Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

March 2, 2017

univ-of-faith

Thursday, 2nd March, 2017

Universe of Faith talks to Alfred E. Baldacchino, an environmental expert who is highly concerned about the fact that in Malta, we keep repeating the same mistakes detrimental to human health, the environment and the economy.

Fountain grass, Penisetum at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fountain grass, Penisetum sp. at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

“In the 1970s the government introduced Acacias trees which are detrimental to some people suffering from asthma, allergies, sinusitis etc. This alien species was introduced in Malta after a donation to the government of the time. Today, landscapers are doing the same mistakes by introducing alien species in our roundabouts, streets and other urban areas. One such example is the fountain grass, Penisetum, which following its planting in major roads, has now escaped and is growing uncontrolled along streets, in fields and also in valleys, competing with indigenous flora.” He explained that while there are also indigenous plants which can cause allergies these grow in small quantities and not invasively like the alien species.

Alfred believes that landscaping our streets needs to be combined with respect for the local wildlife and ecosystem. “Australia and New Zealand spray each plane that lands to control the introduction of alien insects from being accidentally introduced in their country. They have learned their lesson hard after Europeans introduced foreign species which brought havoc to their indigenous biodiversity. England is spending billions to control the negative impacts of invasive species. What can we learn from them?”

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

He insists that our approach needs to change and that things can be done more professionally. “We can use many of our indigenous flora, which are so easy to propagate. We have so many beautiful wildflowers. Israel uses indigenous trees, such as the carob, to landscape its streets. We can do the same. Indigenous flora should be propagated locally and not imported for commercial reasons. This would help economically, ecologically and socially. We have to put our priorities right. Environmental landscaping needs to move hand in hand socially and ecologically.”

He also warns about the dangers of importing olive trees which are suffering from a deadly disease causing great economical and ecological damages. “Do we have to go through such negative ecological and economical experience to make us aware of the actions that needed to be taken?” he asks.

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe Major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud www.maltawildplants.com

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud http://www.maltawildplants.com

Alfred calls for the appreciation of our indigenous plants, those which have been adorning our country before the arrival of man, as well as implementing clear policies concerning alien invasive species which are destroying our ecosystems.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter On Care for Our Common Home also echoes this thinking when he said that some profits cause “terrible injustices, much greater than the economic benefit to be obtained,”. He also dedicates thirteen paragraphs (24, 32-42, 169, 190) of this letter on the value and protection of biodiversity.

Published: March 2017

Further Reading:
How can I become a “Green Catholic”?

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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/


TKOMPLI L-QERDA FIL-ĠNIEN HOWARD… imma għaliex?

June 9, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 9 ta’ Ġunju, 2014

TKOMPLI L­-QERDA FIL-ĠNIEN HOWARD… imma għaliex?

Alfred E. Baldachino

Kull darba li nitla’ nittawwal il-Ġnien Howard, dejjem niltaqa’ ma xi impatt negattiv ġdid. Xi kultant inħoss li f’dan il-pajjiż hawn xi direttiva jew xi politika uffiċjali biex l-ambjent naturali jew il-biodiversità ta’ pajjiżna tinqered, u minn jeqridha jitħallas minn flus pubbliċi.

Fit-2 ta’ Marzu 2014, tpoġġa ritratt fuq sit Rabti li wera ammont ta’ żrar li tferrex taħt is-siġar taż-żnuber fil-Ġnien Howard, ir-Rabat. Wara li tliet Rabtin marru l-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru, il-MEPA waqqfet dan ix-xogħol. Il-Kunsill Lokali (tal-Imdina) ġie ordnat li fi żmien xahar ineħħi dan iż-żrar li sar mingħajr permess. Il-K.L. Mdina appella minn din id-deċiżjoni. Issa għaddew tliet xhur u kollox għadu kif kien. Dan wassal biex inbdiet talba biex dan jitneħħa: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/665/188/518/?taf_id=11173325&cid=fb_na

Il-MEPA għadha qed tistudju, taħsibha, tixtarr, twieżen din il-problema u għadha ma ħadet l-ebda passi. Nafu li l-MEPA tħalli deċiżjonijiet bħal dawn minn ġurnata għal oħra sakemm forsi ssib kif taħsel idejha u ma tieħu l-ebda deċiżjoni, bħalma ġara fil-­każ taċ-ċimiterju f’Wied il-Qasab fin-Nadur Għawdex. Wieħed ma jistax ma jgħidx li l-MEPA ssibha bi tqila biex turi  interess fil-ħarsien tal-ambjent, qasam fejn falliet bil-kbir, saħansitra anki fi kwistjonijiet żgħar.

Il-kisi ta' parti mill-Ġnien Howard biż-żrar

Il-kisi ta’ parti mill-Ġnien Howard biż-żrar

Fl-aħħar mawra tiegħi r-Rabat, bħas-soltu mxejt matul il-ġnien; bdejt mill-ġnien tas-Salib, dak iż-żgħir, u pass pass wasalt sa fuq it-Tomba, li għal dawk li ma humiex midħla tal-Ġnien Rabti, hija l-aktar parti ’l ġewwa li tħares lejn l-Imtarfa, fuq l-istazzjon tal-ferrovija l-antik.

Fil-ġnien is-siġar tal-palm, dawk tal-kanizzati u dawk tat-tamal, kollha kienu meqruda mill-bumunqar aħmar tal-palm. Baqa’ biss il-fdal taz-zokk tagħhom: momument għal dik il-politika li minkejja li kellha l-parir biex ma jiġux impurtati siġar mill-Eġittu u minn Sqallija, xorta tat il-barka biex dawn jidħlu Malta. Baqa’ waħda biss, fil-kantuniera tat-Tomba tħares lejn il-Domus Romana u konvint li meta nerġa nitla’ r-Rabat, tkun għebet mal-oħrajn.

L-aħħar siġra tal-palm li baqa' fil-Ġnien Howard. L-oħrajn kollha mietu u nqatgħu

L-aħħar siġra tal-palm li baqa’ fil-Ġnien Howard. L-oħrajn kollha mietu u nqatgħu

 Dort dawra mejt mat-Tomba fejn matul dawn l-aħħar ġranet fix-xfar tal-wesgħa kien ikun hemm numru ta’ fjuri slavaġġ, fosthom is-suffejra ta’ Malta, endemika għall-gżejjer Maltin (ara ritratt). Il-biċċa l-kbira tagħhom għebu, mqaxxrin, u ma niskantax jekk kienu anki mbexxin bil-kimika velenuża biex ma jerġgħux jitilgħu aktar. Lanqas naħla ma tista’ tirgħa u ddakkar il-fjuri slavaġġ, minkejja li din ittina’ l-għasel u ddakkar il-frott. U dan fi ġnien.

Suffejra tar-raba' li kienet tikber madwar it-tomba.

Suffejra ta’ Malta li kienet tikber madwar it-Tomba.

Jiena u ħiereġ lura mit-­Tomba għan-naħa tad-Domus Romana, inħsadt. Ftit ġimgħat ilu kien hemm numru ta’ pjanti slavaġġ bħal ngħidu aħna ġarġir abjad, ħarira ħamra, fjurdulis, u oħrajn li kollha, mingħajr ħlas, kienu jlibbsu l-inħawi bil-kuluri u jwieżnu insetti dakkara, fosthom in-naħal. Dawn għebu għax kollha ġew maħruta u ma kien baqa’ xejn minnhom. Imħallas mill-K.L. Mdina, bi flus pubbliċi, ma għadniex xi ngħidu. Imma l-isbaħ, u li vera turi l-mentalità miskina ta’ dan il-pajjiż, wara li qerdu kull fjura u werqa Maltija li kienet qed tikber f’dawn il-mixtliet, x’taħsbu li ħallew? Penisetum (Fountain Grass), pjanta invażiva li qed tintuża mill-kuntrattur tal-Gvern fit-toroq u li sabet ruħha fil-Ġnien Howard; minkejja li din hija invażiva u qed tinfirex madwar il-gżejjer Maltin kemm fit-toroq, kif ukoll fl-ambjent naturali. Din tħalliet hemm!

Ġarġir Abjad kien isebbaħ il-=mixtliet fil-ġnien. Inqered kollu.

Ġarġir Abjad kien isebbaħ il-mixtliet fil-ġnien. Inqered kollu.

U hawnhekk sfortunatament niddejjaq ngħid li dan il-pajjiz milli jidher ma jista’ jinfeda qatt. Il-valur li jingħata lill-biodiversità huwa valur ta’ flus biss. Jekk wieħed jixtri pjanta jew siġra, dan itiha valur. Imma jekk pjanta tikber waħeda, allura din ma għandiex valur u tista’ tinqered, u titbexx bil-kimika valenuża biex ma terġax titla’. U mhux talli hekk, talli din il-qerda għandha l-approvazzjoni uffiċjali u tithallas minn flus il-poplu.

 

2012.12.28---it-Tomba---karozzi,-siġar-imutu,-u-penisetum
It-Tomba, fil-Ġnien Ħoward, taħt ir-responsabbiltà tal-K.L. tal-Imdina
– Karozzi, siġar tal-palm qed imutu jew mietu. u pjanti invażivi tal-Penisetum.

 L-akbar xokk ta’ din il-metalità miskina ta’ dan il-pajjiż kien in-numru ta’ karozzi li bdew deħlin biex jistrieħu fuq it-Tomba. Tista’ timmaġina karozzi fi ġnien? Qaluli li kien hemm tieġ l-Imdina u hekk il-K.L.Mdina jħalli is-serħan tal-karozzi fil-Ġnien Howard. Jista’ wieħed jimmagina kieku l-K.L. Mdina jħalli karozzi fil-foss fil-passaġġi fejn sar ġnien għall-familja? Jew iħalli l-karozzi kollha tat-tieġ jidħlu l-Imdina u jitħallew quddiem il-Katidral? Jew aħjar jitqiegħdu fuq iz-zuntier tal-Katidral? U aktar u aktar jiddaħħlu ġewwa l-Katidral? Ara kieku kif ir-residenti tal­-Imdina u l-Maltin iqumu għal minn ikun ta dan il-permess. Mhux talli hekk talli l­-ebda karozza ma tista’ tidħol ġol­-Imdina, ħlief dawk tar-­residenti. Imma li l-karozzi jitqiegħdu ġo ġnien fir-Rabat, jidher li kollox sew għall-K.L. Mdina!

2014.05.23 - Calendula-suffruticosa-subsp.-fulgida3

L-anqas naħla ma tista’ ddakkar fjura u tagħmel l-għasel

Li jinkwetani huwa li milli jidher ma hemm l-ebda entità politika li hija responsabbli biex twaqqaf dawn l-oxxenitajiet. Suppost li hemm Ministeri li huma responsabbli mit-trasport; mill-ġonna; mill-Kunsilli Lokali, u anki mill-MEPA. Din tal-aħħar issa ħaditha drawwa li meta jkun hemm il-qerda tal-ambjenbt tħares in-naħa l-oħra sakemm xi ħadd minn fuqha jiġbdilha l­attenzjoni. Ara ż-żrar issa għadu hemm tliet xhur minkejja l-protesti tan-nies u nuqqas ta’ permessi. U la ma hemm l-ebda azzjoni ministerjali, allura wieħed jista’ jgħid li dawn għandhom il-barka ta’ min imexxi. Kont anki naħseb li r-Rabat hemm kunsill lokali wkoll, imma mid-dehra sejjer żball. Wara kollox kappell ma jmejjilx lill-ieħor.

Mill-esperjenza li għandi u mill-kuntatti li għandi mal-Kunsilli Lokali ma nsibhiex diffiċli biex ngħid li l-Kunsill tal-Imdina ma jħabbatha miegħu ħadd fuq in-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-ambjent: il-foss tal-Imdina, il-Ġnien Howard, u issa smajt l-għajdut li qed ikun hemm xi ħsibijiet biex jinqalgħu dawk is-siġar ta’ taħt it-Tomba li jwasslu sa Għajn Ħamam biex din il-wesgħa tintuża għall-karozzi. Wieħed għad irid jara x’se jiġri imma, għalkemm jekk din tasal sa għand il­MEPA wieħed jista’ jgħid mill-ewwel x’se jiġri.

Il-fdalijiet tas-iġra tal-palm fil-ġnien Howard, ir-Rabat. Pedestal lest għal minn daħħal il-bumunqar aħmar f'dawn il-gżejjer.

Il-fdalijiet tas-siġar tal-palm fil-ġnien Howard, ir-Rabat. Pedestal lest għal minn daħħal il-bumunqar aħmar f’dawn il-gżejjer.

Kif jgħidu mhux il-flus u l-poter jagħmluk matur u konxju għall-weġgħat tas-soċjetà u tal-ambjent. Anzi ħafna drabi huma dawn li jwasslu għal dawn il-weġgħat, aktar u aktar meta wieħed isib ruħu jgħum fihom.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

 

 


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


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/


Green dream and black nightmare

August 10, 2012

Friday,  August 10, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Green dream and black nightmare

During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.

Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.

The above are some of the Government’s publications: all official administrative and legislative tools which can definitely make any green dream a reality. But why are they ignored by Government itself? I cannot image that these have been published just for the attention of  the EU and its Member States. Or that these publications are meant to take the public for a ride? Then why are these ignored and not enforced?

Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.

The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.

All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.

An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.

Definitely not according to the guidelines and regulations referred to above!

Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.

Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.

But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.

The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.

The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!

Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.

Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.

BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.

What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.

The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

PS  – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times

See also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/