Back from green Elba

June 20, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 20th June, 2015

Back from green Elba

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 Elba is a Mediterranean island slightly smaller than Malta. The population of the latter is 14 times that of Elba, which is only 30,000. We found ourselves in Elba at the invitation of two great Italian naturalist friends of ours: Francesco and Franca, the latter the director of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park which includes the seven main islands namely Elba, Isola del Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, Gorgona, and some of the minor islands and rock outcrops.


The yellow flower of the Spanish broom could be seen everywhere

Every possible time, we roamed the national park, admiring the biodivesity, the organisation and the efforts being made to ensure its protection. Along the winding paths of the park, despite not yet being the peak touristic season, we met a number of tourists from Germany, United Kingdom, USA, France, Russia, and mainland Italy, walking or cycling, all admiring the biodiveristy, history and the scenary of the archipelago.


The wild flowers adorned the landscape; contrary to those in Malta which succumb to the officially approved and financed spraying with herbicides.

Elba is so green with vegetation. The bright yellow flowers of the Spanish broom were so beautiful against such a green background. The last wild specimen of Spanish broom which I can recall in the Maltese Islands in the vicinity of Girgenti, was burnt down to make way for a single vine. The wild flora on Elba is so familiar to ours: mallow bindweed, poppies, mullein, rock rose, mallow, myrtle, lentisk, buckthorn, evergreen oak, and others. The winding paths were dotted and adorned with the indigenous mallow bindweed: so beautiful.

In Elba, wild indigenous flowers are not sprayed by herbicides as happens in Malta, paid from public funds made available by the central and local governments.


The Aleppo Pine in all its splendour, as never seen in Malta due to the officially approved endemic ‘pruning’.

All around the trees looked so different from those growing at home. So green, so naturally shaped, so healthy, so beautiful, so beholding. These trees attract birds and their droppings but are not problematic to the residence; not a hindrance to the many restaurant tables laid out beneath them;  no problem to the adjacent buildings with their roots; in no way obscuring views of the horizon or the village fireworks,  or obscuring the vision of the papier mache statue of the patron saint during the village festa. These trees are professionally managed and not regarded as lamp posts, not butchered nor mutilated or decapitated or uprooted by public funds to politically accomodate somebody, despite political promises.

I had to constantly pinch myself into reality to  remind myself that I was not in Malta where such mismanagement of indigenous flora and decorative trees is approved by the Minister responsible for landscaping, or the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for local councils, all with the help or lack of action by the now notorious seemingly politically hijacked environmental watchdog, Mepa.

All around we could hear birds singing: goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins, and chaffinches. My first reaction was to search for the cages to see the birds. Again I forgot I wasn’t in Malta. The birds were in the trees above us, in the bushes in front of us or flying around us. All were busy with their nests.

During our walks we could also see and hear collared doves and turtle doves cooing, busy with their nests too. I held my breath hoping that no shotgun would blast the turtle doves during such a difficult and delicate time. Why did I have to constantly pull myself back to earth and adjust the imprinting from back home? A cultural shock perhaps! There was no politician trying to find loopholes to see how these could be shot or trapped!


The famous friendly swallows nesting in the rafters of the village bar

In Pomonte, a remote silent small picturesque village, in the small square opposite the village church, we stopped for a breather. In two small adjacent restaurants, the rafters of the roofed terraces, offered adequate habitat for three pairs of swallows which were busy brooding the eggs in their nest – two naturally built nests and an artificial one placed specifically to attract them. We were only a maximum of three meters away from the nests, but the parent swallows were not concerned at all. They carried on with their procreative business.

In 1981 two pairs of house martin did build a nest under a stone balcony in the square opposite the Rotunda in Mosta. And they were the talk of the town. Neither the continuous traffic nor other activities in the square bothered them; except for the ground fireworks and petards of the village festa. The two pairs with their young abandoned the nests! But who would dare think that measures could have been taken to ensure that the village festa would not disrupt two nesting pair of birds. Certainly not in Malta.


The determination and will for communication, education and public awareness, so conspicuous by it absence in Malta.

Can Malta ever rise to its environmental obligations, both national and international? Can the majority of the local politicians one day feel that it is their duty and responsibility to educate the people to appreciate, protect and be proud of what not only belong to all of us, but also to what we have been entrusted to protect? Can the majoirty of politicians one day realise the damage that they are doing, not only to the local society and environment, but also internationally, when they politically use such a natural heritage in exchange for political power? It has locally been said that together everything is possible. Is there a political consensus and a will to ensure that together we can achieve such positive energy with which we can make a difference?


Herring gull and chick. Can you image being so close to a bird in Malta that you have to take a step backward to be able to focus the camera.

Sometimes I feel that all this is wishful thinking, becasue unfortunately, the present political movement in government, is so blinded by a pro-business vision, without any concern for anything or anyone except speculators and investors, seemingly in the footsteps of a capitalist system. Not only so, but  it may take a generation or two to correct the damage and mistakes being committed – if ever, that is.  In the meantime, the Maltese society and the environment will have to pay the unsurmountable price.

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” has for more than three decades been teaching why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul?

Is Malta fast heading in this direction?

NAPOLEONElba and Malta both experienced the presence of Napoleon, albeit in different circumstances.  Borrowing  a leaf from this renowned experienced French politician, “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people.”

And this is why I cherish my pen.