A new publication
A new publication
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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!
Wednesday, 9th February 2011
Sifting solidified sand at Dwejra
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Following the Dwejra debacle, three reports were published: a legal report by Kevin Aquilina and Simone Borg; a technical report by Louis Cassar et al. and an administrative report by the auditor of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Joe Falzon.
The legal report aims at reviewing the process adopted by Mepa in issuing development permissions for film shooting applications in environmentally sensitive areas. Referring to the guidelines on the implementation of the Habitats Directive, this report highlights measures regarding activities in special areas of conservation (SACs), such as appropriate assessment, the precautionary principle and the related Aarhus Convention, which emphasises the importance of public consultations in relation to environmental decision-making. If Mepa failed to include any reference to the Habitats Directive in the permit, how can the applicant be aware of such legal obligations? And how can one expect Mepa to follow the guidelines of the implementation of this EU directive with regardto such activity? The Film Commissioner interviewed by the authors commented that the permission issued is “…too generic as it covers various sites at one go. Conditions need to be streamlined better per filming site”.
The Dwejra permit in question included all levels of protection under the Development Planning Act, completely ignoring any level of protection under the Environment Protection Act – no mention that Dwejra is a SAC, part of the EU Natura 2000 Network. No reference to the important geological features of the site, yet “the applicant was given development permission… to cover the site with ‘sand or shingle’”.
A very interesting, not surprising, excerpt from this legal report is that “Both the Director of Planning and the Director for Environment Protection thought that Mepa was exercising a dual role: it had to safeguard the integrity of Natura 2000 sites but, at the same time, it is called upon to give its consent or otherwise to activities taking place at these sites. They thought that Mepa should move out of the first function and that such function should be carried out by a management committee independent of Mepa so that it could regulate such committee from a distance without having such a dual role”. Isn’t this what private and political entities, eNGOs and individuals have been stressing for such a long time, that environmental protection and development planning are not compatible? Mepa cannot tell its left foot from its right. Environmental obligations, on a national and international level are still out of Mepa’s grasp. Mepa is the competent authority for environmental matters. Seems it wants to abdicate from such responsibility.
The scientific report shows that the thick layer of “sand” completely buried flora and fauna. Only three plant clusters were recorded, two identified and one consisting of a number of desiccated twigs, which could not be identified. Any plants present in the area, would already have been obliterated during deposition of “sand”. The report refers to dry vegetation on the periphery, saying these could be either removed buried plants from site or introduced plants with the extraneous quarry sand, potentially a means of introducing invasive species in this part of the SAC.
With regard to fauna “at the base of boulders and under small stones and in depressions, crevices and at the base of vegetation”, two species of ants and two different species of terrestrial gastropods were recorded in the reference area: two forms of the endemic Maltese top snail and a Maltese round-mouthed snail. On the fringes of the area two unidentifiable snails were also recorded. Nothing was found in the area of “gravelly mud”. Not surprising, considering the thickness of the covering material and the way it was “cleaned” with bristle brooms and brushes. In the adjacent rock pools, some with sand deposits, large populations of crustaceans (copepods), large number of ciliates and sparse populations of an isopod were recorded. The habitat type “vegetated sea cliffs of the Mediterranean coasts with endemic Limonium spp” listed in the Habitats Directive and also in local legislation is reported to have suffered a high negative impact in the affected areas. Other important species of flora included in the Standard Data Form, compiled by Mepa and sent to the EU, regardingDwejra Natura 2000, include the Maltese sea lavender, the Maltese camomile, the rare pygmy groundsel, the cliff carrot, all endemic or sub-endemic, listed in the Malta Red Data Book, and the rare corn daisy, also listed in the Red Data Book. These were recorded either around the perimeter of the covered area or in the adjacent area and one or two of them were partially covered with the deposited “gravelly mud”. Mepa initially declared the area as bare rock with no ecosystem; later it referred to it as a “white area” in the SAC. When the report was published MEPA commented there was no evidence the deposited sand eliminated the terrestrial fauna and flora of the site!
Besides, the significance of damage to fossils and ichnofossils within the site and in other parts of Dwejra is considered to be high, given the extent of observed damage, the sensitivity of the resource to damage, permanent and irreversible nature of damage and inexistent scope for mitigating impacts, notwithstanding that it is protected by the Cultural HeritageAct.
The Mepa auditor’s report exposed all the cracks and fissures (and incompetence) of this competent authority for the environment. This report reveals the letter of consent was signed by the Director of Planning, who is quoted as saying the Planning Directorate was communicating on behalf of the Environment Protection Directorate! The auditor also reports that “…it was agreed that all filming applications would be led and processed through the Planning Directorate” which “is authorised to represent Mepa”. On this matter the auditor states that “the legal adviser explained the situation in a written note which states: Instruments of delegation are published by government notice. There is an instrument of delegation in relation to delegated decisions (which is not the case here) which refers to both directors”. Accordingly, the permit could only be issued by Mepa’s CEO and not by any particular director. One might ask how valid was such a permit?
This report affirms that all work had to be monitored, at the expense of the applicant, but, notwithstanding, it never was. It confirms that rain had washed a good quantity of fine sand into the rock pools, on the perimeters and also overspilled into the rocky foreshore while the rest turned into mud. It quotes the chairman and the legal adviser saying that, since only standard conditions were imposed and no special conditions were included, the need for an assessment was superfluous. It reveals that Mepa officials were under undue pressure to issue the permit in inadequate time to make proper assessments of the implications. Both Mepa directors were critical of the Film Commissioner, among others.
The auditor emphasised that “Mepa’s Director of Environment had the obligation to screen the applications (within SACs)” so he could “identify the likely impacts upon a Natura 2000 site and consider whether these impacts are likely to be significant”. Despite claims this had been done, the auditor did not find information in any file “where and what criteria were used to come to this conclusion”. Not only so but the auditor states the indications are that the assessment of the application was carried out by the Planning Control Department in consultation with the Directorate of Environment Protection, indicating also that the latter was absent from such assessment procedure.
The auditor states that the precautionary principle was not even considered and evasive answers were given to his office. He was told conditions are based on circumstances that are not abnormal, despite the fact that the Habitat Directive makes it clear that “the safeguards set out… are triggered not by a certainty but by a likelihood of significant effects”. A strong worded comment by the auditor is that “Unfortunately, the DEP abdicated its responsibilities to the Planning Directorate that was ill-equipped to carry out this work”. This is the result of having environment and planning in the same bed, with the environment playing the part of the ghost of Cinderella.
My first contribution on the matter was titled Dwejra – Gone With The Wind (November 13, 2010). After reading the above three reports, I regret to say Mepa has gone to the dogs.
P.S. Photos do not appear in the original article but were added by the author on this blog.
It-Tnejn, 20 ta’ Diċembru, 2010
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Ix-xagħri huwa wieħed mill-ambjenti naturali li nsibu fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan huwa wesgħa ta’ blat tal-qawwi b’numru ta’ ħofor baxxi mimlijin b’ħamrija ħamra.
Dan l-ambjent huwa ddominat minn pjanti baxxi li jgħolew bejn 50 sa 100 cm. Huma kollha adattati għal dan it-tip ta’ ambjent naturali miftuh għall-irjiħat, u għall-qilla tax-xemx fis-sajf. Dawn jistgħu jaħżnu l-ilma taħt l-art biex isibuh matul il-ġranet sħan tas-sajf. Hekk insibu pjanti li ħafna minnhom għandhom zkuk inniggżu u ħafna drabi jkunu jfuħu wkoll. Il-pjanti jikbru mferrxa fi rqajja ta’ ħamrija qalb il-blat. Ix-xagħri huwa l-ambjent naturali bl-akbar firxa fil-gżejjer Maltin, u huwa sinjur fl-ispeċi ta’ pjanti li jħaddan. Madwar nofs il-pjanti slavaġġ li jikbru fil-gżejjer Maltin, jinstabu jikbru fix-xagħri. Dawn ukoll joffru kenn u ikel għal numru ta’ fawna oħra.
Sfortunatament għad hawn minn jaħseb li dan ix-xagħri huwa blat għeri mingħajr l-ebda użu. Din il-mentalità tinstab f’kull qasam tas-soċjetà, kemm dik kummerċjali, dik reliġjuza kif ukoll anki dik politika.
Minħabba din il-mentalità, li wieħed jinnota b’sodisfazzjon li bil-mod il-mod qed tinbidel l-aktar qalb il-ġenerazzjoni żgħażugħa, ħafna minn dan l-ambjent huwa żdingat u traskurat. Hekk ġieli naraw borġ wara borġ ta’ terrapien u skart ieħor mormi f’dan ix – xagħri u mhux rari li wieħed jara dan it-tip ta’ ambjent jiġi mgħotti bil-ħamrija biex jinbidel f’għelieqi. Lanqas hija ħaġa rari li fuq dan it-tip ta’ ambjent naraw xi bini tiela.
Tant huwa mportanti dan it-tip ta’ ambjent li l-Unjoni Ewropea tqisu bħala tip ta’ ambjent naturali speċjali, u kull membru msieħeb li għandu minn dan it-tip ta’ ambjent irid jiddikjara numru ta’ inħawi minnu biex ikunu mħarsa bil-liġi u meqjusa bħala Firxa Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation) li flimkien ma’ nħawi oħra ddikjarati minn kull membru msieħeb fil-UE, jifformaw ix-xibka Natura 2000.
Malta wkoll iddikjarat inħawi tax-xagħri bħala SAC. Fosthom insibu l-Kemmuna, li hija kważi kollha xagħri, Ta’ Ċenċ u l-Qortin tal-Magun f’Għawdex, kif ukoll Pembroke. Fost l-ispeċi ta’ flora u ta’ fawna li nsibu fix-xagħri, mingħajr dubju l-aktar magħruf huwa s-sagħtar li fis-sajf jiksi dan l-ambjent b’tapit roża-ħamrani. Hemm ħafna u ħafna speċi oħra li nsibu fix-xagħri. Fost il-flora nsibu t-Tengħud tax-Xagħri li huwa endemiku u għalhekk jinsab jikber fil-gżejjer Maltin biss, il-Berwieq, u numru ta’ Orkidej. Fost il-fawna nsibu l-gremxul, il-bebbux, numru kbir ta’ insetti, kif ukoll għasafar fosthom il-Bilbla li żżurna bejn l-aħħar tar-rebbiegħa u l-bidu tas-sajf biex tbejjet fix-xagħri.
Hekk naraw kemm ix-xagħri huwa sinjur u kif huwa ambjent b’valur kbir ekoloġiku, ekonomiku, edukattiv, xjentifiku, estetiku u soċjali.
Saturday, 13th November 2010
Dwejra: Gone with the wind
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Dwejra is a special area of conservation forming part of the EU Natura 2000 sites according to the Habitats Directive, as locally transposed by legal notice 311 of 2006. Nature Trust (Malta), in 2003, in partnership with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and WWF Italy, acquired an EU LIFE grant for Dwejra, amounting to €324,000. An action plan was drawn up by a steering committee and approved by the Mepa board and endorsed by the government on November 29, 2005.
Once completed in 2007, the project had to have an integrated conservation and management plan for the area, complete conservation and full protection of the site, increased environmental awareness, a stronger enforcement function in the areas, a long-term sustainability plan for the site and had to serve as a guide of good practice for the setting-up of other coastal nature reserves in the Mediterranean basin. And I am not joking.
During the implementation of the project, work was stopped for a number of months because of the building of a restaurant on the site. An EU delegation visited the island, and Nature Trust subsequently resigned from the steering committee commenting that, since 2007, the site has been left to deteriorate and “the place is now unmanaged and abandoned”. The only progress registered was the building of the restaurant.
This November 1, six NGOs drew Mepa’s attention to the scandalous disaster at Dwejra Natura 2000 site, following a Mepa permit issued to Fire and Blood Productions. A substantial area of the rocky coast was covered with crushed construction waste of hardstone aggregate, rich in lime which kills micro-organisms, with disastrous effects. The company filming Gate Of Throne apologised and blamed the subcontractor. The planning director was quoted as saying the least sensitive zone (sic!), about 750 square metres, had been specially earmarked for filming, blaming the production company for not informing Mepa when it started laying the sand and using plastic mesh. Mepa said in a briefing it would be making a case to withdraw part of or the entire €15,000 bank guarantee and it was not ruling out other measures of redress. Mepa also said it wanted to send out a clear message the company could still beheld liable for other damages through criminal and civil proceeding and the bank guarantee did not exonerate it from other penalties.
It is quite customary now for Mepa to lock the stable doors after the horse has bolted.
In one of the news bulletins it was remarked how nice the cleaned rocks looked and how the filming works generated €5million. I believe the filming company would gladly have paid €150,000 to construct such a film set. Forfeiting €15,000 is quite a discount bargain. Sedentary species present in the area covered by the plastic mesh had heavy weight dumped on them, trampled upon when the sand was laid and again when it was removed. Furthermore, the left over quarry limestone sand which passed through the mesh will continue to impact the habitat until this disappears. The brushing up process carried out to “clean” the Natura 2000 site also has a negative impact and may damage biota, sweep it up with the sand or will sweep up naturally occurring sediment as well, thus changing the habitat characteristics. Species included in the Species Data Form forwarded by Mepa to the EU when Dwejra was proposed as a special area of conservation includes plants, lichens and small crevice-dwelling invertebrates. The area harbours two endemic woodlice, an endemic pseudoscorpion and also endemic snails, not excluding other species, such as insects. A permit allowing the covering of such a footprint with crushed construction waste of hardstone aggregate, even if carried out to the letter of the conditions, would also have resulted in negative impact. The director of environment, the person responsible for the implementation of the Habitats Directive, knowing full well there should have been a prior environment impact assessment for any commercial activity not related to the management of the Natura 2000 site, was quoted as saying residual damage was still being quantified but it was not looking bad (sic). Perhaps the scientific studies that led to such a statement can be officially published in connection with such a permit which could not, and should not, have been issued.
If I did not personally follow the evolvements of such shameful episodes in an EU member state’s Natura 2000 site, I would have thought all this is fiction. But, then, fiction meant to please should have as much resemblance as possible to truth. In its role as the protector of the environment, both in the national and in a European Community context, Mepa has lost the game of thrones. It is such an impotent weakling in the field of environmental protection when faced by glamorous commercial projects.
With apologies to J. B. Priestley’s classic play An Inspector Calls, “…I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood…” The EU DG Environment should investigate how Natura 2000 sites in Malta are being brought to disrepute.
Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino
It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.
It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:
Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!
Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo. And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.
Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.
Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.
A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.
If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.
Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.
The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority
The EU Habitats Directive
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The main aim of the Habitats Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity and to ensure the restoration or maintenance of natural habitats and species, that are important to the EU, at a favourable conservation status. Natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna are under continuous threat from development and agricultural intensification. To pursue such an aim, EU member states are obliged to designate special areas of conservation (SACs) so that a coherent European ecological network known as Natura 2000 is created. These SACs support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats, native plants and animals. Once a site designated by a member state is accepted by the EU Commission, it forms part of the Natura 2000 network, for which the member state has to honour the obligations incorporated in the directive. The EU has accepted as SACs 35 sites proposed by Malta, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Pembroke area, coastal cliffs from Il-Qammieħ area to Rdum tan-Nofsinhar, Wied il-Miżieb (which includes Mistra Bay and Baħrija Valley) and Ta’ Ċenċ area and Ramla area.
Natura 2000 also incorporates special protection areas (SPAs) which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats and which are identified by member states according to the obligations of the EU Birds Directive. Malta has
identified 13 SPAs which today form part of the Natura 2000 network, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Ta’ Ċenċ in Gozo and Filfla.
Obligations which member states have towards such sites are:
• the establishment of necessary conservation measures involving, if need be, the appropriate management plans specifically designed for the sites or integrated into other development plans;
• appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the different natural habitat types listed in Annex I and of the species of flora and fauna listed in Annex II of the Habitats
Directive, present in the sites;
• appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as the disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated by the member state;
• an appropriate assessment of any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to, the management of the site but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective. The national competent authority for this directive (the Malta Environment and Planning Authority) shall endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. The national competent authority is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the public.
• If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the SAC or SPA and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the member state shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It has to inform the EU Commission of the compensatory measures adopted.
• Where the site concerned hosts a priority species or a natural habitat type listed in the Habitats Directive, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health or public safety, beneficial consequences of primary
importance for the environment or further to an opinion from the EU Commission.
• Undertake surveillance of habitats and species and ensuring strict protection of species of flora and fauna listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive.
• Report to the EU Commission by the national competent authority on the implementation of the directive every six years, incorporating information on conservation measures taken, describing impacts on the conservation status of the species and natural habitats types listed in the directive, measures taken in Natura 2000 sites, besides the key findings of monitoring activities conducted to assess the conservation status of species and natural habitat types of community interest, as all outlined in the directive. The directive also places particular importance on informing the public and making such reports accessible to the public.
• To improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, member states are to encourage the management of landscape features that are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species and so improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas and beyond.
• The Habitats Directive requires member states to monitor natural habitats and species of community interest.
• Member states must also handle communication, education and public awareness to ensure the effective implementation of this directive. Malta had to implement the Habitats Directives from the date of accession, that is May 1, 2004. It seems that a number of ministries are among the many that are not au courant with the Habitats Directive. And I would not be surprised in the least if
the national competent authority itself is oblivious of such obligations, being so development-oriented and judging from the number of permits issued, including some in Natura 2000 sites.
The public officer who will be detailed to write Malta’s first six-year report on the implementation of the Habitats Directive will find it easier to paint the sky green. Unfortunately, Mario de Marco, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, will have to endorse the “achievements” of his predecessor.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Alfred E Baldacchino
Buskett is of great importance to the Maltese islands from a historical, ecological, economical, educational, and a scientific point of view. The name Buskett is derived from the Italian word Boschetto, which means a small wood. A part of Buskett is called il-Bosk – the wood. Buskett is the only locality for Aleppo Pine woodlands, besides having a variety of habitats ranging from maquis, forest remnants, different levels of garigue, and woods typical of watercourses. The English reference to Boschetto, Buskett Gardens, have misled many, not least some politicians lacking ecological background, to conclude that this a garden, as much a garden as San Anton Gardens.
One of Malta’s past colonisers who without doubt were the best that had environmental vision, were the Knights of St John. Without the rich heritage they left us, we would definitely be so much the poorer. Unfortunately, much of this historical heritage is abandoned, neglected and/or vandalised. Buskett is one of the heritage site left to us by the Knights of St John, and was further enhanced by the next colonisers – the British. Today Buskett is protected with a number of regulations. The first legal protection for Buskett was for avifauna and was published as far back as 1932. This was strengthened throughout the years and today Buskett is still protected under the current Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations.
In 1933 a number of trees in Buskett were protected by GN 269, as historical trees of antiquarian importance. In 1996 Buskett was scheduled under the Development Planning Act as an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, an area of high landscape value and a scheduled woodland, by Government Notice 403 of 25 June 1996. A site plan attached to this Government Notice showed the different levels of protection (level 1, 2, or 3) of Buskett and its surroundings.
During 2001 Buskett was also protected by the regulations for the protection of trees as a tree protected area. Buskett is also an Important Bird Area endorsed by BirdLife International. Because of such endorsement the government declared as a Special Protection Area, in accordance with the Birds Directive. In 2003 the government proposed Buskett as a Site of Community Interest through Legal Notice 23 of 2003, with the main aim that Buskett be declared a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive to eventually form part of the EU Natura 2000. The Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Regulations 1997, also apply to Buskett. Now this is all very laudable, no doubt about it, but if these regulations are to be worth the paper they are written on, they have to be observed, they have to be implemented and they have to be enforced. There are a number of obligations arising out of European Union legislation, all transposed to local regulations, which have to be taken in consideration with regard to a number of activities.
From an ecological point of view, this means that one cannot bulldoze into Buskett, chainsaw in hand, “pruning” trees, clearing undergrowth, “tidying” walls from creepers, and sweeping dead leaves from beneath wild growing trees. All these activities need to have “prior” clearance from the Competent Authority, and in some cases submit an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site, in view of the site’s conservation. Consent can be given to the operation or activity only after it has been ascertained that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and if appropriate, after having obtained and taken into account the opinion of the general public and representations made within such reasonable time as the Competent Authority may specify. I remember going to Buskett in my younger days to enjoy the natural environment surrounded by healthy trees, birds, myriads of butterflies and moths and other invertebrates enriching this unique natural environment we have, and the background sound of water trickling as it flowed through Buskett, watering Wied il-Luq. This despite the fact that in those days there were no strict regulations for the protection of species and their habitats. When I visit Buskett today, I leave heartbroken: no butterflies, no insects, dead or dying or sawn off trees, dried up springs, and a dying woodland, despite the fact that today there are regulations drafted on international standards, which we, as Maltese, are obliged to honour, not only for our own sake and sanity, but also because of our obligations to the European Union, of which Malta is a Member State. In a statement issued by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment, (TMIS, 24 February 2008) it was stated that the “work the ministry intended to do was blocked by MEPA, which claimed the projected work could damage the ecosystem.” It is not very often that MEPA official are praised by this Ministry, especially those in the Environment Protection Directorate, or what is left of it. I would also like to extend my congratulations to such dedicated MEPA officials for their efforts because I can fully understand the difficulties they faced to achieve this. If it weren’t for such efforts to stop such mismanagement of this EU Special Area of Conservation, today Buskett would probably be competing with San Anton Gardens. It would be a very good idea if the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment were to invite the Prime Minster for a walk around this sensitive unique ecological gem we have in our country, and the beauty nature has bestowed our tiny island. They could see for themselves the Maltese flora and fauna and what a rich heritage we are responsible for. They would also be able to see first hand what has been done and what has not be done to manage such a Special Area of Conservation, which Malta has proposed to the European Union for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network; this small wood called Buskett can contribute in many different ways for the benefit of the Maltese. It would then be easier for them to understand the need and the importance of a National Biodiversity Strategy, with its action plans and management plans – an obligation arising out of international treaties to which Malta is party. Without such a National Biodiversity Strategy, Buskett, together with other natural important habitats, would be lost forever.
22 June 2008
Alfred E. baldacchino
Alien species are not extraterrestrial species, as one could be led to believe by the word “alien”. From a biological perspective, alien species are living species of flora and fauna which, in an unnatural way, are introduced into a natural habitat where they have never occurred before, and as such are not indigenous to that area. Some of these species may be quite harmless. But others can be very dangerous from an ecological and an economical aspect. The introduction of alien species can be either accidental or intentional, but in both cases the species introduced can became invasive, competing with the local species for space and food and thus threatening the survival of indigenous species, sometimes even by predation. Invasive alien species (IAS) can be a serious threat to biodiversity and contribute to its loss. Aided by other environmental threats, IAS weaken the resilience of natural systems and reduce their ability to adapt to new conditions generated by climate change. An example of a local intentionally introduced floral species is the eucalyptus tree. The latest introduced faunal species recorded towards the end of 2007, and officially declared invasive, is the red palm weevil. This is but a brief and simple definition of an alien species. The ever-increasing international demand for exotic species, whether animal or plant, for commercial trade, aided by modern means of transportation, make it easier for species to establish themselves in countries where they have never previously been present. The increasing illegal trafficking in exotic wild species on a global scale (which is only second to illegal drug trafficking) further enhances the possibilities of species invading other countries. Having seen the negative impact of IAS, the international community introduced legislation to control them. Below is a very brief general look at some of this legislation and its provisions and obligations, which is aimed at controlling introduced aliens species, and to which the signatories have committed themselves.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed at Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992, is the most recent international convention and embraces the most modern scientific principles in the conservation of biological diversity. It lays down measures regarding the conservation of species and the contracting parties will, as far as possible and as appropriate, achieve this by establishing or maintaining the means to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology that are likely to have an adverse environmental impact that could affect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account the risk to human health. Furthermore, the signatories are also obliged to prevent the introduction of, see to the control of or the eradication of those alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species. Malta became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity on 29 December 2000.
Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern) was signed in Bern on 19 October 1979 under the auspices of the Council of Europe. The signatories to this convention are obliged to undertake strict control of the introduction of non-native species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 26 November 1993.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn) The United Nations Environment Programme is the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. The signatories to this convention, which came into force in 1985, agree to endeavour – to the extent that is feasible and appropriate – to prevent, reduce or control factors that are endangering or are likely to further endanger the species listed in an annex of the convention. Signatories are also obliged to strictly control the introduction of, or control or elimination of, already introduced exotic species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 13 February 2001.
United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) UNCLOS also addresses the protection and preservation of the marine environment. The signatories to this convention, which came into force in 1994, are to take all measures necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment resulting from the use of technologies under their jurisdiction or control, or the intentional or accidental introduction of species, alien or new, to a particular part of the marine environment, which may cause significant and harmful changes thereto. The cleaning of ships’ hulls and the ballast water carried by ships are the main contributors to such alien introduced species. Malta became a signatory to this convention on 25 May 1993.
EU Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora This European Union legislation also addresses the issue of the introduction of alien species with regard to the conservation of European natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna. In implementing the provisions of this Directive, also referred to as the Habitats Directive, member states are to ensure that the deliberate introduction into the wild of any species that is not native to their territory is regulated so as not to prejudice natural habitats within their natural range or the wild native fauna and flora and, if they consider it necessary, prohibit such introduction into their country. This Directive became applicable to Malta when it joined the European Union on 1 May 2004. The European Union also has other decisions and regulations that support and encourage member states to honour the international conventions that incorporate such principles. These include, amongst others, the above-mentioned conventions. It has to be admitted that such concepts are relatively new to all the social entities in the Maltese Islands, where a lot still has to be done so that they can be understood, accepted and implemented. Nevertheless, these are Malta’s legal obligations under the international treaties to which Malta is a contracting party. firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, 22nd May 2010
Farewell to the defenceless Maltese freshwater crab – George G. Debono, Sliema
A letter about habitat destruction that recently took place in Baħrija (Crab Burrows Crushed Under Concrete, May 18) makes sad reading. As this correspondent describes, blue clay and stone were bulldozed, exposing rare freshwater crabs in their burrows in a valley which is in one of Malta’s more important protected areas. This outrage was allowed to proceed in spite of protests. The defenceless qabru is well on the way to its grave. Thanks to Mepa, yet another of Malta’s unique species, the product of millions of years of evolution, faces extinction from destruction of habitat. Yet in the May 13 edition of One World, under the title of Habitats of the Maltese Islands, Mepa piously stated that the “uniqueness of watercourses, including the rarity of a number of species inhabiting them, renders their protection of significance”. Given Mepa’s gruesome record, this is deceitful spin and it is time Mepa stopped shamelessly treating readers like idiots. Such posturing by Mepa remains hypocritical as long as developments in sensitive areas continue to destroy the habitat of endangered species, as the one in Baħrija. Maybe Mepa can inform concerned readers how to reconcile its infamous example of destruction of habitat with so many positive statements in Mepa’s regular boast column, One World. .
Annalise Falzon (6 hours, 3 minutes ago) @Chris Reiff. Are you serious?? What a sad comment on World Biodiversity Day! Here is part of today’s statement by Nature Trust: Some small hints which can easily be taken up by all who have nature at heart –
• Do not buy exotic animals. The trade in animals is second only to that of narcotics. If you would like to home an animal please consider all the strays on our streets and in sanctuaries around the island. • Use indigenous plants in your garden • Report any illegal activities • Write letters to the press and to your local councils • Make sure that the products you use are not endangering species which are on the brink of extinction. • Organise an awareness activity in your locality. • convert to organic farming. • Support sustainable and cruelty free activities • Join environmental NGOs • Take all litter back home • Avoid wasting resources
Anthony Mizzi (6 hours, 33 minutes ago) MEPA continues to stand out as the perpetuators of crime against the environment within questionable benchmarks of legality, the environment which MEPA is supposed to look after and protect . The development at Bahrija, approved BY MEPA, which may just result in the extinction of the Qabru belongs to Dr. Victor Scerri ex- President of the Nationalist party, which after a brief convenient spell after his resignation from Party President till the waters cooled down is back in the fold with another post in the High Hierarchy of Gonzipn. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100403/opinion/threatened-protected-animals-3
S Zammit (7 hours, 45 minutes ago) A very good letter…so true that our little ”defenceless” friend the Qabru is one of the most threatened species on the island.Somehow nothing is done to really protect it except a lot of bla bla and talk talk. MEPA qumu mir-raqda…hudu l-azzjoni qabel ikun tard wisq… Pule’ Carmel (8 hours, 39 minutes ago) All Management and Local Authority in Malta is just one BIG JOKE. and Paroli, and Pozi.
Chris Reiff (10 hours, 31 minutes ago) While preventing extinction is a good thing, one can not ignore the fact that over 99.9% of all species that ever existed on Earth are extinct, and most died out without human intervention.
Alfred E Baldacchino (11 hours, 6 minutes ago) As Edward Mallia clearly pointed out it is indeed a pity to see MEPA shooting itself in the foot every time it speaks on the environment. The grass roots within MEPA are genuinely trying hard to instil awareness and protect the environment. But why for example, the ‘one world’ snippets published by MEPA on the natural habitats and species of the Maltese Islands, though laudable and encouraging, never mentions that most of these are covered by the EU Habitat Directives, where most of the Sites mentioned are all Special Area of Conservation (SAC) with all their obligations. No mention of this at all by MEPA. Why? Not to put salt on the wounds, perhaps? When one considers that MEPA is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, and as such it is responsible for the protection, monitoring, enforcing and honouring the obligations Malta has to national and international obligations, it is indeed a curse that MEPA is responsible for the environment. But perhaps the change of Minister can give the environment the breath of life, so that it can recover from it local pitiful state, and from the international shame Malta is in.
Edward Mallia (12 hours, 22 minutes ago) ‘Mepa’s regular boast column’ is an excellent description of the One World feature. Ironically ,today’s number celebrates World Biodiversity Day. The freshwater crab gets a look-in at the bottom right hand corner. The One World number of June 20th 2009, treated us to the gallant efforts of Mepa to preserve our heritage at Ta’ Baldu: The site is now inaccessible and invisible from the ‘main road’. Mepa has sanctioned the gates and has done nothing to reduce the height of the dry stone walls; at the back, the three country roads coming down from Dingli now have large notices saying Private No Entry, at 200m from the site. Mepa is still topping ‘treating readers like idiots’ on the Black Dust Mystery, and on the Delimara extension. The Environment Director said that he is not considering the separate disposal of the unburnable HFO sludge because he has not received any application from Enemalta. The sludge (1t/day) was mentioned in the EIA, which suggested burning in the Marsa Incinerator. To this the Director replied that Marsa did not have any IPPC permit to burn sludge. Fair enough: but is he going to do anything about it?
Il-Ħadd, 24 ta’ Jannar 2010
Il-Buskett – Alfred E. baldacchino
IL-BUSKETT huwa ta’ importanza kbira għall-gżejjer Maltin, mill-aspett storiku, ekoloġiku, ekonomiku, edukattiv, studju xjentifiku u anki rikreattiv. L-isem Buskett tfisser bosk żgħir (Boscetto), u mhux ġnien bħalma jaħsbu xi wħud. Il-Buskett huwa l-uniku post fil-gżejjer Maltin fejn hemm masġar naturali taż-żnuber, minbarra li hemm numru ta’ ambjenti naturali differenti,bħal ngħidu aħna, makkja, fdal ta’ foresti naturali, livelli differenti ta’ xagħri, u anki masġar ta’ siġar tan-nixxigħat.
Il-Kavallieri, li mingħajr dubju kellhom l-aħjar viżjoni ambjentali minn dawk kollha li ħakmu lil Malta, mill-ewwel għarfu l-importanza ta’ dan il-post. Mingħajr il-kontribut tagħhom ma kienx ikollna dan il-wirt sinjur. L-Ingliżi li ġew wara l-kavallieri wkoll taw sehemhom fil-ħarsien ta’ dan ilpost uniku. Illum, sfortuntament, kif wieħed jista’ jara jekk imur sa hemm, il-Buskett għandu telqa fuqu li tħammar wiċċ kull minn huwa kburi li huwa Malti: bini storiku mġarraf, l-ambjent naturali stuprat, xi kultant anki bi flus pubbliċi, u nuqqas ta’ sensittività minn min huwa responsabbli għal dan l-ambjent naturali uniku. Inħossni nistħi ngħid bħala Malti, li l-ħakkiema barranin ħadu ħsieb dan il-post aktar mill-mexxejja Maltin.
L-ewwel ħarsien legali ngħata lill-Buskett fl-1933. Permezz tal-Avviż tal-Gvern 269 tal-1933 numru ta’ siġar fil-Buskett kienu mħarsa minħabba l-valur ta’ antikità tagħhom. Fl-1996 il-Buskett kien skedat taħt l-Att tal-Iżvilupp u l-Ippjanar bħala Arja ta’ Importanza Ekoloġika, Sit ta’ Importanza Xjentifika, Wesgħa ta’ valur għoli ta’ landscaping, u kien skedat bħala Masġar (Bosk), kif jidher fl- Avviż Legali 403 tal-1996. Il-Buskett u numru ta’ siġar indiġeni wkoll huma mħarsa b’Avviż Legali 12 tal-2001.
Fl-2003 il-gvern Malti ppropona l-Buskett bħala Sit ta’ Interess għall-Komunità Ewropea, kif jixhed Avviż tal-Gvern 257 tal-2003, bil-għan li l-Buskett ikun aċċettat mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea bħala Żona Specjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation – SAC) kif titlob id-Direttiva tal-Ambjenti Naturali (EU Habitats Directive). Avviż Legali 257 tal-2003 jagħti lista ta’ speċi u ambjenti naturali li jridu jkunu mħarsa skont id-Direttiva tal-Habitats tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u wkoll jiġbor fih dawk ir-regolamenti Maltin kollha li jħarsu l-ispeċi u l-ambjenti naturali, fosthom il-Buskett. Dan l-Avviż Legali huwa ffirmat mill-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino. Il-Buskett illum huwa parti mix-xibka ta’ Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u dan iġorr miegħu numru ta’ obbligi legali. Dan kollu sar meta l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino kien Ministru tal-Ambjent, u naħseb li dan jaf bl-obbligi li hemm biex jeduka, u jqajjem kuxjenza pubblika, qabel kull politika partiġġjana jew xi avvanz personali, kif korrettement qal hu nnifsu.
Barra minn hekk ir-regolamenti tal-1997 dwar il-ħitan tas-sejjieħ u strutturi rurali oħra, ukoll japplikaw għan-numru ta’ strutturi u ħitan tas-sejjieħ fil-Buskett. Mingħajr dubju dawn kollha huma miżuri ta’ ħarsien li jirregolaw kif għandu jsir kull tip ta’ xogħol f’dawn l-inħawi li llum jifformaw parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Bħala sit Natura 2000 kull tip ta’ xogħol irid ikun skont il-permessi u kondizzjonijiet maħruġa taħt dawn ir-regolamenti. Dawn iridu jkunu osservati u inforzati.
Dan ifisser li fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-biodiversità, wieħed ma jistax jidħol b’inġenji bħal gaffef u jtajjar kull ma jaħseb li mhux importanti għalih, jiżbor bis-serrieq mekkaniku kull fergħa li jħoss li mhix f’postha, litteralment jikness qiegħ il-wied mill-weraq niexef, jaħsad il-veġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar, iqaxxar il-ħitan mil-liedna biex tidher il-ġebla. Dawn kollha jridu permessi minn qabel biex jistgħu jsiru. Barra minn hekk, min ried jagħmel dan ix-xogħol ried jissottometti stima marbuta ma’ dan it-tip ta’ xogħol (appropriate assessment) tal-impatti minn kull aspett fuq is-sit, kemm dawk storiċi kif ukoll dawk ekoloġiċi, u dan wara li jisma’ l-opinjoni pubblika fuq dan ix-xogħol li jkun jixtieq jagħmel. Wara li jġib il-permessi meħtieġa mingħand l-Awtorità Kompetenti f’dan il-qasam – jiġifieri l-MEPA – irid joqgħod għall-kundizzjoni li din tagħmel. Wieħed jistenna li min kien responsabbli mill-ħarisen tal-ambjent u anki responsabbli mill-MEPA jimxi ma’ dawn l-obbligi kelma b’kelma, anki jekk biex jagħti eżempju tal-għarfien tal-obbligi li l-pajjiż għandu fl-oqsma internazzjonali u l-kondizjnijiet mitluba mill-MEPA. Imma…
Meta beda x-xogħol fuq il-Buskett fl-2005, kien hemm reazzjoni qawwija ħafna mill-pubbliku u anki fil-gazzetti kontra dan ix-xogħol. In-NatureTrust, fit-23 ta’ Lulju tal-2005 fil-gazzetta The Times ħarġet stqarrija fejn uriet id-diżappunt tagħha għax-xogħol insensittiv għall-ekoloġija tal-Buskett, li kompla minkejja l-protesti tagħhom fejn saħansitra staqsew jekk dan kellux il-permessi meħtieġa skont il-liġi, u fejn ukoll taw indikazzjoni li kien qed jintuża l-erbiċida biex toqtol ilveġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar. Fl-istess ħarġa ta’ The Times il-Birdlife ġibdu l-attenzjoni li kien qed isir żbir ta’ siġar u tqaxxir tal-liedna minn mal-ħitan u kien qed ikun hemm ħsara irreparabbli lillambjent tal-masġar. Kien hemm akkużi oħra mill-għaqdiet ambjentali dwar il-qerda ta’ nebbiet ta’ numru ta’ siġar, kemm tal-Ballut, kif ukoll tad-Deru, kollha siġar imħarsa bil-liġi. Dan kollu f’sit li huwa parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea fejn xejn minn dan ma jista’ jsir.
James Debono fil-Malta Today tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005 kiteb li l-konsorzju, li minnu kien responsabbli l-Ministru Pullicino, kien qed jimmaniġġja l-Buskett bħallikieku dan kien xi roundabout. Kelliema għan-NatureTrust, fl-istess ħarġa tal-MaltaToday, qalet “kif nistgħu nkomplu nedukaw lill-pubbliku u t-tfal tal-iskola li jżuru l-Buskett, meta ma hemm l-ebda ħarsien tal-post mill-awtoritajiet infushom?”
Fil-Malta Today ukoll tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005, Saviour Balzan kiteb li l-premju tax-xahar imur għallkonsorzju li għamel mandra (mess) fil-Buskett u qal li l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino għandu joħroġhom minn hemm MINNUFIH. Saviour Balzan donnu kien profeta għax il-konsorzju ngħata premju kmieni din is-sena.
Wara l-kummenti, suġġerimenti u pariri tiegħi dwar din il-ħsara, meta kont għadni fis-servizz pubbliku, kont ġejt infurmat li l-Buskett ma baqax aktar taħt ir-responsabbiltà tiegħi. Kważi tliet snin wara li beda xogħol fil-Buskett fl-2005, u jien kont ili li rtirajt kważi sena, il-Ministru Pullicino ħareġ stqarrija li dehret fl-Independent on Sunday fl-24 ta’ Frar 2008, fejn qal li “ix-xogħol li l- Ministeru kellu ħsieb jagħmel (fil-Buskett) kien imwaqqaf mill-MEPA li sostniet li x-xogħol proġettat seta’ jagħmel ħsara lill-ekosistema.” Dan ifisser li x-xogħol li sar u dak li kien hemm maħsub li jsir ma kellux il-permessi meħtieġa, kemm mingħand id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent kif ukoll mingħand dak tal-Ippjanar tal-MEPA.
Fis-6 ta’ Ġunju tal-2008, (wara aktar minn sena rtirat) kont mitlub mill-Ministeru biex nagħmel rapport fuq il-Buskett fejn fih ikun hemm emfasi dwar il-miżuri li huma meħtieġa fil-Buskett. Dan wassaltu b’idejja fil-31 ta’ Awwissu 2008. Għaddew kważi sena u nofs, u xorta waħda għadu ma sar xejn. Sinċerament ma nafx xi jrid il-Ministru: forsi stenna li se ngħidlu biex iħawwel il-pensjeri u s-sardinell madwar is-siġar fil-Buskett! Li għamilt, għamiltu biex insalva l-biodiversità mhedda Maltija, u biex Malta ma tiffaċċax problemi mill-Unjoni Ewropea dwar ksur tad-Direttiva tal-Habitats. Dawn jista’ jkollhom konsegwenzi finanzjarji, ekonomiċi, u politiċi koroh fuq il-pajjiż. Dan għarfitu wkoll il-MEPA għax ma ħarġitx il-permessi għax-xogħol li ried jagħmel il-Ministru Pullicino u waqqfet il-ħerba li kienet qiegħda ssir, minkejja li jien ma bqajtx responsabbli mill-Buskett u ma kontx għadni fis-servizz pubbliku.
Il-prinċipji tiegħi dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali minn dejjem kienu, għadhom, u jibqgħu l-istess, u huma bħal dawk li hemm fid-Direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea, minkejja kull attentat li hemm jew li jista’ jkun hemm minn xi ħadd biex jgħatti xturu u jipprova joskurani.
Kif tixhed l-istqarrija tal-Ministru Pullicino, fit-TORĊA tal-Ħadd 10 ta’ Jannar 2010, ma nistax nemmen u ma nistax nifhem għaliex qed iħares daqshekk lura fiż-żmien. Irrifjuta u għadu qed jirrifjuta kull parir, u kull għajnuna minn dawk li jridu u li huma lesti li jgħinuh. Iżda naqbel miegħu perfettament meta f’din l-is-tqarrija qal li “… nistenna li kulħadd jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà tal-pożizzjonijiet li jieħu.”
F’kull qasam l-akbar responsabbiltà hija ta’ dawk li kienu fdati mill-poplu biex jieħdu ħsieb lambjent naturali Malti, li aħna ssellifna mingħand uliedna, u mingħand ulied uliedna. Il-Buskett qed jibki għall-pjan ta’ azzjoni professjonali u skont l-obbligi legali li l-pajjiż għandu. U m’hemm xejn xi jżomm lill-Ministru li jagħmel dan fl-interess tal-pajjiż mingħajr ħela ta’ enerġija u kritika partiġġjana.
Il-pariri tiegħi fuq il-Buskett ilhom għandu s-snin, u l-għajnuna tiegħi professjonali għall-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali Malti ntiha lil kull min jixtieqha, hu min hu.