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.


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/


The Caper at Couvre Porte

November 7, 2013

times

Thursday November 7th, 2013. 

The Caper at Couvre Porte

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

2013.10.22---Birgu-flag

Citta Vittoriosa flag

The Birgu Local Council deserves warm congratulations for the way they organised the Birgu Fest especially the candle­lit night which showed the splendour of the city: the overpowering majestic bastions, the Maltese workmanship, the architecture, the intricate sculptures, the winding streets, the renovated old buildings, and the growing public awareness of such a historical heritage.  Unfortunately this cannot be said for the way the Birgu environs are being landscaped.

2013.10.22---couvre-port-gate

Couvre Porte Gate

I entered through Couvre Porte, the  magnificent covered  gateway, admiring  the surroundings. I crossed the bridge  over the ditch, still in total darkness as to its future, at least from a public point of view. I wonder why no public consultations were ever held on such projects. Perhaps the present Minister would consider this before the works are done and public money spent and not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Once through the main entrance of Couvre Porte, I climbed the 10 cm or so high steps leading to the top of the bastions. I could almost re­live the moments of such a historical architectural heritage left to us by the Knights of St. John.

There, on the highest part of the bastions something caught my eye: it was a caper (kappara) growing on one of the cordons, so soon on the freshly restored bastions, with defiance and a sense of victory. In the dim light, I could see the silhouettes of other indigenous plants which had also set foot on the fortifications: indigenous species which colonised these islands before man set foot on them.

2013.10.22---kappar-mas-swar

The caper on the bastions

The indigenous plants on the bastions echoed Rużar Briffa’s Jum ir­-Rebħ “Jien Maltija! Miskin min ikasbarni, miskin min jidħak bija” (I am Maltese! Pity the one who disgraces me, pity the one who mocks me”).

As I looked towards the Vittoriosa water front, the historic bastion rose as a background to a number of recently imported alien, toxic and some invasive trees. The never conquered Citta Vittoriosa, lied at the mercy of these introduced foreign species, some also invasive, politically approved and publicly funded. How could one accept the fact that there at the foot of the bastions exotic species had taken over the beds of the indigenous Maltese species, through the political apathy still accepting foreign colours to the indigenous splendour.

I slowly descended the steps, seemingly so much higher now, and mingled with the crowds till I found my way in front of the St. Lawrence Parish Church. Towering in front of the Church on my left was the Għolja tal­Ħelsien monument, a reminder of the last foreign power which had a foot in Malta. But even in the semi­darkness I could see the monument invaded with more than half a dozen exotic species, two or three invasive. Two palm trees on the monument seemed to have succumbed to the Red Palm Weevil, an introduced alien invasive species.  On my right along the waterfront leading to dock 1, I could see other exotic species, some invasive, introduced from around the world, including the now ubiquitous fountain grass. Could it be possible that the exit of the foreign powers opened the doors to the exotic alien flora and fauna to set foot on the Islands even growing on the very monument itself?

2013.10.22---għolja-tal-ħelsien

Three exotic alien species surround the fanfare of the departure of the last foreign soldier.

Landscapers equipped with a can of chemicals will no doubt be sent by their political master, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, to spray the indigenous caper and allies to oblivion, something in which I must admit, they are very good at. But these are wild species and do not fatten anybody’s pockets. I am sure that the indigenous species will rise again, and again, and again in protest with the same determination, as one or two have already done at the newly renovated Mdina bastions, made more to resemble Windsor Castle rising out of an expanse of turf, so artificial and unnatural to a Mediterranean fortification rising out of garigue vegetation. As long as the people and the EU pay, who cares? Who would be that Minister who,  during whose tenure, approved the introduction of the most exotic alien species, not excluding invasives, in the Maltese Islands at the expense of local indigenous species, in the name of landscaping? The wisdom of some politicians knows no bounds despite national and international obligations, and should I add electoral promises!

2013.10.22---inula-chritmoides

The Golden Samphire on the restored Vittoriosa bastions. It can easily replace the introduced exotic invasive species of Fountain Grass occupying the flower beds on the waterfront.

I walked heavily to where my car was parked close to St. Helena Bastions ­ another jewel of the Knights of St. John. Another gem of a historical heritage so conspicuous by its neglected and abandoned state.  If only the funds coming from the European Union and public funds lavishly spent on the importation, advice, planting and profits made on the exotic trees, went to the restoration of such other gem at Bormla (Cospicua) they would have been much better spent.

2013,10,22---fountain-grass

The now ubiquitous introduced alien invasvie Fountain Grass, in the shadow of alien trees, competing and taking over from indigenous flora.

It was a relief to drive back home. But not before driving through a breach in the Cottonera bastion lines leading from San Ġwann t’Għuxa to Għajn Dwieli. The mismanagement, lack of planning and financial driving force in landscaping with its negative social, historical and ecological impact had ruined the enjoyable candle­lit evening at the historical city of Birgu. The good thing about it was that the candle­lit environment had hidden the look of disappointment on my face: the lack of considerations for local biodiversity makes me feel ashamed that I am Maltese, when this is appreciated more by the foreigners than by the local politicians. When money grows on trees and it talks, there is nobody ready to listen.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

March 9, 2013

times

Saturday, March 9, 2013 by

Juan Ameen

Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

A biodiversity expert has expressed concern that the flora of Wied Babu in Żurrieq, a protected Natura 2000 site, is slowly being choked by an invasive plant from the Americas.

Alfred Baldacchino said the biodiversity at Wied Babu was “under great negative impact” by Cardiosperum grandiflorum, also known as Showy Balloon Vine or Love in a Puff.

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

1. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

The plant has already had a negative impact on carob trees, Mediterranean Heather and brambles at the mouth of the valley and “is rapidly advancing towards a healthy stand of protected buckthorn, destroying everything in its wake”, Mr Baldacchino said.

He pointed out that the plant was also spreading at the other end of the valley – one of the richest environments for Maltese indigenous flora.

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and brmable

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and bramable

The plant originates from the tropical regions of the Americas, especially Brazil and eastern Argentina, and has been introduced outside its native range as an ornamental garden plant.

However, Mr Baldacchino said its overall negative impacts were devastating. He believes it was originally imported as a garden plant and then it “either escaped accidentally or somebody dispersed its seeds intentionally”.

The seeds are dispersed by water and air and the plant forms dense infestations out­competing indigenous vegetation. Its weight can also cause branches to break.

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

Such is the negative impact on indigenous species that it has been listed as a noxious weed in South Africa, Australia, the US and New Zealand, according to Mr Baldacchino.

Its invasiveness is so acute it has been added to the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation Alert list, he said.

Invasive alien species were spreading all over the world mainly because of transport and the ornamental garden industry, he pointed out, adding that some people claim the damage by these species was more acute than climate change.

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

A number of international conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and also the EU Environmental Acquis, tackle invasive species. The EU has an ad hoc committee that is studying the spread and drafting additional regulations for immediate control.

Malta is obliged to honour these provisions, which have been transposed into local legislation.

A number of publications such as the National Environment Policy and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority ‘s new guidelines for the management of invasive plants were published but no enforcement or monitoring was being done.

Mr Baldacchino said one of the measures was to stop the plant from expanding.

8. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

“This is not relatively difficult, though it needs manpower, and ongoing monitoring to uproot seedlings and established plants is urgently necessary,” he added.

Mr Baldacchino said he had received reports from the Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group that the vine was also spreading up the trees along Birkirkara’s Valley Road.

He informed the Environment Ministry and the planning authority, which said they were studying the matter.

The best form of management and control was prevention, which “unfortunately is completely absent”.

Where these plants have set root, Mr Baldacchino said, the best control method was to weed them before they seeded to reduce the dispersal.

Consistent follow-up was required for sustainable management.

“This is quite a heavy economical, social and ecological price that we have to bear following neglect and inadequate attention to prevent such alien species from establishing themselves,” he said.

 

Further reading:

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

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/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/


Seminar on the benefits and use of trees

February 22, 2013

Introduction to Maltese native trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On Tuesday 10th February 2013, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group in collabortion with the Attard Local Coucil organised a seminar on The benefits and use of tree. 

The FAA Tree Group was established following the outcry against the wanton and  widespread destruction of urban trees both in Malta and Gozo by Government Ministries,  paid from public funds. The response for such a first activity of the FAA Tree Group was immediate:

  • there were more than 100 participants who not only followed the presentations with great interests, but also took notes;
  • asked a number of pertinent questions, and
  • also demanded more information and similar meetings on the better use and appreciation of Maltese indigenous trees.

The seminar covered information on Maltese indigenous trees and the need for more appreciation especially by those who are entrusted to protect them; the benefits that trees give to society and the environment, and also their contribution to the economical aspect. The need to prevent the introduction of invasive species which can devastate the Maltese ecosystem, was also highlighted.

The partecipants were also addressed with regards to the use and benefits of trees in the urban environment and how this can be undertaken in a professional way.

A short presentation on tree protection regulations was also given.

Following the seminar, the demand for copies of the presentations were more than expected

As a first additional step towards the aim of more appreciation and protection of trees, the slides (used as the basis but without any animation, used during the presentaiton) can be viewed on the following link

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/presentation-seminar-on-the-benefits-and-use-of-trees/


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


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

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Bżonn ta’ aktar immanniġġar tas-Siġar Maltin

March 5, 2012

It-Tnejn, 5 ta’ Marzu, 2012

miktub minn Gaetano Micallef

Il-ġlieda ta’ raġel biex isalva s-siġar lokali

 Il-“massakru” tas-siġar lokali u l-importazzjoni ta’ ċertu speċi ta’ siġar u pjanti li magħhom qed iġibu ċertu nsetti qed jinkwetaw lill-ambjentalist ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO kif wieħed jista’ jara mill-blog tiegħu. GAETANO MICALLEF iltaqa’ miegħu biex jara għaliex mhux jara futur għas-siġar indiġeni u cioè dawk tal-lokal. Fil-blog tiegħek għidt li s-siġar lokali qed jiġu “immassakrati”. X’ridt tgħid biha? X’qed iwassal għal dak li qed tiddeskrivi bħala trattament inaċċettabbli tas-siġar? Skont il-prinċipji tal-UE hemm bżonn ta’ regolatur u operatur biex l-affarijiet jitmexxew sewwa. Jekk nieħdu l-qasam tal-enerġija għandek il-korporazzjoni Enemalta li hija l-operatur waqt li fil-qasam tal-ilma nsibu l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizz tal-Ilma li wkoll hija operatur. Imma t-tnejn li huma regolati mill-Awtorità Maltija għar-Riżorsi (MRA). Issa fil-qasam tal-‘landscaping’ insibu l-operatur, li huwa l-partner privat tal-Gvern, imma uffiċjalment m’hemmx indikazzjoni li hemm xi regolatur. Din tista’ twassal biex id-deċiżjonijiet u l-politika ta’ dan ix-xogħol titfassal mill-operatur innifsu. Ngħidu aħna, xi speċi ta’ siġar u arbuxelli jitħawwlu, minn fejn jinġiebu, jekk għandhomx jiġu impurtati, fejn jitħawlu, minn fejn jinqalgħu, jekk humiex skont il-liġi u jekk jonorawx l-obbligi internazzjonali li għandu l-pajjiż. Imma jidher li m’hemmx regolatur biex jgħid “ara, din l-ispeċi m’għandiex tintuża għax din għandha impatt negattiv fuq is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija”. L-operatur m’għandux direzzjoni u mhux regolat. Ara f’Għawdex ħaġa bħal din ma tiġrix. M’ilux kont hemm u staqsejt uffiċjal fil-ministeru għaliex kuntrarju għal Malta ma rajtx il-pjanti li jgħidulhom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma meta f’Malta dawn tarahom kważi kullimkien. Ir-risposta kienet li f’Għawdex huma jiddeċiedu liema pjanti jitħawlu u mhux il-kuntrattur. U billi jafu li kemm is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma huma pjanti invażivi ma jridux li dawn jidħlu Għawdex u jinfirxu kullimkien bi ħsara ekonomika, ekoloġika u soċjali. Tgħidli x’għandhom ħażin dawn il-pjanti? Dawn huma fost l-agħar pjanti invażivi fl-Ewropa. Pjanta invażiva hija dik li meta tiddaħħal minn barra taħrab u tinfirex mal-pajjiż fejn qatt ma kienet tikber qabel. Is-Swaba tal-Madonna hija pjanta Sud-Afrikana. Li pjanta minn barra tiddaħħal fil-pajjiż ma fiha xejn ħażin fiha nnifisha sakemm ma tkunx waħda li faċli taħrab bi ħsara kbira ekoloġika, soċjali u anke ekonomika għall-pajjiż. U meta din taħrab, tinfirex u tistabilixxi ruħha ma jkunx possibbli li tiġi kontrollata u meqruda. Ħares lejn il-Ħaxixa Ingliża jew il-Qarsu kif jafuh xi wħud. Din inġiebet xi 100 sena ilu mill-Afrika t’Isfel u tpoġġiet fil-Ġnien Botaniku fil-Floriana. Minn hemm infirxet u mliet Malta, Għawdex u Kemmuna. Saret invażiva għax illum qed tikber bla kontroll, ma tistax tiġi kontrollata u impossibbli li tiġi eliminata. Fil-fatt minn hawn Malta waslet anke Tuneż u Sqallija.

Imma mhux kull pjanta tista’ titqaċċat jew titneħħa?

Impossibbli. Kif tista’ telimina l-Ingliża minn hawn Malta li tikber kullimkien u tiksi kullimkien? Anke mas-swar u mal-irdumijiet. Jew is-Siġra tar-Riġnu jew is-Siġra tax-Xumakk? Meta tidħol speċi u ssir invażiva jkun impossibbli teliminaha. Fl-UE l-pjanta tas-Swaba tal-Madonna hija meqjusa fost l-iktar mija invażivi. U aħna nħawluha fit-toroq! Min qed jagħmel il-politika? Ir-regolatur? Anke jekk m’hawnx regolatur xorta waħda tibqa’ ir-responsabilità tal-Gvern li jara li l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu jiġu onorati. U għaliex dan l-interess u din l-għebusija tar-ras biex din il-pjanta u oħrajn invażivi bħala jibqgħu jiġu mħawla u mħallsa bi flus pubbliċi? Din jista’ jweġibha biss min qed jagħmel il-politika f’dan il-qasam. Sadanittant, is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija jħallsu għal din il-politika żbaljata. Id-deċiżjoni li jkun hemm sieħeb privat mal-Gvern, f’dan il-każ l-ELC, mhux idea ħażina. Imma ma jistax ikun hemm operatur bla regolatur iktar u iktar meta l-operatur għandu €7 miljun kull sena għal ħames snin, jingħata l-mixtliet tal-Gvern biex jopera minnhom, jingħata l-makkinarju bħall-bowsers tal-Gvern biex jaħdem bihom u anke ħaddiema li kienu jaħdmu mad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura f’dan il-qasam. F’din is-sħubija hemm riżorsi tajbin, kemm finanzjarji u umani, imma la hemm il-viżjoni u lanqas id-direzzjoni biex l-għan jintlaħaq. Il-Gvern huwa marbut mal-liġijiet lokali u anke b’dawk tal-UE u b’konvenzjonijiet internazzjonali rigward il-ħarsien u l-immaniġġjar tal-biodiversità imma kemm qed ikunu riflessi fix-xogħol li qed isir f’dan il-qasam ta’ tisbiħ tal-pajjiż? Dan narawh iktar ċar meta wieħed jara, fost orajn l-pubblikazzjonijiet uffiċjali tal-MEPA fejn jgħidu liema huma l-ispeċi invażivi li huma ta’ ħsara għall-ekoloġija lokali … fosthom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma. Imma minkejja dan kollu ara kemm flus pubbliċi għadhom jintefqu fl-importazzjoni ta’ siġar eżotiċi, uħud minnhom invażivi, jew li jġibu magħhom speċi invażi. Ma tara l-ebda sinjal ta’ tkabbir ta’ siġar indiġeni lokali. Mela għala noqgħodu nippubblikaw pjanijiet, strateġiji u miżuri oħra favur l-ambjent meta dawn qed jiġu kompletament injorati? Jekk wieħed iħares lejn l-irdumijiet viċin tal-Blue Grotto jara li magħhom tikber is-Swaba tal-Madonna b’kompetizzjoni għall-pjanti indiġeni, uħud endemiċi, li jikbru hemm. Veru li dawn is-Swaba tal-Madonna kienu qed jikbru hemm qabel ma bdew jitħawlu fit-toroq. Allura nkomplu nżidu l-opportunità għal din il-pjanta biex tkompli tinfirex u tikber f’ambjent naturali mhedded.

Is-Swaba tal-Madonna – pjanta li l-UE tqis li hija fostl-aktar 100 pjanta invaziva. Hawn Malta, flus pubblici jintuzaw biex din tkompli tithawwel fit-toroqf pubblici

Anke l-Pjuma qed tinfirex sewwa u rajtha f’għelieqi, tikber taħt il-bankini fit-toroq, fil-widien u anke fix-xagħri. Min sejjer iħallas biex din tiġi ikkontrollata skont l-obbligi legali tal-pajjiż? Min sejjer jirrispondi għall-ksur tal-liġijiet u l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu biex ma jħallix pjanti invażivi jkomplu jinfirxu fl-ambjent naturali?

Il-Pjuma – pjanta invażiva li qed tinferex sewwa b'impatt negattiv soċjali u ambjentali

Kull speċi invażiva hija ħażina għall-ambjent lokali?  Mhux kull pjanta importata hija ta’ theddida għall-ambjent. Erħilha li meta dawn jiġu impurtati, magħhom jdaħħlu wkoll speċi oħra anke jekk magħhom ikollhom iċ-ċertifikat tas-saħħa tal-pjanti. Hekk kellhom is-siġar tal-Palm li magħhom daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm. Għalhekk għandu jkun hemm regolatur professjonali biex lill-operatur jgħidlu xi speċi għandu juża fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż. Li kieku kien hemm regolatur xjentifiku u professjonali ma kienux jitħallew jiġu impurtati siġar tal-Palm mill-Ewropa u mill-Eġittu meta dawn kienu diġà mifnijin bil-Bumunqar l-Aħmar tal-Palm. Kieku ma kienux jitħallew jiġu mħawla ma’ Malta kollha s-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjumi. Imma jekk wieħed iħares biss lejn il-parti kummerċjali mingħajr ma jagħti każ tal-impatt negattiv soċjali u dak ekoloġiku li dawn jista’ jkollhom allura dak li jiġri. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ir-responsabilita hija tal-Gvern imma bħalissa qisu l-Gvern qed jagħti ċekk iffirmat imma vojt u l-ammont jintela minn min jirċievi ċ-ċekk.

Imma fl-ELC ma hemm ħadd li jifhem fil-pjanti u s-siġar?Ma nistax nimmaġina li ma hemmx. Li kieku le, kif ġiet fdata b’din ir-responsabilità f’idejha? Naħseb li hemm min għandu ħafna esperjenza f’dan il-qasam u għalhekk niskanta kif isiru dawn l-affarijiet u jinġiebu pjanti invażi li mhumiex ta’ ġid għas-soċjetà u għall-ambjent ekoloġiku. U għalhekk ukoll ma nistax nifhem kif fil-mixtliet tal-Gvern ma jitkabbrux iktar siġar indiġeni bħal-Luq, il-Ballut, l-Għargħar, id-Deru, is-Safsafa l-Kbira, l-Għanżalor, il-Fraxxnu, il-Ħarrub, iż-Żagħrun, ir-Rummien, il-Lewż u ż-Żnuber. Minbarra li dawn inaqqsu t-theddida ta’ speċi oħra li jġibu magħhom dawk importati – bħal bebbux, pjanti, insetti u rettili – immaniġġjar bħal dan jiffranka ħafna flus milli jmorru barra minn Malta u minflok jintefqu hawn u jservu ta’ ġid għall-ambjent. Imma għidli kemm-il siġra indiġena minn dawn li semmejt tara biex jissebbaħ l-ambjent urban? Fil-passat il-mixtliet tal-Gvern, anke jekk mingħajr r-riżorsi finanzjarji li għandhom illum, kienu jagħmlu kollox u minkejja li kienu wkoll jiżirgħu u jħawlu siġar mhux adattati għal pajjiżna, bħall-Akaċja u l-Ewkalyptus, ma kinux jimpurtaw siġar bħal ma qed isir illum u għalhekk ma kienx ikun hemm periklu li jidħlu speċi barranin. Bil-politika li qed tiġi mħaddma llum, f’dawn l-aħħar snin daħlu ħafna speċi invażivi. Huwa ferm diffiċli li meta tiddaħħal pjanta stabbilita ma ddaħħalx magħha xi speċi oħra anke fil-ħamrija li jkollha. Meta ddaħħlu s-siġar tal-Palm uħud minnhom kienu twal xi żewġ sulari u kważi impossibbli li ma jkunx hemm speċi magħhom. Il-Bumunqar l-Aħmar jgħix l-Asja. Hemm l-ambjent tiegħu. Daħal fl-Eġittu mas-siġar tal-Palm u mill-Eġittu sab ruħu fl-Ewropa mas-siġar tal-Palm li ġew esportati hemm. Fl-Afrika ta’ Fuq dan il-Bumunqar huwa ‘pest’ għax qed jeqred ħafna siġar tat-tamal u kellu impatt negattiv fuq din l-industrija.

Ir-riżultat ta' deċiżjonijiet mhux professjonali – waħda mill 400 siġra tal-palm, maqtula mill-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm li ddaħħal mas-siġar importati.

Issa xi ħadd f’Malta kellu l-idea “inteliġenti” li jixtri s-siġar mill-Eġittu u anke minn Spanja u Sqallija li kienu impurtawhom mill-Eġittu u sal-lum inqerdu mal-400 palma li wħud minnhom kienu ta’ valur storiku. Sa issa dan il-Bumunqar għadu għaddej joqtol kull siġra tal-Palm li jiltaqa’ magħha u qed jintefqu ammont ta’ flus biex dan jipprova jitwaqqaf. F’Malta daħlet ukoll il-Ħanfusa s-Sewda tat-Tut. Is-siġar tat-Tut u ċ-Ċawsli li kien hemm fil-Fiddien kollha sofrew ħafna minn din il-ħanfusa. Kif ġralhom ħafna f’ġonna privati. Issa siġar tat-Tut m’hawnx ħafna f’pajjiżna u daret fuq is-siġar tat-Tin. Min qed iħallas għal dan? L-impatt qed inħallsuh jien u int. Daħal ukoll il-Farfett tas-Sardinell. Kulħadd jilmenta fuqu. Għandi erba’ qsari tas-Sardinell fit-terazzin biex nistudja dan il-farfett … kull sena joqtolhom. Biex wieħed ikompli jara n-nuqqas ta’ miżuri professjonali qed ikomplu jitħawlu s-Sardinell matul it-toroq biex dan il-farfett ikollu iktar pjanti fuqhiex ibid, jiekol, joktor u jinfirex! Diġà qed jinstab jittajjar fil-widien tagħna fejn għandna pjanta mill-istess familja tas-Sardinell li s’issa għadu ma misshomx. Nispera li issa ma narawx impjegati jbixxu kull Sardinella li jaraw bil-kimika biex joqtlu dan il-farfett! Daħlet ukoll is-susa tat-tadam. Qerdet ħbula wara ħbula ta’ tadam. Daħlet għax l-attivitajiet kummerċjali jieħdu preferenza fuq il-ħarsien soċjali u ekoloġiku. Imma hawn xi ħadd li jimpurtah u jieħu ħsieb li dawn l-affarijiet ma jiġrux?  Għandek ukoll numru kbir ta’ speċi ta’ bebbux tal-art li ddaħħal mal-pjanti impurtati. Sa issa għadu ma jinħasx imma meta jibda jinħass imbagħad naħseb li nibdew naraw kif se jintefqu l-flus biex jiġu ikkontrollati. Illum jitħawlu fjuri bħall-Pensieri, Qronfol Tork, Petunji u Sardinell li wara ftit ġimgħat jispiċċa żmienhom u jinħartu biex jerġgħu jitħawlu oħrajn. Ma nistax ngħid li mhumiex sbieħ imma meta fil-gżejjer tagħna għandna ’l fuq minn 1,000 pjanta selvaġġa kollha adattati għall-klima tagħna, li m’għandhomx bżonn ħafna ilma, allura għaliex ma nużawx dawn u nkunu qed inħarsu aħjar l-ambjent ekoloġiku u fl-istess ħin inħarsu l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Din bħall-kwistjoni tal-ilma. L-UE tobbliga li l-ilma tad-drenaġġ ma jistax jintefa l-baħar mhux imsaffi. X’ġara? Investejna f’impjanti biex jittrattaw dan l-ilma imma wara li jiġi msaffi jerġa’ jintrema l-baħar u mbagħad nerġgħu ntella ilma baħar iktar ikkonċentrat biex jerġa’ jissaffa mir-reverse osmosis ħalli jittieħed għax-xorb. L-istess qed jiġri fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż bil-pjanti. Jekk dan  immaniġġjar professjonali nixtieq lil xi ħadd jgħidli xi jfisser dilettantiżmu!

Jiġifieri bħala prinċipju taqbel li m’għandhom jidħlu ebda speċi barranin? Le, mhux qed ngħid hekk.  Hemm ftehim internazzjonali, li wkoll jagħmel parti mir-regolamenti tal-UE u li l-prinċipji tiegħu huma nklużi fil-liġijiet lokali, magħruf bħala l-“prinċipju ta’ prekawzjoni” li permess tiegħu jekk se tittieħed xi deċiżjoni u ma jkunx magħruf x’impatt din se tħalli fuq l-ambjent u s-soċjetà allura din m’għandix tittieħed. Nifhem li jekk se ssir triq u hemm siġra jew siġar fin-nofs ma tistax tħallihom hemm. Imma ma jfissirx li mingħajr ma jkun hemm konsultazzjoni, ix-xogħol isir mingħajr l-ebda pjan ta’ immaniġġjar. Jekk hemm proġett ta’ żvilupp suppost li jkun hemm il-permess tal-MEPA. U meta jkun hemm siġar bħal dawn ikun hemm kundizzjonijiet ta’ kif sejrin jinqalgħu, minn sejjer jaqlahom u fejn sejrin jerġgħu jitħawlu. Nuqqas ta’ tagħrif lill-pubbliku joħloq ukoll ċertu suspetti. Is-siġar taż-Żebbuġ li nqalgħu minn ħdejn il-Monument tal-Gwerra fil-Floriana ġew impurtati u mħawla ftit tas-snin ilu. U s-siġar fejn sar it-terminus tal-Arriva fil-Belt ukoll inqalgħu biex minflokhom tħawlu siġar oħra kbar impurtati bi prezz mhux irħis. L-aħħar darba li mort hemm kelli ċans naraw li tnejn minnhom diġà nixfu. Meta nara dawn ir-riżorsi qed jinħlew u kif bihom jista’ jsir ferm iktar ġid ma nistax ma ninkwetax għal din il-‘laisse faire’. Meta wieħed iħares lejn ir-regolamenti tal-2001 dwar il-ħarsien tas-siġar, li kienu jagħtu ħarsien anke lis-siġar li jikbru fl-urban u li kienu ġew ippubblikat bi sħab bejn il-Ministru tal-Ambjent u dak tal-Agrikoltura, u meta wieħed jikkumpara kif dawn ġew emendati fl-2010, fejn ġew ippubblikat mill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent biss u ma fihom l-ebda referenza għall-ħarsien tas-siġar li jikbru fl-urban, allura ma jistax ikun li dan il-‘laisse faire’ ma jinħasx iktar. Mhux talli s-siġar indiġeni ma jintużawx fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż imma minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ regolatur uffiċjali numru ta’ siġar rari u mħarsa wkoll qed isofru minn din il-mentalità. Il-Professur John Borg, li darba kien Supretendent tad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura, kien jara li siġar Maltin rari fil-pajjiż kienu jitħawlu jew jinżergħu fil-Ġonna ta’ San Anton. Fosthom kien hemm is-siġra rarissima magħrufa bħala s-Siġra tal-Kuruna, li aktarx hija l-unika waħda li għad baqa’, tikber f’San Anton, li l-aħħar li rajtha ftit ġimgħat ilu ġabuha qisha kurċifiss!

Ix-Xewk tal-Kuruna – l-aħħar siġra Maltija ta' din l-ispeċi rari u mħarsa strettament, li qed tikber fil-Ġonna ta' San Anton. Imbiċċra.

Barra minn hekk numru ta’ Siġar tad-Deru li kien hemm jikbru fuq ġewwa mal-ħajt ta’ dan il-ġnien tqaċċtu mill-qiegħ nett. Żabra li min jagħmel il-politika u huwa responsabbli fl-immaniġġjar tas-siġar imissu jistħi jidher quddiem in-nies. Dan biex ma nsemmiex dak li ġara l-Buskett li huwa sit tan-Natura 2000.

Id-Deru - kien jikber matul il-ħajt tal-ġnien f'San Anton. Imqaċċat mill-qiegħ.

Imma forsi għalhekk ma jeżistix regolatur… biex ħadd ma jkun f’pożizzjoni li jistħi. Huwa faċli li wieħed iwaħħal fil-ħaddiema biex taparsi jkun jidher li ħa passi. Imma l-ħaddiema jagħmlu dak li jgħidulhom. U bla regolatur x’tistenna? L-iktar ħaġa li tweġġgħani li dawn qed isiru bi flus pubbliċi u ħadd ma jidher li huwa responsabbli.

Forsi l-akbar ċertifikat ta' inkompetenza f'dan il-qasam huwa il-mod kif siġar f'Natura 200 tal-EU, il-Buskett, ġie mżeblaħ, anki dan bi flus il-poplu. Darba din kiet siġra rari u mħarsa strettament - is-sigra tal-Fraxxnu.

Sakemm ikollna dan ir-regolatur jiddispjaċini ngħid li s-siġar indiġeni f’pajjiżna m’għandhomx futur sabiħ. Jekk għandhom futur. Jekk ix-xogħol jitmexxa b’għan kummerċjali biss, u mingħajr ma jittieħdu kunsiderazzjonijiet tal-għan soċjali u ekoloġiku, wieħed ma jistax jistenna li s-siġar indiġeni ma jibqgħux sejrin lura u li ma jidħlux iktar speċi invażivi. U waqt li l-profitt kummerċjali jeħduh l-individwi, il-prezz iħallsu l-poplu u l-ambjent ekoloġiku.

Ara x'żabra dik? Certifikat għal dak il-politiku li huwa responsabbli biex dan ma jħallihx isir.

Żabra bla ebda professjonalita, bla kuxjenza u bla mistħija.

Għall-ġid tal-poplu u tal-ambjent! Dan qed ngħidu fuq dak li qalu, li qrajt u li smajt, fuq dak li rajt, u fuq ir-riżultati ta' dan kollu, dejjem bi flus pubbliċi.

NOTA: Ir-ritratti ma jidhrux fl-artiklu oriġinali li deher fl-Orizzont, imma dawn żidthom jien fuq il-blogg u kollha huma ritratti li ħadt jien.


Landscaping with native flowers

May 19, 2011

Landscaping with native flowers

Thursday, May 19, 2011 ,

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Over the last few weeks, nature regal­ed us with its wonders, richness and colours of native spring wild flowers: fields covered with red carpets of poppies, lavish yellow crown daisies and perennial wall rocket, white borders of sweet alison and white mustard, mauve patches of mallow, wild artichoke and the dappled bear’s breech, different sizes and colours of bindweeds, some red-listed, among many, many others. All for free: no fees charged for sowing; for watering or weeding.

Crown Daisy - Lellux

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating and encouraging nature’s free gifts, the government’s official policy seems to be to decimate and eliminate them. Masked clothed men can be seen spraying herbicide at every wild native flower that dares raise its head and bloom within a stone’s throw of the urban environment, eliminating also the ecological niche and all the other flora and fauna depending directly or indirectly on such a niche.

Year after year sizeable patches of Bindweed along the Imriehel bypass, were shaved to the ground untill they finally succumb.

Such government policy is contributing to the disappearance of a number of native species like, for example, butterflies and moths. If it isn’t for the migratory butterflies, the dash of colours of the native ones would be so sparse. Some, like the small copper, have already hung up their wings. Others, like the meadow brown, are not far from following suit.

When have you seen your last 7-spot Ladybird?

Once, the red seven-spotted ladybird was as common as all the exotic flowers being planted along traffic islands and highways today. It controlled and preyed on aphids taken from plants and trees – just for free! But the government policy of spraying insecticide and herbicides along roads and streets is also drastically eliminating natural predators.

Today, the harmful alien red palm weevil can be more plentiful than the once common helpful ladybird. And, naturally, this policy is also affecting pollinators, such as the honey bees.

Financial and human resources are available to embellish the country in a sustainable way, without any externalities, that is, without any hidden costs borne by society in general, and by biodiversity in particular. Unfortunately, the myopic policy in using such resources shows a glaring lack of biodiversity conservation and social consideration concepts, though strong profit motives.

Mallow - Ħubbejż - did not escape the herbicide or shaving either.

Such official policy also approves the clearing of native wild flowers to make way for exotic species, contributing to the establishment of invasive alien species, such as the South African Hottentot fig, which is also so declared by the State of the Environment Report for the Maltese Islands.

The dreaded invasive alien species, Hottentot Fig, which despite competing with endangered indigenous species, is being planted, with government funds.

A handbook published by Daisie (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventory for Europe), funded by the European Commission, listed the Hottentot fig as one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Suggestions made include its restricted sale, public awareness of its negative impacts, encouraging its proper removal and disposal and promotion of native species.

The wild Sweet Alison (Buttuniera) does not look so sweet for the commercial landscapers.

The EU Habitats Directive also obliges member states to take measures to ensure that any introduction of a non-native species does not prejudice the natural fauna and flora by regulating or prohibiting the importation of non-native species. But the government is making available public funds to replace native wild flora with such invasive species, in this case the Hottentot fig.

A short drive by the roundabout leading to Malta International Airport, to the verges past the Blata l-Bajda Museum chapel and to the roads leading to Mater Dei Hospital, among many others, will show this planted invasive alien species.

The plant is established on sea cliffs and on sand dunes, competing with local rare indigenous cliff and dune vegetation, even endemics listed in the EU Habitats Directive annexes. A look from the belvedere overlooking the Blue Grotto in Żurrieq can reveal some areas where it has established itself.

In Gozo, it is found growing wild in the now famous Dwejra special area of conservation (or should I say special area of convenience). I find it very, very difficult to understand how the government not only allows this to happen but also contributes through public funds.

More than a decade ago there used to be a Ministry for the Environment, which used to address such obligations. It seems the government, despite having the environment as one of its main pillars (to be corrected if I am wrong), never seems to learn and does not want to know and to listen.

Through the government policy mentioned above, a number of invasive alien species have already established themselves in the Maltese islands. Naturally, the public and the local biodiversity bear the hidden financial costs of such policy.

Who has not had the misfortune to bear costs in connection with the damage done by the red palm weevil, the geranium butterfly, the Asian long-horned beetle, the tomato leaf miner and the Bedriaga’s frog, among others? Definitely not the Maltese biodiversity, despite Malta’s commitment to control biological loss by 2010.

The Wild Artichoke (Qaqoċċ salvagg)

The government can indeed turn a blind eye to such hidden costs. It can also continue with such a blinkered policy driven by the now familiar and usual short economic returns. But no blind eye can ever fail to see the political responsibility of those who are in a position to avert such damage and miserably fail to do so.

Writing on invasive alien species, Jeanine Pfeiffer, research director for social sciences at Earthwatch Institute said: “We can’t afford to be culturally ignorant any longer.” It seems the government strongly begs to differ!

Following the publication of the above article, a reader kindly sent me this photo showing what nature can give for free, which unfortunately is not appreciated at all.