-dokumenti dwar il­-politika tal­-ODZ xtaq, jew ried jogħġob biss lill­-ispekulaturi.

Wieħed jittma li s-Segretarju Parlamentari l­-ġdid, l­-Onor. Dr Michael Falzon, jifhem, jiżen sewwa, jixtarr u jħoss ir­-responsabbiltà tal­-mod kif l-ambjent soċjali u dak ekoloġiku ta’ pajjiżna sejrin ikunu mneżża minn kull ħarsien professjonali b’din il­-politika l­-ġdida li qed tissuġġerixxi l­-MEPA.

Veru li hija r­-responsabbiltà tas­-Segretarju Parlamentari li jiddeċiedi hu l-politika soċjali u ambjentali. Imma dan irid isir bil­-għajnuna u bdil ta’ ideat bis­-serjetà u professjonali tal­-entitajiet soċjali kollha, wara kollox kif kien imwiegħed.

Veru wkoll li kemm l­-għaqdiet ambjentali mhux governattivi kif ukoll dawk kollha li għandhom għal qalbhom l­-interess ġenwin nazzjonali kemm fil-qasam soċjali kif ukoll f’dak ekoloġiku, huma mħassba bil-kbir fuq iż-żarmar jew dgħufija tal­-politika u legislazzjoni tal­-ħarsien u l-immaniġġar professjonali f’l­oqsma soċjali u ambjentali.

Din il­-biża tal­-qerda soċjali u ambjentali ma tistax ma tikberx meta l­-MEPA ­ l-awtorità mħallsa u fdata mill­-poplu Malti biex tħares il-qasam ambjentali u soċjali, kemm tal­-lum u kemm dak ta’ għada – qiegħda hi stess tfassal u tissuġġerixxi din it­-triq li sejra twassal għal ­aktar problemi u qerda f’dawn l-oqsma.

Veru wkoll li kemm il­-ġenerazzjoni tagħna u dawk ta’ għada għad jistmerru lil dawk li sejrin iwasslu għal dan l-impatt negattiv soċjali u ambjentali ta’ pajjizna. Li kieku jiddependi minni kont ngħajjat lura r-rapreżentant tal-għaqdiet mhux governattivi ambjentali minn fuq il-bord tal-MEPA, L-għaqdiet ma jixirqilhomx ikunu parti minn din il-farsa u din l-istraġi.

Mhux biżżejjed li wieħed jgħid li lest li jisma’ jekk dak li jingħad fl-interess soċjali u ambjentali nazzjonali ma jiġix infilsat fil-politika għal ġid tal-pajjiż kollu biex kulħadd ikun parti mid-deċżijoni, u mhux settur wieħed biss.

Jekk verament wieħed jixtieq futur sabiħ għall-­ambjent u s-soċjetà Maltija, u dan mhux bil-kliem imma bil-fatti, il-futur irid jiġi mfassal fuq il-mejda professjonali ma’ kulħadd, xi ħaġa li sfortunatament ħadd ma jista’ jgħid li qed issir.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Water harvesting culture

April 28, 2014

times of malta

Monday, 28th April, 2014

Water harvesting culture

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Our capital city Valletta will be celebrating the European Cultural Capital in 2018. Definitely, this will contribute to the economic and social fabric not only of Valletta but also of the country at large. It can, however, also contribute to ecological aspects as well.

Valletta is what it is today because of good planning and environmental management by its builders – the Knights of Malta. Not only was the architectural aspect taken into consideration, but also the ecological characteristics of the islands.

They specifically planned the harvesting of rainwater so that such a fortified city could resist any siege with adequate supply of such a scarce natural resource. Such culture and strategic thinking kept us going through the centuries, making the best of whatever nature provided, for free.

The Malta Water Association (MWA) is proposing that such an asset be included and highlighted together with the cultural and historical characteristics of Valletta. It is thanks to the rainwater harvesting culture that Valletta became unique and what it is today. This is part of the hidden culture and history of Valletta too.

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

water colour painting of water cisterns in Valletta

There is a cistern in Valletta under almost every building. The Knights enforced a law requiring each house to have a cistern to collect and re-use rainwater, and be self-sufficient in such a life saving resource. And it was such water harvesting combined with the use of water from the springs in the perched aquifer, brought to Valletta through the Wignacourt aqueduct, that was instrumental in providing such a scarce and much needed resource during the sieges that Valletta and Malta went through.

Today most of these cisterns are damaged, unused, unappreciated and neglected. It would only be wise and positive planning if these are referred to in the V18 festivities to mark the richness of Valletta as the European Cultural Capital city.

Such a professionally planned and engineered water supply system in Valletta can compete with any world water management plans

Besides being an historic and educational exercise, this strategic move could contribute substantially to re-establishing the culture of rainfall harvesting, which was instrumental in maintaining Malta’s prosperity throughout the centuries. Such a professionally planned and engineered water supply system in Valletta can compete with any world water management plans. The reintroduction of such a culture can come to our aid again as a centre of excellence in water management.

Besides these water planning and management feats, the sewerage system in Valletta built in the 17th century was the most advanced in the world at the time. There exists a fantastic maze of water reservoirs, tunnels and other networks underneath the city. These are part of the historic and architectural heritage and can also provide and attract interest and attention (after renovation, maintenance and adaptations) both from the locals and from the many tourists who are fascinated by the fortified old city of Valletta. I am sure the EU would offer a helping hand in such a sustainable water resource management project.

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta (photo Keith Buhagiar)

No doubt about it, Malta is facing severe problems of water sustainability. It is a known fact that Malta has the least amount of water in Europe on a per capita basis. The aquifers have been severely over­exploited in the last decades and this is rendering their services to nought. Seawater desalination is not considered as a sustainable practice, considering the high energy consumption also contributing to emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The revival and reuse of the water harvesting network in Valletta is recommended by the Water Policy 2012, and also by recent EU water policies: rainwater harvesting, as a sustainable practice, must be introduced or reintroduced.

water-harvetingnetwork-beneaththe-city

water harvesting network beneath the City (Photo: Keith Buhagiar)

The Malta Water Association’s proposal is to incorporate in the Valletta City of Culture 2018 the re-activation of Valletta’s (and Malta’s) unique rainwater harvesting culture and put it back on the world map for social, ecological and economic benefits to be reaped.

This can be achieved by identifying disused rainwater cisterns and rehabilitating them, so that they can reduce the stress on our groundwater resources and reduce the financial burden of desalination. Indeed some of these cisterns are within palaces and museums which are already contributing to Malta socially, ecologically and economically. Awareness and accessibility of these assets will further enhance both local and foreign visitors’ experience.

Such measures can be augmented by surveys and questionnaires to assess Malta’s rainwater harvesting potential and opportunities for providing more. Technical guidelines can be drawn up to ensure the maximisation of Malta’s rainwater harvesting potential, and the safe use of the harvested water.

Communication, education and public awareness campaigns are a must to instil awareness about Malta’s water problems, and promote rainwater harvesting as a ‘rediscovered technology’.

The precautionary principle regarding the sole dependency on desalinated water is another factor which justifies use and reuse of a rain water harvesting engineered network as a back-up to national security.

The urgency of such a measure can be appreciated when considering that a possible oil spill or any other issues with regard to the supply of fossil fuel in the Mediterranean will lead to a very limited availability of potable water.

The Malta Water Association feels that there would be great satisfaction and reason to celebrate the uniqueness of Valletta if such water harvesting measures were taken on board.

This would be an evolving project requiring ambition and flexibility crowning the V18.

http://blogmwa.wordpress.com

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino is a member of the Malta Water Association’s executive committee.


Environmental disorientation

January 31, 2014

times of malta

January 31, 2014

Environmental disorientation

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Political environmental awareness reached its climax in 2004 before accession to the EU. Membership achieved, environment started a political nose­dive. ‘Merged’ with the Planning Authority, it was hijacked, destabilised and emarginated. Look at how environmental matters are being handled today by MEPA, politically referred to only just for convenience sake with no conviction at all. This led nine environment NGOs to show their disapproval of the lack of professional management of the environment.

2013 can be regarded as the year when environment disorientation reached its peak, and environment conservation hit rock bottom. To the extent that MEPA ­ the competent authority for the EU Environment Acquis is not within the control and not in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but managed and run by the Office of the Prime Minister, through a Parliamentary Secretary.  MEPA, who never really showed any zeal or understanding of environmental responsibilities, except for producing nicely coloured publications and policies, which nobody takes any notice of, not even Mepa itself, had a field day. Stable doors were flung wide open allowing horses not only to gallop out but to stampede over all environmental and social considerations. Reason for this sad and sorry state of affairs is that the environment and planning directorates are going to be separated. All environmental matters are in deep freeze, till the day, when the surgical operation of dismembering Mepa will see the light of day. In the meantime development permits are being dished out with little, if any, environmental or social concern. When the environment is given the kiss of life, then it won’t be MEPA problem any more to see how the vacated stables door can be closed to keep the freed horse inside.

Why was MEPA not included in the environment portfolio until the operation takes place, and then the planning directorate passed to the appropriate Minister? Because environment is not a priority. It never was.

WFD1

One of the expensive muddles regarding EU obligations is the Water Framework Directive: not an easy Directive by all means, the more so since Malta is an island. This Directive covers both surface, and underground water: a matter of life and death for all life in the country. 2013 saw this resource in such a pitiful state as it has never been since the advent of man on these islands. Projects inherited from previous water-drop1years, included an educational programme piloted by one Minister and sponsored by a local bank to catch every drop of water, while another Minister happily boasting and spending 57 million euros or more, mostly coming from the EU, excavating underground tunnels so that every drop of rain­water caught is swept into the sea, after bulldozing biodiversity in valleys. Yet another Minister responsible for EU funds to see to the purification of drainage water, not to harvest such resource, but to dispose of it into the sea with a certain pride and satisfaction of

dumped-water

Rain water which comes for free is chanelled to the sea. Then sea water is pumped up to be desalinated by energy consuming desalinators!

being unique in the EU! Still another Minister trying to find his way through an inherited tangled cobweb, trying to plug the holes through which water tankers plying the local streets, selling water extracted for free from the aquifers. Another Minister is financing the desalination of sea water (containing dumped purified drainage water) by energy consuming desalination plants. I cannot not mention water park, the dancing fountains and the expanses of turf being laid, taking gallons and gallons of water sprinkled everyday with the approval of the Ministry for landscaping. And a postponed and postponed national water policy, in the face of a possible EU infraction.  Great Political management of the environment! Shall we soon be singing ring a ring o’roses? God forbid.

“Environment destruction is turning our lives upside-down”

The monument for environmental and social destruction during 2013, without doubt was the Nadur cemetery in Gozo; built on a priceless ecological water catchment area, destroying works of the Knights to harvest rain water, and putting the ecosystem and the life of a farming community in danger, by depriving them of water and by flooding other farmers’ fields because of the hydrological changes in the area. A 600­ grave cemetery to be run on a time share basis blessed by that Competent Authority for the Environment, MEPA; blessed by the local politicians; helped by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal who like Pontius Pilate washed its hands from such a catastrophic social and environmental crime; and developed, built and blessed by the Gozo Church Diocese. A cemetery whose first intakes were Mepa’s and

epitaph_name_Tomb1

the Gozo Diocese’s environmental and social conscience. Only God can forgive such an environmental and social crime, approved in 2013. To add insult to injury, this happened in Eco ­Gozo, cementing the lip service for ecological protection and the lack of understanding of biodiversity.

eco-1

The good thing about environment in 2013 is that I have run out of space, and cannot delve deeper on the proposed changes to the Outside Development Zones, and Structure Plan; the Xemxija scandalous planning decision, biodiversity loss and the invasion of alien species, and other policies in the pipeline in favour of further myopic development, such as land reclamation, Hondoq ir-Rummien, the Malta-­Gozo tunnel both in Eco Gozo, all burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction.

What of 2014 one might ask? Following the liaise-faire in environmental and social awareness by politicians and other social entities since accession to the EU, one can only say that environmentalists, socialists and nationalists (nothing to do with politicians) atheists and believers alike, would better fasten their seat belts. Past decisions can only reflect further destruction of the environmental and social fabric, rendering our country a difficult and unhealthy place to live in. The momentum of these negative impacts on society and the environment can already be seen and felt. Development and money matters are holding the political decision makers of this country at gun point, at a cost to the environment and society.

times 1

Photo and caption in the Times: Changes burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction were also proposed for Eco-Gozo. Photo: viewingmalta.com

Every time I get to think about this, with every thought of where all this will lead us to, makes me feel that I can’t tell the bottom from the top. Am I standing on my head or on my heels? Is it cloudy is it bright? Is it day or is it night? Am I wrong or am I right? And is it real?

Environment destruction is turning our living upside-down. But why cannot this country ever grow up?

I have as yet refrained from answering my question as to whether all this is sheer inexperience in good governance, or a shrewd diabolical political psychology.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

You may also wish to see: 

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb
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Tiger tales and tricks

January 2, 2014

times

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tiger tales and tricks

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

The first time I came face to face with a tiger was in December 1989 following Malta ratification of the CITES convention ­ – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

tiger 1

Along the years tigers had started being observed on a leash in Malta: at Marsa and Marsaxlokk and also being blessed at Church functions. Rumours abounded about one in a shelter in Valletta guarding some precious things. Another tale was of a tiger in a garage kept on valium – it had grown too big and dangerous – while another was sold as a cub for an initial Lm50 but fetched Lm1,000 after changing hands a number of times. It also spent some time in the company of a politician, God bless his soul.

tiger 16

captive tigers: caged either
1) to ‘educate’ the public; or
2) to servce as a background picture to newly weds! or
3) to perform under duress; and
4) for somebody to rub his hand in satisfacion.

There was one story of two felines in a wedding hall. After Cupid had homed in on his target and the couple had tied the knot, the felines provided a memorable photo as a background to the newlyweds. What a macabre souvenir! Animal lovers who were at the wedding made angry telephone calls and wrote letters protesting about the presence of the caged felines. Despite the intervention of the forces of law and order, not a whisker was found! Funny what circus-oriented animals can do.

I remember one particular year when a circus had just landed at the Valletta quay. Enquiries about African elephants accompanying the circus returned an official reply that no elephants were seen with the troupe. Yet three elephants appeared daily on every show. I became convinced that circus animals could indeed perform tricks.

It has become a rule of thumb that when a circus comes to Malta, miraculously, a tiger gives birth. Circus tigers and their cubs are usually housed in a long trailer divided into three compartments, with the middle cage housing the paraphernalia used by the cats to jump over, under or through, during the show. I cannot imagine for a moment that elephants can hide under such paraphernalia which if they did, understandably, would make them very difficult to see.

“Another tale was of a tiger in a garage
kept on valium – it had grown
too big and dangerous”

December 2013 indeed landed a circus bonanza: this time two tigers delivered. Seems that the smell of Maltese waters induces tigers to deliver, not just in the ring. Initially it was stated that the cubs were born after they set sail. This would have ruffled some feathers because felines, being CITES and EU listed species, cannot be transported without a certificate indicating their origin, even if born in captivity.

tiger tail 1

The air was cleared when it was realised that pregnant tigers could not travel, and this adjusted the date of birth of the tiger cubs. So the onus of certification reverts to the country of origin who have now to see to the paper work when, and if, the cubs return back home as a family, all in ‘good shape’.

EU Member States have to designate customs offices to carry out the checks and formalities for the introduction of listed species, and these have to be provided with trained staff to vet the obligatory certificates before the animals leave or enter a country.

tiger 19

One thing that displaying of captive animals, even  in circuses, can never achieve: the observation of the behaviour of animals in their natural habitat.

When, during the last couple of years, felines walked through customs as easy as a walkover and started appearing in private collections, even on roof tops, the then minister responsible for animal welfare, following uproar in the press, promised regulations for the keeping and housing of exotic animals which could be dangerous to humans.

Procrastination was the name of the game, and whether this is still on the back burner or in deep freeze, is well worth knowing.

tiger paw 2

In the meantime the Animal Welfare Act (Act No. XXV of 2001) administered by the Veterinary Services, covers the monitoring of ill treatment of animals, including aggressive animals which may present a danger to the safety of man or other animals. On paper these animals shall not be bred, imported or sold in Malta.

On a positive note, there were discussions on the use of wild animals, even if captive bred, performing in circuses after the end of 2013, following strong representations by animal welfare groups. A white paper has been promised, hopefully not a paper tiger, following the collection of signatures by an objecting minority group.

This year will hopefully bring relief for captive wild animals. These will be saved the crossing from Sicily, the stress of the insular voodoo, having to deliver during transit or after landing, and the humiliation of performing to ‘educate’ clapping crowds amidst a background of rubbing hands, before returning to their crammed caged compartments.

However, one would do well to remember that one who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount. A Chritmas cracker in December 2014, if delivered, can hold the answer.

 

cracker and tiger3

Best before Christmas 2014

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


U l-qerda tas-siġar tkompli bl-istess ritmu

October 23, 2013

U l-qerda tas-siġar tkompli bl-istess ritmu

Alfred E. Baldacchino

L-Erbgħa 24 ta’ Ottubru, 2013.

Wara kampanja twila kontra l-­qerda tas-­siġar f’pajjiżna, wieħed kien jistenna’ li bil-­bidla fil-­gvern kien ikun hemm xi ħjiel ta’ xi miżuri biex dan jibda’ jsir b’mod regolat u bi professjonalità. Imma b’dispjaċir wieħed jinnota li l­qerda, iż­-żbir bla rażan, in-­nuqqas ta’ apprezzament, id-­dilettantiżmu, in­-nuqqas ta’ rieda u interess, u l­isparpaljar ta’ fondi pubbliċi għadu għaddej bl-­istess ritmu li kien għaddej qabel l­-elezzjoni, minkejja xi wegħdiet.

Dan kollu sforz il­-fragmentazzjoni li hemm bħalissa f’dawn ir-­responsabbiltjiet li kulħad qe ifarfr u jgħid li mhux tiegħu.

Mela għandna l-­Ministru tat­-Transport u l-­Infrastruttura li huwa responsabbli mill-­landscaping. Is­-Segretarju Parlamentari fil­-Ministeru tal-­Prim Ministru responsabbli mill-­MEPA li hija l-­Awtorità Kompetenti għall­-Ħarsien tas-­siġar; u l­-Ministru tal-­Kunsilli Lokali li huwa responsabbli mill-­Kunsilli Lokali. Hemm ukoll il-­Ministru tal­-Ambjent li bnir-raġun ma għandu l­-ebda responsabbiltà fejn jidhlu s-­siġar minħabba din il-­fragmentazzjoni ta’ responsabbiltajiet.

Is-sura ta' dwn is-Siġar turi l-mentalita mikina u l-kultura kontemporanja taż dan il-pajjż

Is-sura ta’ dawn is-Siġar turi l-mentalita miskina u egoistika, l-kultura kontemporanja ta’ dan il-pajjż

Is-­sit eletroniku Rabti People who like or live in Rabat Malta poġġa ritratt ta’ dan il-massakru fuq is-­sit eletroniku permess ta’ Chris Farrugia fl-­interess tar­Rabat, tar-­Rabtin, u anki tal-­biodiversità Maltija, hekk kif beda dan il­-massakru fuq is­-siġar tas­-Saqqajja r-­Rabat. Skont kummenti fuq dan is-­sit ix-­xogħol ġie mqabbad mill­-Kunsill Lokali tar­Rabat u ma għandniex xi ngħidu sejjer jitħallas minn flus il­-poplu. In-­numru ta’ kummenti fuq dan is­-sit kienu mijiet, u l­-karba tal-­poplu Rabti għal din il­-qerda hija kbira. Wieħed jistenna’ biex jara kemm sejjer jismagħha l­-Gvern.

Qiegħed inpoġġi l-­kummenti li għamilt jien kemm fuq dan is­-sit kif ukoll fuq siti oħra li siltu xi ­kummenti minnu u tefgħuhom fuq siti tagħhom. Qiegħed ukoll inżid l­-indirizz eletroniku fejn dehru u xi ritatti biex wieħed jekk irid ikun jista’ jara l-­istampa kollha u l-­kummneti tagħna r-Rabtin, ma’ oħrajn li jaqblu magħna, saħansitra anki barra xtutna.

THE TREE BUTCHERY CONTINUES ­– 19 ta’ Ottubru 2013

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rabatmalta/10151935648499645/?notif_t=group_comment_reply

SIĠAR IMMASAKRATI 2013 – Is-Saqajja — 19 ta’ Ottubru 2013

Christopoher Farrugia with Astrid Vella and 3 others– The latest attack on trees took place two days ago at Saqqajja, Rabat, reducing the former row of majestic trees to ugly, bare and leggy branches topped by a few leaves! Now MEPA is defending this Rabat Local Council action, saying that the trees can be ‘pruned’ savagely as they are not over 50 years old, when in fact elderly Rabat residents remember them already grown 75 years ago!

THE TREE BUTCHERY CONTINUES ­ – 19 ta’ Ottubru 2013

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rabatmalta/10151935648499645/?notif_t=group_comment_reply

Alfred E. Baldacchino – Chris, prosit talli bdejt din it-thread fuq ir-Rabat u minn veru jħobbu speċjalment fuq dawn il-ħniżriet ta’ żbir li llum mhux ir-residenti tar-Rabat biss, imma l-Maltin u l-Għawdxin kollha qed jilmentaw minn dan in-nuqqas ta’ professjonalità. Il-Kunsill Lokali tar-Rabat imissu jistħi meta hawn din il-kritika kollha u jibqa’ għaddej qisu qed jgħix fiq xi pjanetà oħra. Imma l-Kunsilli Lokali li huma fformati mir-rapreżentanti tal-partiti politiċi, suppost għandhom il-barka kemm tal-Ministeri mill-Kunsilli Lokali kif ukoll mill-Ministeru responsabbli għall-MEPA biex setgħu jagħmlu dawn l-oxxenitajiet.

saqqajja trees3

Kif kienu jinżabru mill-ħġaddiema tal-Gvern is-siġar tas-Saqqajja fl-imgħoddi meta la kellhom cherry pickers u lanqas srieraq mekkaniċi. Dawn huma l-istess siġar li jidhru fir-ritratt ta’hawn fuq. wara li nżabru il-ġimgħa li għaddiet.

Nixtieq inkun naf min qed jgħati dawn il-pariri professjonali lill-Kunsill Rabti. Kif taf int Chris jiena llum għandi 67 sena. Niftakar meta kont għadni mbuttat fil-pushchair biex inmorru l-ġnien kont narahom hemm. U dan kellhom aktar minn 10 snin fil-wisa’. Forsi l-MEPA għadhom ma jafux jgħoddu… is- siġar. Imma il-MEPA la qatt kellhom u lanqas għandhom interess li jħarsu s-sigar u l-pjanti oħra indiġeni Maltin. Jekk tħares kif amendatw ir-regolamenti tal-Ħarisen tas-Siġar tal-2001 u kif dawn il-MEPA biddlithom fl-2012 biżżejjed biex wieħed jara kemnm il-MEPA hija interessata. Illum il-MEPA kważi kważi saret aġenżija tal-iżviluppaturi. Nixtieq inkun naf b’dan it-tqaċċit tas-siġar kollha għal kemm il-siġra il-MEPA oġġezzjonat. Bil-politika tal-MEPA, minkejja kemm bil-pjanijiet tal-gvern ta’ qabel (imfasswlin mill-MEPA stess) kemm b’dawk tal-gvern ta’ issa tidher li tiġi taqa’ u tqum. Ħares ftit lejn il-permess li tgħat fix-xogħol tal-foss tal-Imdina fejn inqerdu tant siġar biex il-foss inkesa bit-turf u ġabet is-swar tal-Imdina qishom Windsor Castle. Naturalment xi ħadd qala balla flus. Dan jidher aktar importanti minn xi 300 siġra (waħda minnhom żebbuġa li kellha viċin il-100 sena u li nqalgħet bil-barka tal-MEPA) kollha inqerdu.

Kien hemm suġġeriment aktar ‘l fuq biex fir-Rabat jitwaqqaf grupp jew kumitat dwar il-ħarsein tas-siġar u l-ambjent naturali Rabti. Jekk timxi din l-idea għidluli għax inkun minn ta’ quddiem bħala Rabti li noffri l-ħin biex inkun fuqu. Ma niflax nara aktar oxxenitajiet minn nies li jieħdu deċiżijoniet u ma jagħrfux siġra minn arblu tad-dawl. U mbgħad iwaħħlu f’ħadd ieħor. Ikun interessanti wkoll li l-politikant responsabbli mill-Kunsilli Lokali u dak mill-MEPA jgħidu kif jaħsbuha.

THE TREE BUTCHERY CONTINUES ­ – 19 ta’ Ottubru 2013

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rabatmalta/10151935648499645/?notif_t=group_comment_reply

Kif ġabuhom is-siġar illum.  Imma kif dan il-pajjiż tilef kull sengħa, kull pġrofessjonalità, kull rispett, u tilef ruħhu għall-flus.

Kif ġabuhom is-siġar illum. Imma kif dan il-pajjiż tilef kull sengħa, kull professjonalità, kull rispett, u tilef  anki ruħhu għall-flus.

Alfred E. Baldacchino – Allura biex inkun naf x’gara irrid immur il-Kunsill tar-Rabat? Irrid nifhem li l-Kunsill kellu jdejh marbutin biex iwqqaf dawn l-oxxenitajiet? Sa fajn naf jien il-membri tal-Kunsill qegħdin hemm biex jaraw u jirrapreżentaw in-nies tar-Rabat. Ma naħsebx li dan il-pajjiż huwa xi wieħed minn dawk ta’ wara dik li darba kienet il-purtiera tal-ħadid. Jekk il-Kunsill għandu spjegazzjoni jgħidlna. Jekk qed jipproteġi lil xi hadd, jiddispjaċini ngħid li r-responsabbiltà hija xorta waħda tiegħu u tal-Ministeru lli jaqa’ taħtu. Imma ma rridx neħodha kontra l-Kunsill tar-Rabat. Jekk dan jitkellem u jafda man-nies Rabtin li tellgħuh, imexxi aħjar u mingħajr wisq problemi, speċjalment jekk ikollu xi pressjoni minn nies mhux mir-Rabat. Xi ħadd qal li dawn is-sigar hemm bżonn jinbidlu! Ma nagħmlux mod li hemm xi ħadd qed ifesfes f’widnejn xi ħadd biex dawn jinbidlu u minflokom jitħawlu siġar mill-Afrika t’isfel, mill-Amerika t’isfel u minn kull parti oħra tad-dinja, bħal dawk li ħawlu fil-Kottonera u kullimkien. Tgħid għalhekk din is-segretezza kollha? Hemm minn bi ħsiebu jaqla xi skoss flus minn fuq dahar il-poplu bil-bejgħ tas-sigar barranin?

Xi ħadd ieħor qal li lanqas tista’ tpoġġi fuq bank minħabba l-għasafar. Kumment fqir u tat-tfal. Mur daqsxejn sa’ Ħad Dingli (mhux ‘l bogħod) u ara kif il-Kunsill ta’ Ħad Dingli solva din il-problema bla wisq spejjes u bla wisq teatrin. Naħseb li n-nies tar-Rabat huma intelliġenti biżżejjed jekk iridu. Imma minn ċerti kummenti li qed jidhru qed nistenna għar.

THE TREE BUTCHERY CONTINUES ­ 19 ta’ Ottubru 2013

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rabatmalta/10151935648499645/?notif_t=group_comment_reply

Il-Bankijiet f'Ħad-Dingli

Il-Bankijiet f’Ħad-Dingli

Alfred E. Baldacchino – Bankijiet f’Ħad Dingli li jippermetti lilll-għasafar ikollhom kuxjenza safja kif ukoll lil minn ipoġġi fuq il-bankijiet biex ipoġġu b’rashom serħana. U ma nqatat l-ebda siġra u kellu jħallas għaliha l-kunsill kif sejjr jagħmel dak tar-Rabat.

iNEWS

Massakru minn sigar fis-Saqqajja

http://www.inewsmalta.com/dart/20131021-massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja

Alfred E., Baldacchino  – Hija ħaġa tal-­mistħija li sena wara sena, wieħed jara dan id-­dilettantiżmu u qerda ta’ siġar u ħadd ma jieħu responsabbiltà. Dan minkejja l-­kritika kontinwa taċ-­ċittadini li minn flushom qed iħallsu għal dan ix­-xogħol u qerda.

Dawn is­-siġar għandhom ’l fuq minn 70 sena minkejja dak li qalet il-­MEPA. Jiena Rabti u llum għandi 67. Dejjem hemm nafhom. Imma l­-MEPA…

Sfortuntament il-­MEPA la għandha u lanqas qatt kellha interess li tħares is-­­siġar, minkejja l­-obbligi legali u morali li għandha. U dan jispjega għaliex ir­­regolamenti tal-2001 ġew mibdula mill­­-MEPA fl’2012. Possibbli li lanqas is­­-Segretarju Parlamentari responsbbli mill-­MEPA ma jista’ jagħmel xejn fuq hekk?

Xi Kunsilli Lokali ukoll qishom lanqas qegħdin hemm. Fir­-Rabat is-sena l-­oħra ġara l-­istess u milli jidher ma tgħallem xejn. U dan minkejja li qed iħallas il­-poplu għal dan ix-­xogħol xejn professjonali approvat u mqabbad mill­-Kunsill Lokali. Possibbli li s-­Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli mill-­Kunsilli Lokali dan kollu ma jinteressahx?

Dan il­-qerda u xogħol bla sens u bl-­ebda professjonalità kienet bla kontrol taħt il­­-Gvern ta’ qabel. Imma jiddispjaċini ngħid li mhux talli ma rranġa xejn talli għada kif kienet qabel minkejja l-­kritika tan-­nies. Forsi l-­­Prim Ministru jista’ jinterveni hu u jwissi lil min għandu jwissi, dejjem sakemm ma jaqbelx hu wkoll ma’ dan it-­tip ta’ xogħol!

L-­Orizzont

http://www.orizzont.com.mt/FullArticle.php?ID1=’Ahbarijiet’&ID2=112053

Alfrd E. Baldaahino (kumment għall-pubblikazzjoni) Din il-­qerda ta’ siġar f’pajjiżna li issa ilha għaddejja s­-snin hija qerda bla rażan, bla raġuni, u milli jidher bla ħadd ma hu lest li jerfa’ reponsabbiltà għalijha. Il­-fragmentazzjoni li teżisti fil-­ħarsien tas-­sigar mhu qed tgħin xejn biex is­-siġar li qed jikbru f’pajjiżna jkunu mħarsa kif suppost.

Ritratt meħud fl-01963 fejn is-=siġar jidhru li għandhom sewwa vi1in il-15-il sena dak iż-żmien. Imma il-MEPA li qalet li dawn ma għadhomx aktar minn 50 sena, issa qed twaħħal fl-Agrikultura wara li qalgħatha barra mir-regolamenti.

Ritratt meħud fl-1961 fejn dawn is-siġar jidhru li għandhom sewwa viċin il-15-il sena dak iż-żmien. Imma il-MEPA li qalet li dawn ma għadhomx aktar minn 50 sena, issa qed twaħħal fl-Agrikultura wara li qalgħatha barra mir-regolamenti u llum ma għandha x’taqsam xejn.

Ftit tal-­ħin ilu (it­-Tlieta 22 ta’ Ottubru) kont qed nara programm ta’ diskussjoni fuq ONE TV fejn is­-CEO tal-­MEPA qal li l-­ilqugħ u ż-­żbir tas-­siġar huma responsabbiltà tal­-Agrikultura.  Dan mhux korrett. Din ir-­responsabbiltà kienet hemm taħt ir-­regolamenti l-­qodma tal­-2001.  Imma dan ġew revokati u mibdula mill­-MEPA stess fil-­2012. Illum il­-MEPA hija l­-Awtorità Kompetenti għall-­ħarsien tas­-siġar skond ir-­regolamenti tal­-ħarsien tagħhom li għamet hi stess.

Naħseb li hemm bżonn immedjat li l-­Prim Ministru jindirizza din il-­fragmentazzjoni illum qabel għada biex ma tkompliex issir aktar qerda.

Is-sbuħija tas-siġar ta' fuq is-Saqqajja ir-Rabat kif darba kienu u kif ma jistgħu ikunu qatt sakemm tinbidl din il-mentalit.a pulitika ta' pajjiżna.

Is-sbuħija tas-siġar ta’ fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat kif darba kienu u kif ma jistgħu jkunu qatt aktar sakemm tinbidl din il-mentalità  pulitika  u kulturali ta’ pajjiżna.


Discovering wild flowers at Dingli Cliffs

August 29, 2013
logo                                                                                       Dingli Local Council –  Spring 2013

Discovering wild flowers at Dingli Cliffs

Alfred E. Baldacchino

widnet-il-bahar--blogg

Dingli Cliffs rise from the depths of the sea to a height of 253 meters above sea level. Their majestic height, facing North Africa, forms the highest point in the Maltese Islands.

Although exposed to the winds and sea spray, Dingli Cliffs offer a unique natural environment which can also be regarded as one of the richest in the Maltese islands. It embraces sea cliffs, garigue, and maquis, with adjacent woodland at Buskett on the inland side. A walk along these majestic cliffs brings one face to face with the beauty and wonders of nature, whatever the season of the year. A very brief look will give an idea of the richness of the place and the natural wealth there is to discover.

MALTESE ROCK-CENTAURY – Widnet il-Baħar

Without doubt, a must see at Dingli Cliffs is the rare, evergreen Maltese Rock-Centaury. This wild plant is an endemic species, that is, it is found growing wild only in the Maltese islands and nowhere else in the world. Even in Malta, the plant’s distribution is limited to the southern coastal cliffs of the islands. It flowers between May and July. It was declared Malta’s national plant in 1971. The Maltese Rock-Centaury is threatened by the destruction of its natural habitat mainly through quarrying.

It is listed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as a critically endangered species and is also listed as an Annex II species in the European Union Habitats Directive. It is also protected by Maltese legislation.

 Azure-Stonecrop---blogg

AZURE STONECROP – Beżżulet il-Baqra

The exposed garigue rocks can lead one to think that they are just bare rocks. A closer look at such habitat, especially where some water accumulates during the rainy season, reveals the spread of a low lying succulent plant, the Azure Stonecrop that only grows 6 to 7 mm in height. With the advent of summer, the leaves of the Azure Stonecrop turn red, with small white flowers having sky blue tips. These can be seen from March to May. The Azure Stonecrop is abundant in the Maltese Islands.

fennel-blogg

FENNEL – Bużbież

Fennel is a very common plant that can be found along waysides, disturbed ground and garigue. It can reach heights up to 250 cm and having thin segmented leaves. It flowers from May to October bearing yellow bunched flowers in the form of an umbrella, mainly in summer. The leaves are very aromatic. Our forefathers, and today some still do, used fennel seeds as a seasoning to oven-baked potatoes and to flavour meat. It was also believed to help against digestive problems and nausea. It is said that its leaves placed among clothes in drawers deter insects. Overseas, liqueurs and perfume essence are also made from fennel. The flowers of the wild fennel attract a number of insects, the most noticeable being the Swallowtail Butterfly. This endemic subspecies lays its eggs on the tender shoots of the fennel. The green-coloured caterpillar decorated with orange and white dots is also a sight to behold. Eventually it pupates and develops into a beautiful yellow-and-black butterfly, the largest in the Maltese Islands with a wing span of up to 65 ­to 88 mm.

 capers-blogg

CAPER – Kappara

The Caper is a common wild plant which can also be found along Dingli Cliffs. It is a sprawling greyish shrub with thick rounded leaves. The 5 to 7 cm white flowers each have four white petals and a number of purple stamens. They also have a delicate odour and are in bloom from April to September. The caper is salt-tolerant and can grow on sea-cliffs. It is also widely distributed through the Mediterranean. A local tradition is collecting and pickling the flower buds in brine and vinegar to be added to Maltese salads and sauces. It has a sharp piquant flavour affecting taste or smell with a sharp acid sensation. It adds a peculiar aroma and saltiness to food such as fish, meat, salads, pasta sauce, and pizza. It contributes to classic Mediterranean flavours which also include olives, anchovies, artichokes, and garden rocket. It is said that the caper plant can be used as a poultice – the soft moist mass of the plant, often heated, is spread on cloth over the skin to treat aching, inflamed or painful parts of the body, especially inflammations of joints such as those of the feet and hands. Leaves are also crushed and put on painful areas of hip gout. Furthermore, a decoction – an extraction obtained by boiling leaves or roots – is used on skin rashes.

 Tree-Spurge-blogg

TREE SPURGE – Tengħud tas-Siġra

The Tree Spurge is a frequent dense shrub which grows on valley slopes, on garigue, and also adapts to difficult sites. This shrub can reach a height of 2 m. It is a deciduous plant and loses all its leaves in summer. After the first rains, the green-bluish leaves begin to appear. It is covered in yellow flowers from December to May. With the approach of summer it turns from reddish-orange to rosy-bronze. Its dried leaves fall off completely in summer, as it waits for the first autumn rains. The Tree Spurge has a poisonous milky sap which is also a skin irritant, and should be handled with caution. Since ancient times, the toxic white and sticky sap has been used to treat skin outgrowths like tumours and warts, and is today being studied for such treatments. The name ‘spurge’ is derived from the Middle English/Old French (to purge/espurge) because of the use of the plant’s sap as a purgative. In folkloristic medicine the tree spurge is used to treat various ailments and as an insect repellant.

Maltese-spurge-blogg

MALTESE SPURGE- Tengħud tax-xagħri

Another interesting relative of the Tree Spurge frequently found growing on arid, rocky places in the garigue is the Maltese endemic Spurge. This species, which only grows in the Maltese Islands, is also found at Dingli Cliffs and is one of the protected wild flora. It only grows to a height of 10 to 30 cm. From November up till June it is covered in bright yellow flowers.

swallowtail-blogg

Swallowtail Butterfly on Mediterranean Thyme

Mediterranean Thyme – Sagħtar

Walking along Dingli Cliffs, one cannot miss the purplish-pink patches of the Mediterranean Thyme’s crowded flowers spreading on the garigue between May and August. This common indigenous aromatic shrub grows from 20 to 50 cm in height, and has a sweet aromatic smell when touched. The purplish-pink scented flowers attract many an insect such as butterflies. The honey bee is also an important visitor to wild thyme flowers gathering nectar for the production of the famous Maltese honey. In the past the plant used to be collected for firewood and to decorate Christmas cribs.

In popular medicine, thyme was used as a stomach treatment, to stimulate appetite, against bad breathe, to help against coughs, hay fever, throat, and bronchial asthma, and to ease muscle tension. It was also used  as a disinfectant, against infections and skin disease; as an astringent to threat flu and even cancer. Its medicinal properties were sometimes also used for rheumatism and arthritis, and mixed with vinegar for headaches. The dried ground-powdered leaves and stems were also used for their antibacterial activity. In aromatherapy, which uses essential oils extracted from various parts of the plant, it is used for perfumes, cosmetics, and other pharmaceutical products. It is also used to make liqueurs. This is one of Malta’s protected plants. Unfortunately, although the Mediterranean Thyme is still very common, it is under increasing pressure, especially from hard stone quarries.

Silver-Ragwort-blogg

SILVER RAGWORT – Kromb il-Baħar Isfar

The Silver Ragwort is a dwarf shrub growing to about 100 cm high. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean and a perennial, that is, it grows and blooms during spring and summer, then dries up in autumn and winter, and springs back to life again from its root stock. It is tolerant to extreme conditions, and is a water conservation species that also thrives in environments with a very high concentration of salt. The leaves are lance-shaped, as is the stem, and are covered with long, white matt hair. It grows in rock fissures, walls and cracks, and is very common near the sea, flowering in spring and summer.

The flower head is a compact flower, an inflorescence, that is, a group or cluster of yellow flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or an arrangement of branches. The yellow flower is 4 cm in diameter. It is also used in cultivation and landscaping, though unfortunately not in the Maltese Islands.

The Silver Ragwort is also used in herbal medicine, mostly for eye treatments, such as cataracts and for treating inflammation of the membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and the exposed surface of the eyeball.

CONCLUSION

This is just a glimpse of a few of the common wild flowers one can discover while walking along Dingli Cliffs. The floral richness of Dingli Cliffs, and the different natural habitats, makes Dingli Cliffs so important that they are regarded as a special habitat of EU Community Interest. Dingli Cliffs are a Special Area of Conservation declared under the Habitats Directive, thus forming part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 Network.

Besides adorning and filling the natural environment with so many colours, wild flowers can also embellish our urban environment if they are used in urban landscaping, or planted in front- and back-gardens. There are many other species of wild flowers, though unfortunately these are not appreciated but are neglected and ignored. This information is intended to help create greater awareness of the natural wild flora of the Maltese Islands.

Scientific names2


From nature study to biodiversity

July 9, 2013

times

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From nature study to biodiversity

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

When we were young, we used to be taught nature study: by collecting tadpoles in jam jars and pinning butterflies on pieces of cork. Eventually, this changed to a wider vision of environmental studies. Following accession to international conventions and the European Union, a more sophisticated word is used: biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the amalgamation of the words biology and diversity. It means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

All living organisms (biotic) need adequate physical environment (abiotic) such as land, air, light and water to live and procreate. Biotic and abiotic form a delicate dynamic balance sustaining all life: the complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Such diversity within and between species and ecosystems essentially is a synonym of ‘life on earth’.

biodiversity

Graphic image of biodiversity

Another principle related to biodiversity is its sustainable use: the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and the aspirations of present and future generations. It has ecological, economic and social dimensions.

The reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands are referred to as the ‘three pillars’ – if ‘pillars’ are anything to go by locally.

Human_Sustainability_Confluence_Diagram

The three pillars of sustainability

Such a concept of life on earth is not always accepted by some sections of the self-proclaimed most intelligent species on earth, – homo sapiens, maintaining that such an intelligent species cannot be subject to such a natural system. Such ‘sceptics’ are mostly found among commercial, political and even religious entities.

Senior citizens remember days when we used to drink out of any streamlet or cistern without any fear or health worries. There was no acute asthma or coughing problems that have become so common and are normal background sounds to any public gathering.

Summer was warm months; winter was cold months and there was never any thought of sudden climate change and its impact on living organisms.

Occasionally, I try to image the modern way of life in the biblical Garden of Eden. Not only would the self-declared most intelligent species swoop on the forbidden fruit, some with the sole intent of genetically modifying it to make it better and feed the people, but the slightest vision of a Eurodollar-clad serpent would create a stampede to approach and eventually take possession of the fruit, uproot the tree and replace it by an investment yielding  maximum financial profits.

The early 1970s saw a crescendo of local waves of publicwide communication, education and public awareness on specific species, initially birds and later trees. Such was the impact that it led some politicians, past and present, to conclude that there were those who thought the environment was just development, birds or trees. I have heard this more than once from different coloured quarters.

A couple of days ago,a group of ecoskola students were convened in Parliament, where they also addressed members of the House of Representatives. Their message relating to ‘caring for our future’ focused mainly on fostering further awareness on the importance of environmentally sustainable policy.

Some politicians, the world over, have managed to coin their own ‘political’ definition of technical words, not necessary in the context or in line with scientific jargon. The latest political definition of sustainability is sometimes development has the upper hand, while sometimes the environment does. If this definition was applied to a football league, it would perhaps be close to acceptance. But applying this to sustainable use of biodiversity qualifies it for the best political joke of the year. It simply means sustainable use of biodiversity is far from being understood and biodiversity is on the development chopping board.

Malta is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and also forms part of the European Union. Ignoring and failing to understand and implement such concepts of biodiversity can never place any country high up in EU rankings: it can only place it on top of the infraction list.

During the past decade, biodiversity has been the Cinderella of government, misunderstood and mismanaged even by the competent authority established for its very protection: Mepa.

A brief, backward look at Buskett, Dwejra and RamlaBay in ecoGozo, and Għajn Tuffieħa, all EU Natura 2000 sites, shows the disinterest and laissez-faire towards biodiversity.

Such lack of interest, the newly coined political definitions, the splash of fireworks to make us different, extinguish any hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for the better management, protection, enforcement and appreciation of Maltese biodiversity.

The national and international obligations for the protection of biodiversity go much further than just protecting birds or trees from development.

But if schoolchildren can understand and embrace the real meaning of biodiversity, why can’t politicians? After all politicians are intelligent and honourable men, unless they themselves disagree with such public perception.


Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125


EU stand on invasive species

October 29, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

EU stand on invasive species

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The public is becoming more and more aware of invasive species, not because of any proactive educational measures or political convictions or commitments but, unfortunately, because of the invasive species’ economic, social and ecological negative impacts.

We are talking of non-indigenous or non-native species that are introduced into a region or a country. These adversely affect natural habitats, which they invade and then establish themselves. Invasive species can be either plants or animals.

The European Union defines “invasive alien species” as those species that threaten biological diversity. These species can be introduced either intentionally or accidentally.

The modern means of aerial, terrestrial and marine transport, has aided the spread of such invasive species to the extent that, today they know no boundaries. Even island-states that once had a natural barrier against such invasive species are today as susceptible to them as much as land-locked states.

The EU has as one of its main aims the free movement of goods. It also has a number of legal instruments such as directives, regulations and decisions which oblige member states to do their utmost to control invasive species. Given the free movement of goods concept, such regulations are very frail. An ad hoc committee is in fact discussing measures to be adopted in this regard.

Over the years, the importance and need to address the issue of invasive species gathered momentum on an international level following their economic, social and ecological negative impacts. Controlling invasive flora, fauna and pathogens species is a major global challenge because they are among the greatest threats to biodiversity.

dead palm trees

Dead Palm Trees – the result of the introduced invasive alien Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). Most of the Palm Trees in Howard Gardens, Rabat, and others in the surrounding areas have all been killed.

Their threat to global economic health is significant, estimated at $350 billion annually. The United Kingdom annually spends £1.7 billion to control the impact of just three freshwater species: the American bull frog, the red-eared slider and the American signal crayfish. The EU spends €16 billion to control the damage of some of the invasive species established in the Community.

Social entities, whether political, scientific, environmental, conservationists, even some economical, are belatedly realising that the free movement of goods concept, and the breaking down of trade and other barriers between people and nations just for economic gain, is only benefiting the entrepreneurs while externalities, or hidden costs, are being borne by society and the environment at large.

The EU is not a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) because the parties to this convention have not yet approved an amendment for the adherence of regional economic blocks.

Despite being just an observer to this convention, the EU has its own regulations that implement CITES in the EU member states. These regulations go further than those of the convention itself because the latter’s aim is the protection of the listed species per se while those of the EU encompass, to some extent, the social or ecological impact on the environment by the imported traded species.

These EU regulations are updated from time to time and one such measure is the updating of the list that includes the suspension of trade of certain species within the Community. This list includes, among others, the red-eared slider terrapin, the painted turtle, the American bull frog and the ruddy duck.

Following the Scientific Review Group report, the EU has added three invasive species of squirrels by suspending their introduction through international trade within the Community, namely the fox squirrel, native of North America; the eastern grey squirrel, native to the eastern and mid-western United States; and the Pallas squirrel, native of South Asia.

This regulation was published in the EU official journal of August 20 and became binding on September 10 in its entirety and directly applicable in all member states, including Malta.

Malta is not spared from the negative impact of invasive species. During these last few years, these have had their negative impact on the local natural habitats and also on indigenous species. Some of these were accidentally introduced while others were intentionally released in the wild.

Levant water frog

The Levant water frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) is an intentionally alien invasive species introduced in the wild in the island of Gozo, preying on the indigenous Painted Frog (Discoglossus pictus)and other indigenous aquatic species.

Some of the established alien invasive species, and their negative impacts visible in Malta include, the red palm weevil, the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the fountain grass, the Hottentots fig, the Brazilian pepper tree, the Levant water frog, the mosquito fish and the red-eared slider, the latter three intentionally introduced in the freshwater pool at San Rafflu in Gozo, from where the former is spreading. There are also others, such as land snails, whose negative impact is not yet being seen or felt.

Fountain grass

The Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) extensively used in Government Landscaping programme, in one of the latest introduced invasive species which is found growing in some valleys and also along roadways.

The present scenario with regard to invasive alien species is that while entrepreneurs cash on the profits from the sale of imported traded species, society and the environment pay for the externalities of such trade.

Geranium Bronze

The South African Geranium Bronze Butterfly (Cacyreus marshalli) is another locally invasive species introduced in 2007. It is increasing rapidly and is found both in urban areas and also in rural areas, both in Malta and also in Gozo.

SEE ALSO

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/roundabout-plants-described-as-invaders/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/


Breeding birds of the Maltese Islands – a scientific and historical review

October 12, 2012

A new publication
Breeding Birds of the Maltese Islands - a scientific and historicl review


Qerda tal-biodiversità fil-foss tal-Imdina… biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità!

September 28, 2012

Dan l-aħħar qrajna u smajna stqarrijiet minn Ministru tal-Gvern dwar ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji.

Meta wieħed jaqra u jisma’ l-kummenti ta’ dan il-Ministru tal-Gvern li huwa responsabbli minn dawn il-proġetti, wieħed mill-ewwel jifhem għaliex illum il-qerda tal-ambjent naturali hija daqstant kbira. U wieħed ma jistax ma jistaqsiex numru ta’ misoqsijiet, bħal ngħidu aħna:

  1. Bliema immaġinazzjoni jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jaqla’ u jeqred ammont kbir ta’ sigar b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità tal post?  (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel).
  2. Kif jista’ wieħed jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jiksi l-post b’medda wiesgħa ta’ konkos; konkos aktar milli hemm u aktar milli kien hemm siġar qabel ma beda x-xogħol? (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel)
  3. Liema raġuni xjentifika tiġġustifika li biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità titqaxxar u tinqered il-liedna kollha li kien hemm fil-post u li kienet tħaddar u tiksi metri kwadri kbar tal-ħajt tal-ġnien Howard Gardens (mhux mal-ħajt tas-sur) u li kienet toffri ambjent naturali għall-numru ta’ fawna indiġena? Din kienet ukoll issebbaħ u tgħati l-ħajja lill-kull ġnien anki jekk mhux ta’ kwalità. U dan minkejja li l-Gvern ta’ Malta huwa obbligat u marbut mill-Unjoni Ewropea biex jara li jieħu miżuri biex ma tkomplix tinqered il-biodiversità tal-Unjoni Ewropea li aħna parti minnha. Il-Ministri tal-Ambjent (anki dawk li jgħidu li xi darba kienu Ministri tal-Ambjent) din kollha jafuha, kemm mid-dokumenti tal-UE li jirċevu, kif ukoll mill-laqgħat tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri li jattendu.

Fid-diskors tiegħu fil-video li deher fil-ġurnal The Times

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

dan il-Ministru qal li ma nqerdux siġar.  Jekk wieħed iħares lejn ir-ritratti hawn mehmuża, waħdu jasal f’konklużjoni waħda.

  1. Kif jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li dan ix-xogħol qed jerġa jieħu dan il-post għall-ġranet passati tal-glorja tiegħu?  Sa fejn naf jien fi żmien l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri ma kienux jużaw konkos (sakemm xi perit ma jikkoreġinix!) li llum huwa l-aktar ħaġa li tispikka f’dan il-ġnien (u ġonna oħra simili) ta’ kwalità. Lanqas kienu jiżirgħu turf  għax l-ilma għalihom kien jiswa mitqlu deheb, u lanqas kienu jagħmlu ilma ħiereġ jiżfen mill-art!  U lanqas ma kienu jużaw lift biex jinżlu mis-swar għall-foss. Jidher li l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri li ħakmu pajjiżna tant għexieren ta’ snin ilu, kellhom viżjoni ferm u ferm aktar professjonali, ekonomika, soċjali, ambjentali u sostenibbli milli għandhom il-mexxejja politiċi Maltin tal-lum, minkejja li dak iż-żmien ma kienx hemm obbligi ambjentali internazzjonali bħal ma għandna llum u lanqas kellhom Ministri tal- Ambjent.
  2. Ir-Rabtin u l-ġirien tagħhom  ma għandhomx bżonn xi politku li ma għandu l-ebda idea ta’ xi tfisser biodiversità biex jgħamillhom ġnien ta’ kwalità! U lanqas għandhom bżonn spazji miftuħa għall-familji għax għandhom biżżejjed spazji miftuha. Żgur li ma għandhomx bżonn ta’ spazju miftuħ ġo foss. U jekk kien hemm il-ħsieb li dan il-foss jinfetaħ għal kulħadd, kull ma kien hemm bżonn kien  li jitneħħew il-katnazzi li kienu jsakkru l-bibien li jgħalqu l-aċċess għal kulħadd. Li kieku dan id-diskors jintqal lill-kostitwenti ta’ min qalhom, li llum huma ferm u ferm konxji mill-ambjent naturali u l-qerda li l-konkos qed jagħmel lil dan l-ambjent, żgur li kienu jibgħatuh jistgħad biex forsi jaqbad xi mazzun!
  3. Imma veru li biex tagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità illum l-ingredjenti huma: a) konkos; b) turf; c) ilma jiżfen; d)  issa anki lift; u e) l-qerda tal-biodiversità tal-post kollha, kif sar fil-foss tal-Imdina u f’kull hekk imsejjaħ ġnien ieħor li qed isir mill-istess ministeru?
  4. Ħarsa lejn il-kummenti li kien hemm fil-gazzetti f’dawn il-links

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

u fir-ritratti li ħadt jien stess u li wħud minnhom jidhru hawn taħt, kollha jitkellmu u juru  d-disastru li sar bi flus pubbliċi u b’dawk tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

  1. Forsi hawnhekk ta’ minn jistaqsi minn qed jamministra l-fondi tal-UE, f’dan il-kas il-European Regional Development Fund?  Min qiegħed jawditjahom? Fejn jista’ l-pubbliku jara rendikont tal-infiq?
  2. Barra minhekk, minn qiegħed jara li jkun hemm diskussjoni pubblika fuq il-proġetti biex b’hekk ikun involut iċ-ċittadin fid-deċiżjoni, qabel jintefqu dawn il-flus? Dan ukoll huwa fost l-obbligi li titlob l-UE.
  3. Jiddispjaċini ngħid li l-ħsara li qed issir lill-biodiversità Maltija bi proġetti bħal dawn, bi skuża ta’ ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji, trid aktar minn ġenerazzjoni biex titranġa.
  4. Dan il-ġnien sejjer ikollu kwalità waħda …. dik ta’  mafkar ta’ kif l-ambjent naturali qed jiġi sfruttat u mżeblaħ f’dawn l-aħħar snin, mingħajr ebda mistħija u ebda mgħodrija.
  5. Fl-aħħarnett min huma l-konsulenti tal-Ministru li huwa responsabbli biex jaraw li dan ix-xogħol ikun wieħed sostenibbli, jiġifieri li ma ssirx ħsara ekonomika, ħsara soċjali u ħsara ekoloġika kif qed issir?
  6. Nismagħhom jgħidu li hawn Malta kollox possibli, imma ma naħsebx li hawn xi ħadd li sab kif jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel, għalkemm hawm min qed jipprova u qed jagħmel ħiltu kollha.

ARA WKOLL

http://www.orizzont.com.mt/Issues/19092012/social/article95864.html

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

http://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/

iL-BIODIVERSITA’   SINJURA TA’ QABEL BEDA X-XOGĦOL FIL-FOSS TAL-IMDINA U L-KWALITA’ TA’ QERDA LI SARET MINN META BEDA X-XOGĦOL FUQ IL-ĠNIEN TA’ KWALITA’

QABEL – Ringiela ta’ siġar taċ-Cipress li kienu jiffurmaw parti mill-biodiversità

WARA – L-unika siġra taċ-Cipress li baqa’ – MEJTA. L-oħrajn kollha nqalgħu u nqerdu. Ikun interessanti kieku l-esperti tal-Ministru jgħidulna kif mietet din is-siġra, jew aħjar jekk inqatletx b’xi kumbinazzjoni!  Ma naħsebx li issa sejjer ikun hemm xi ħadd li tniggżu l-kuxjenza biex jaqla’ siġra mejta, meta nqalgħu tant u tant siġar ħajjin minn dan il-post .

QABEL – ambjent naturali sinjur

WARA – parti mill- ġnien ta’ kwalità – anqas biodiversità, aktar konkos!

WARA – liedna  meqruda fil-ġnien ta’ kwalità

WARA – siġar taċ-Ċipress maqlugħa, meqruda  u mitfuha fl-art biex jagħmlu wisa għall-ġnien ta’ kwalità.

WARA – fdalijiet tas-siġar mejta taċ-Ċipress taħt it-tabella tal-Ministeru li qed jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità

QABEL U WARA – id-dehra tal-foss ftit wara li beda x-xogħol fuq il-ġnien ta’ kwalità.  Is-siġar immarkata b’salib isfar kollha ġew meqruda, jew maqlugħa.

WARA – post għeri mill-biodiversità fi ġnien ta’ kwalità fejn jispikka l-konkos u l-għibien tas-sigar li qabel kienu jżejnu dan il-post.

It-tabella imwarrba u mitluqa fl-art li madankollu turi l-għajuna finanzjarja li qed tgħati l-EU mill-European Regional Development Fund, għar-restawr tal-post, li qed isir fost oħrajn bit-tneħħija tal-biodiversità u kisi bil-konkos.


Environmentalists vs government over trees

May 25, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012 

Report: Kristina Chetcuti
Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Environmentalists vs government over trees

The bastions of Mdina seem to be the setting for a battle scene once again. The dissent, this time round, concerns the rehabilitation of the ditch gardens, now being converted into a recreation park, which has left environmentalists very unimpressed.
Until recently, the Mdina ditch was an underutilised ground that was inaccessible to the public, which the Rural Affairs Ministry has tried to change. However, the plan has failed to convince some people.
“This is the work of architects with no background in environmental management. This is vandalism,” said Alfred E. Baldacchino, former assistant director at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.
The work includes the uprooting of more than 270 citrus trees lining the bastion walls. About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.
“This is not the right time for uprooting. We are in spring, blossoming time. It is a trauma for the trees. There is no guarantee they will survive,” said Mr Baldacchino.
Similarly, environmentalist Antonio Anastasi said on Facebook that if the uprooting had to happen, it should have been done without removing all the trees’ foliage.
Mr Baldacchino questioned the reason for moving them only by a couple of metres, calling it a “sheer waste of money”. The estimated value of the project – to be completed this year – is €1,200,000.
On site, a crane was uprooting the trees to loud pumping music.
“Look at that, all the roots of these citrus trees are sawn off with a chainsaw so that they fit in the new hole. They should at least make the hole bigger,” he said.
The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.
A spokesman explained the trees being transplanted to the other side of the counterscarp were being moved to “expose the scale and majesty of the bastions”.
Mr Baldacchino pointed out that citrus trees did not grow tall and could not obstruct the view of the bastions. However, he also
noted that, before being uprooted, the trees were being pruned hastily.


“When you prune, trees ‘weep’. You need to coat them immediately to protect them from insects,” he explained. He also believes that the project does not embrace Maltese biodiversity. “Turf, for example, is not part of the Maltese ecosystem and it’s very expensive to maintain because it needs a lot of watering. We need gardens that highlight the
biodiversity of the place. “Why are we just recreating a Victorian garden?”
The government insists the project includes an “intensive water management exercise” through a water catchment on St Paul’s
bastion. “All the water received during the last year has been diverted toward an existing reservoir in the courtyard of Vilhena Palace,”
a ministry spokesman said.
“This will serve as one of the backup reservoirs for the main reservoir behind the counterscarp in the ditch and may be replenished by bowser during dry seasons.”
The project proposes to collect the greater part of the rainwater run-off in shallow reservoirs that have been creatively designed by taking advantage of the difference in the levels of the grounds.
A Mepa spokesman said all permits were in hand and continuous archaeological monitoring was being carried out during the works.
In the meantime, a petition against the pruning of trees – Save Malta’s Trees – sponsored by columnist Pamela Hansen is doing the rounds online and has already garnered more than 200signatures.

The original article and video in The Times can be seen on:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120525/local/-Battle-scene-at-Mdina-ditch.421226

See more exchange of views on the Save the Tree group on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

Those who want to sign the petititon can do so on:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/629/494/052/save-maltas-trees/

An old legally protected Olive Tree heavily pruned on the 16th May 2012. A few days later it was uprooted and disappeared.

All the old legally protected Oive Trees in the ditch were heavily pruned and a few days later they were uprooted and all disappeared.

Additional comments by A E Baldacchino

• “About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.”
Buskett is small woodland with forest remnants of Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. It has been declared an EU Natura 2000 site following submission by Government. Despite this the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs has been consistently claiming that Buskett is a garden. Buskett is crying for the strengthening of the population of wild trees which once graced this woodland, and which today are on the verge of extinction. Indigenous rare trees which should be planted at Buskett are the Ash, the Bay Tree, Elm, Hawthorn, Mastic Tree, Buckthorn, Poplar, Holm Oak and others. Yet the Minster responsible for landscaping has chosen to plant the uprooted citrus trees from Mdina Ditch at Buskett.
• “The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.”
The dozen or so old established protected Olive trees were first heavily pruned. Then one by one, by the 20th May 2012, they were all uprooted and carried away from the site.

The remains of the grove of citrus trees after a substantial number were uprooted to mke way for a ‘garden’. Part of the ditch opposite the bastions is covered by a beautiful cover of Ivy, providing much needed adequate habitat for local fauna. All the greenery is probably waiting for the chain saw to clear it to make way for a ‘garden’. No details as to the future of such natural habitat are availed.

The out of the way sign showing the financial help received room the European Union with regards to the Mdina project.


Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947