Butchered olive trees

June 4, 2016

The butchering of trees on the campus of the University of Malta was quite a shock, which not only questions professional, technical and administrative management, but also the void there is in the offering of opportunities in the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values – silviculture.

Following the justified uproar by organisations and individuals, the University issued a statement, which, if anything, rubs more salt into the wound.

The undated and unsigned statement, anything but professional, tries to absolve everybody from responsibility for this butchering job. There is, of course, at least one obvious accountable person.

The University statement outlined the fact that it “had received complaints from the Gżira local council, which raised residents’ concern about safety and security issues following burglaries in the area.

The residents suspected that the dense overgrowth of the trees could provide cover for unwelcomed prying. There were also complaints about falling twigs, olives and leaves on cars parked below.

The University succumbed to the local councils’ mentality which has, and still is, seeing trees butchered around the island because of selfish complaints such as: shedding of leaves, bird droppings, obstruction to seeing a patron saint statue going in and out of a church, and hindering residents from watching firework displays.

Who would have thought that the University would also join in blessing the chopping of trees on its campus for similar puerile, amateurish, selfish reasons, at the expense of society and the environment.

The local mentality, which is showing great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University

The mentality in this country, which is demonstrating great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University, to the extent that, because of lack of monitoring of work in progress, not only those trees which attributedly were contributing to “unwelcome prying and dropping leaves and olives” were chopped down but even all the 51 indigenous mature olive trees on the campus.

Even those not contributing to these alleged inconveniences were chopped down too, including those on the sides of the track on campus, which in no way could have been involved.

Less than half were contributing to peeping toms, or raining leaves and olives, if at all. Interestingly, the 10 invasive Australian she-oaks (casuarina) growing over the parked cars beneath were not touched at all.

Their wood is not worth anything.

The University statement also reveals that “the olive trees had grown inordinately high, and the upper branches had dried up the result of unprofessional pruning. In Malta there are no professional tree pruners, but only self-appointed ones.

 Trees are pruned using cherry pickers, and these reach a limited height. So the trees become top-heavy when pruned by cherry pickers. And when they become top-heavy and dangerous, these are chopped from deep down the trunk.

However, according to the University, the Precincts Office had decided to go for the most favourable offer because “the contractor had previously done satisfactory pruning on campus”.

And this is the result of the professionalism accepted by the University.

The Insiter, the “only student centric newsletter” of the Student Media Organisation of the University, on May 11 released information on this tree butchering.

The statement, which also emphasised that the University expressed its regret over the outcome of the olive tree pruning, quoted the landscaper from the Times of Malta that the trees had a fungal infection, which is commonly referred to as a Peacock spot.

There are biological ways how to control this fungus. But the cherry on the cake, oozing out of the professionalism at the University, was the statement on this newsletter, and I quote: “And which we can’t be sure that the trees were indeed infected or that such drastic pruning was necessary, it should be easy to check on the tree’s health next year.”

A clear indication that there was no certainty that the trees had such a fungal infection, and even if they did, this was not the way to manage them.

A number of measures the University has completely ignored are:

  • the precautionary principle, which means that “if the effects of a product or action are unknown, then the product should not be used or the action should not be taken”;
  • the Plant Health Directorate had not been consulted;
  • the Environment and Resource Authority was not consulted either;
  • the operator seems to have also acted as the regulator and given a free hand to do and decide on his own;
  • professionals on biodiversity management within the University itself were, likewise, not consulted;
  • measures were not taken to ensure that the ‘infected trees’ were monitored to ensure that they did not infect other trees during transportation;
  • there was no control on the disposal of infected trees;
  • no control on the disposal of logs taken from the trees;
  • no data on the qualifications of the Precincts Office that took such decisions on behalf of University.

The conclusion seems to be that even the University falls short of environmental professional management, both from the technical as well as the administrative point of view.

Such butchering should never have taken place at University. And no amount of regrets can rectify the amateurish environmental damage done, professionally endorsed and officially paid.

Not even the planting of 30 new trees, the more so if these are imported, as I am sure the professionals at the University know about the national and international obligations Malta has.

There seems to be a flicker of light at the end of the long and deep tunnel of mismanagement in the field of natural environment. The statement issued by the University says that: “This serious matter is being looked into in detail by the University authority to determine whether further action should be taken.”

The butchered trees are indeed a wake-up call for the University; a very expensive wake-up call paid by the general public and the environment.

The University of Malta needs to take immediate steps to offer professional training so that those self-appointed landscapers and tree-pruners can become qualified professionals and would not be able to wield a chain saw unless they have at least a diploma from University on how to professionally appreciate and manage the Maltese biodiversity, in the interest of society and the environment.

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


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IS-­SIĠAR BARRANIN… l-­impatti ta’ viżjoni għamja

February 12, 2014


IS-­SIĠAR BARRANIN…  l-­impatti ta’ viżjoni għamja

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fl­-aħħar artiklu rajna kif speċi miġjuba minn barra l­-pajjiż jista’ jkollhom impatt negattiv dirett fuq l­-ekoloġija ta’ pajjiżna. Iżda minbarra dan l-impatt dirett jista’ jkun hemm ukoll impatt indirett. U anki hawn l-­impatti negattivi indiretti jkollhom effetti ekoloġiċi, soċjali u ekonomiċi. Din il-­ħsara mhix marbuta ma’ speċi ħajjin biss li jinġabu minn barra, imma wkoll ma’ oġġetti magħmula minn speċi ħajjin, bħal ngħidu aħna, injam, kif sejrin naraw aktar ’l quddiem.

Minn ma semgħax bil-­bumunqar aħmar tal­-palm? Dan daħal mas-Il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palmsiġar tal-palm li ġew importati mill­-Eġittu u mill-Italja, fejn kien qed jagħmel ħerba mis-siġar tal-­palm. Li kieku intuża l-­prinċipju ta’ prekawzjoni biex jilqa’ għall-­possibiltà li dan l-­insett ma jidħolx hawn Malta, kieku ma kienx ikun hemm din il­-ħsara ekoloġika, soċjali u ekonomika. Imma l­-kilba għall-­qliegħ tal-­flus ġiet qabel kollox, u xejnet kull prinċipju ta’ ħarsien ekoloġiku.

Minn meta dan daħal f’pajjiżna fl-­2007, inqerdu ’l fuq minn 800 siġra tal­-palm. Issa rnexxilu jasal ukoll anki f’Għawdex fejn qed idur is­-siġar tal­-palm kollha. Xi ħadd ħabbel rasu u inkwieta? Iva, minn kellu s-siġar tal-­palm, uħud anki ta’ valur sentimentali u storiku.

Minn ma semgħax bil­-ħanfusa tal­-qrun twil tat-­tut, li daħlet mal-­injam u li qerdet is-­siġar tat-­tut kollha minn Ħaż­-Żebbuġ, Ħ’Attard, is-Siġġiewi, ir-Rabat u l-­madwar. Xi hadd inkweta? Iva, minn kellu dawn is-siġar, siġar xjuħ u uniċi li kienu mfittxija għall­-frott bnin tagħhom.


Il-Ħanfus tal-Qrum Twil li diġà qerdet numru kbir ta’ siġar tat-tut. Issa minħabba    n-nuqqas ta’ dawn is-siġar, daret fuq is-siġar tat-tin.

U dawn huma ftit mill-­ispeċi li ddaħħlu hawn Malta mas-­siġar u pjanti oħra, għax hemm numru ta’  bebbux tal-­art li qed jinfirex bil­mod il-mod sakemm il­-popolazzjoni tagħhom tikber u l­-ħsara tibda tidher, u tinħass. Xi ħadd qed jinkwieta? Żgur mhux dawk li jimportaw dawn is­-siġar u pjanti oħra li magħhom iġibu dawn l-­ispeċi f’pajjiżna. Bilkemm ma nistħajjilx lil xi ħadd, anki xi politikant jgħid, imma għalfejn tinkwieta? Ma kienx hemm minn ħaddem in­-nies, u qala’ l-flus? U billi daħlu xi insetti u bebbux, u nqerdu ftit siġar, allura x’ġara? Li ġara hu, li kien hemm xi ħadd għall-­qliegħ tal­-flus, anki bil-­barka politika, issa  l-­poplu u l­-ambjent qed iħallsu il-­prezz tal­-ħsara ta’ din il-­viżjoni għamja.

Imma forsi wieħed jistaqsi fejn qegħdin jitħawlu s­-siġar miġjuba minn barra minn Malta. Jekk wieħed imur, fost postijiet oħra, sal­waterfront il-­Belt, jew fil-­Kottonera, jew fejn jiltaqgħu l­-karozzi tal­-linji l-­Belt biex jiġbru n­-nies, barra dak li darba kien bieb il-­Belt, wieħed jista’ jara ħafna minn dawn is-siġar. Siġar li ġurnata ma kinux hemm, u l­-għada f’daqqa waħda dehru fuq il­-post xi wħud aktar minn 5 metri twal. U forsi wieħed jistaqsi dawn kemm swew. Tagħrif uffiċjali  jgħid li dawk tal-­Kottonera biss swew mat-€30,000 u nġabu mill-­Italja. Dawk ta’ barra bieb il­-Belt jingħad li swew madwar €10,000 il-­waħda. Minnhom hemm 27 waħda, ħamsa minnhom mietu u ġew mibdula b’oħrajn ġodda. Imma forsi anki hawn xi ħadd jistaqsi: imma dawn minn ħallas għalihom? Iva, int u jien. Bħalma qed inħallsu l­-ħsara indiretta ta’ xi wħud minnhom, int, jien u l-­ambjent naturali.

Forsi xi ħadd ukoll jistaqsi, imma ma hemm ħadd responsabbli għall-ippjanar u l-­ħarsien tal-­biodiversità Maltija biex jara li dan ma jiġriex. Qabel l­-2013 ir-­responsabbiltà kienet tal-­Minstru tal-­Ambjent fejn il-MEPA kienet l-Awtorità Kompetenti biex tħares il-­wirt nazzjonali (u xorta dawn kienu jsiru!). Illum il­-Mepa mhix taħt ir-­responsabbiltà tal-­Ministru tal-­Ambjent imma taħt Segretarju Parlamentari fl­-Uffiċċju tal­-Prim Ministru (u xorta għadhom isiru). Mill-­2013 it­-tisbih tal-­art waqa’ taħt ir-­responsabbiltà tal-­Ministru tat­-Transport u l-Infrastruttura, minkejja li s-­siġar huma parti mill-­biodiversità u mhumiex sinjali tat-­traffiku jew lampi tad­-dawl. U l-MEPA… imħabbta bil-­ħruġ tal­-permessi tal-­bini u tara kif tibbilanċja dawn mal­-qerda tal­-ambjent li hija suppost li twaqqaf,  kif jingħad uffiċjalment

Sakemm hemm il­-qliegħ tal-­flus b’din l-­attività kummerċjali bis-­sigar; sakemm hemm numru ta’ ħaddiema li qed jitħallsu biex jagħmlu dak li jgħidulhom, anki jekk ma jaqblux miegħu; sakemm il­-flus biex dan isir, ħafna drabi bi flus pubbliċi wkoll; sakemm il-mexxeja politiċi u soċjali ta’ dan il-­pajjiż jibqgħu ma jagħtux każ il-­bżonn tal-­ħarsien tal­-ambjent u jkejlu l-progress biċ-­ċifri ta’ flus biss, u jibqgħu ma jridux jafu bil­-ħsara ekoloġika u soċjalil li qed issir, wieħed bilforsi jibqa’ jistaqsi kemm sejra tkun kbira din il­ħsara ekoloġika, soċjali, u ekonomika.

U hekk rajna l-­impatt indirett tas-­siġar barranin imdaħħla fil­-gżejjer Maltin. Aktar ’il quddiem naraw xi speċi li qed jgħinu f’din il-ħsara soċjali, ekonomika u ekoloġika, minħabba din il-­viżjoni għamja li qed twassal biex il­-ftit igawdu finanzjarjament u l­-poplu u l­-ambjent iħallsu.

ara wkoll:

Is-siġar barranin… u l-impatt dirett tagħhom