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/

Advertisements

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

June 16, 2015
Maltese trees 
conserving and landscaping
Tuesday, 16th June 2015
 
postter-
Trees are an important for our daily life. Some species of trees are more common than others. Trees depend on their natural habitat and also on our appreciation and protection for their existence.This talk will cover an introduction to Maltese trees and the negative impacts which alien species have on our ecosystem including our indigenous trees – not like the green men from Mars! This has a lot to do with landscaping.

Alfred E. Baldacchino has made plenty of contributions to the environment in the Maltese Islands and has presented and is still helping with various programs in the mass media. He has also published a number of popular works on protecting nature, having served as Editor of the magazine In-Natura from 1982 to 2003. Alfred has also composed lyrics for various songs mostly with an environmental theme that have been performed locally during song festivals.

Come and listen to Alfred’s talk on Sunday the 28th of June at 7.30pm (doors open at 7.15pm) at the University Quad in Msida.The event will be followed by an open discussion with some nibbles from Sammy’s Culinary Forward. Thanks go to the Malta Chamber of scientists for their support and the University of Malta for providing the space.

Malta Café Scientifique can be found on Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/Malta.Cafe.Scientifique and online:http://bit.ly/MCSCIweb . You can now view events and subscribe to our mailing list from the website.

Danielle and Francesca
bit.ly/MCSJune2015
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alien invasive species – animation film

May 5, 2015

Alien invasive species – animation film

4th May, 2015

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Invasive alien species are causing havoc the world over, not least in our island. Little attention is being given to them locally. The price being paid by society and the environment is on the increase with little help from the official entities who are responsible to control such invasive species before they establish themselves in our ecosystem. The commercial and financial gain of the importation of species and their derivatives takes priority over the negatives financial impact borne by society and the environment.

Great Britain spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species.  The EU, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. The official vision of the prevention and control of local invasive species seems to be heading that way too for Malta.

Il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm

The Red-palm weevil devastating palm trees on the island, introduced by infected palm trees imported from infected areas, to be used for landscaping, despite advice to the contrary.

The recent locally introduced invasive alien species and the damages caused are known by one and all. These include the Red Palm Weevil which has to date destroyed about 1400 palm trees including a great percentage of mature and historical trees; the African brown mulberry long horn beetle which has decimated the great percentage of old mulberry trees in Malta, and now seemingly turning its attention to the fig trees and possibly citrus trees; a new beetle which is killing carob trees and other indigenous trees; and the geranium bronze butterfly which as yet is only impacting cultivated geraniums and has not as yet attacked the indigenous wild species of related geranium species.

Il-Ħanfusa-tl-Qrun-Twil-tat-Tut

The Brown mulberry longhorn beetle (Phryneta leprosa) introduced with the importation unfumigated of timber

As yet the disease (Xylella fastidiosa bacteria) which is spreading in Italy and attacking and destroying olive trees has not been recorded in Malta, as far as one is aware.  Italy may have to destroy about one million olive trees to control such disease and is under pressure by the EU to do so. But what is being done  to prevent the introduction of this disease with the olive trees still being imported from Italy despite such imminent danger?

The general public has been informed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, that all imported olive trees have to have a phytosanitary certificate, and olive trees are being monitored. This naïve statement shows the poor awareness of the dangers of such destruction of local olive trees, citrus trees and vines, and the industry they support. No proactive measure are being implemented, let  alone considered. Then when the horses bolt, a study will be commissioned on how to close the stable doors.

The species which carried the above recently introduced alien invasive species were all accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. It seems that the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Agriculture is following the footsteps of his predecessor under whose ‘reign’ the above invasive species were introduced. Unfortunately he seems to be more interested in finding a loop hole to ensure the shooting of birds during their spring migration than taking professional steps to protect local agriculture and the ecosystem of the Maltese Islands.

According to the EU, the disease affecting the olive trees in Italy, can also attack citrus trees and vines by the insect-transmitted bacteria, which causes the trees to wither and for which there is no remedy. Would be very interesting to see the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary if, God forbid, such a disease would establish itself also in Malta. Money talks and the people and the environment pays.

Platform Stop invasieve exoten, from the Netherlands has produced the following animation film on invasive species which one hopes will help politicians understand the negative impacts and the financial, social and ecological damages these can do. This animation film can be seen by clicking the following link, which also gives other links on data on invasive alien species:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFaQLShW0Zc

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Environmentalists argue weakness of governments on environmental issues

December 26, 2014

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Environmentalists argue weakness of governments

on environmental issues

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Kevin Schembri Orland

“The environment is nothing but a buzzword for politicians on both sides, a buzzword used by them to sound nice and be popular”, Environment photographer Guido Bonett told The Malta Independent.”There has been a gradual degradation of the environment. This is due to a number of things, one of which is the mentality, where they believe that if it doesn’t vote or make money then it is useless. The development boom over the past 30 years has been a real back-breaker as far as the environment is concerned”.

Swallowtail butterfly - Farfett tal-bużbież

Swallowtail butterfly – Farfett tal-bużbież

Roads also disrupt habitats. “I don’t even want to imagine what kind of damage works around the Salina Coast road has caused”. “One thing that really worries me is the state of insect life on the island. Take butterflies for example, we have already lost a number of species and this comes down to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. If we were to use insects as a thermometer for the wellbeing of the environment then it becomes obvious that we are in trouble. When I was younger, turning over a stone one would find a number of insects and arachnids, from scorpions to centipedes while today one would be lucky to find a couple of snails”.

As an example of species lost, Mr Bonnet said that the small copper butterfly hasn’t been sighted for over ten years. Turning to plants, he said we are losing species of plants just as we are losing species of insects.” One must look at nature as a guidocircle. If part of it is cut, then ripple effects will occur and man is part of this chain”.

Turning to marine life, he said that people who want to dispose of certain rubbish just chuck them into the sea. “The amount of sea pollution is staggering. When scouts hold a clean-up session at a beach, they collect around 50 sacks of garbage in a single morning”. Mr Bonett had a message to politicians, telling them to take the environment more seriously and not encroach on virgin land. “Decision makers need to realise that people who care about the environment have as many votes as those who don’t”.

Lack of appreciation a result of greed

“The fact that we are a small island means that developmental impacts on natural habitats are multiplied. In addition there is a lack of professional management with regard to such developments that leads to the loss of other resources. Take water for example, today we are no longer concerned with storing water when it rains, but rather pay a lot of money to funnel it out to sea. This affects wildlife as all species rely on water. There is also no professional planning when it coms to utilising such a scarce resource.

Landscaping is another problem, as it brings żringabout exotic invasive species of plants that contribute to the further destruction of the Maltese environment. If species being destroyed by development are utilised within the development, at least we would see some of what was taken given back to the eco-system”. “The ecosystem is like a web with everything intertwined. Without bees, for example, pollination would not occur, and thus flowers will not be able to multiply. If one is aware of such beneficial use of all living things, one would realise the importance of protecting such things as without them man wouldn’t be able to survive”.

Mr Baldacchino explained that insects provide food for other species, so aside from directly helping man, they help sustain other species thus creating a balance. Due to education and the availability of mass communication there is a strong awareness to the importance of our environment, he said. “We do tend to push the need to educate our children on the environment and while this is important it would take these children 25 years to really begin to contribute to society”. This shows a failure on the part of current generations who are trying to educate but not lead by example, he said.

Turning to the ‘Save the Countryside’ campaign launched by Din L-Art Helwa, Mr Bonett said; “I am very happy that Din L-Art Helwa took the initiative, which has seen many people showing interest in the environment”.  Mr Baldacchino said that the campaign focusses on saving wild species around the Maltese islands and the environment. “It is useless to protect species without protecting their habitats. This campaign is aimed at creating awareness and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the general public. The campaign is very stimulating and opens doors for future similar campaigns to help communicate and educate the public. It goes without saying that in a couple of years’ time, society and the eco-system will begin to pay the price for such neglect”.

“Membership in the EU means that we are obliged to transpose European legislation into local legislation and on paper, environmental legislation is sufficient. The main concern is, however, that nobody takes care of such legislation. It is not enforced, not administered and it is an open secret that nobody is eager to help the environment and everyone is just washing their hands of it. This is another failure of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility belongs to every Ministry and every person on this island whether he is a man off the street, the Minister of aebEnvironment, the Minister of Health or a member of the clergy. Without this delicate ecological balance, life cannot be sustained. Man is part of the eco-system,” Mr Baldacchino concluded.

“Considering the islands are relatively small, Malta has a large amount of species of flora. In the past they were used for traditional medicine and currently there is growing international awareness to the contribution that wild flora can give in medicine. In fact this movement is so great that many are turning back to traditional medicine”.

Everything is intertwined

“Pollution shows that man doesn’t care for tomorrow, that we are just living for today. We exploit what we can today and tomorrow, should the need arise, we would think about solving the problem. The idea that the earth has been loaned to us by future generations has been completely disregarded.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino believes that the lack of appreciation for the Maltese eco-system, resulting in extensive development, is a result of greed for materialistic items.

“On a positive note, we have seen great leaps in sewage treatment in Malta”, he said.

Loss of species

“I was brought up in Birkirkara, and from Valley road up to Farsons not a single house was built back then. What really scares me is the possibility of even more development”. Mentioning Ta Cenc, “It is one of the few areas people like me can go and relax in nature, where it is nice and quite, yet every time I’m there the possibility that this area could be built up creeps into my mind”.

Milky Orchid - Orkida tat-tikki

Milky Orchid – Orkida tat-tikki

Mr Bonett believes that Malta has very much become a consumer-based society and because of this, production continues to grow thus making the situation worse. “40 years ago the word environment did not even exist, so slight improvements have been seen. Over the past few months, however, we have gone backwards”.

“In my opinion, we have never had a single decent Minister for the environment, and none of them have an idea of what they are talking about. To these people, a piece of land filled with rocks and wildflowers is nothing more than an unproductive piece of land,” he said.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


L-­ISPEĊI INVAŻIVI… u l­-Mepa

April 14, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 14 ta’ April, 2014

L-­ISPEĊI INVAŻIVI… u l­-Mepa

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

  F’kumment ieħor rajna kif is­-siġra tal­-Akaċja tal-Ħarir, jew Albizia tista’ jkollha impatt ferm negattiv fuq il­-biodiversità Maltija. Dan minkejja l-­linji gwida fil-­pubblikazzjonijiet kollha tal-MEPA. Pjanta oħra li ddaħħlet f’pajjiżna u qed tagħmel il-­ħsara hija l-­Pjuma, jew Peniżetum (Penisetum setaceum) li matul dawn l­-aħħar snin tħawlet bi kwantità fit-toroq wara li ġiet importata minn barra. Wieħed jista’ jaraha fid­-dwawar fit­-toroq (roundabouts ­- ftit hemm minnhom  fejn ma ssibhiex) u f’kull roqgħa art matul it-toroq prinċipali. Quddiem il-Knisja ta’ San Lawrenz fil-Birgu hemm medda twila mhux ħażin minnha.

Il-Peniżetum jikber fil-Birgu.

Il-Peniżetum jikber il-Birgu.

Din il-pjanta tikber f’pajjiżi li ma għandhomx xitwa kiefra, u ma tiddejjaq xejn tikber fid-dell. Tant hija b’saħħitha li anki jekk tinħaraq tikber b’aktar ħerqa. In­-nar jgħinha biex tikkompeti ma’ pjanti indiġeni u tbiddel l-ekoloġija tal-post, tfaqqar l-ambjent mill-ispeċi indiġeni, tbiddel l­-ekoloġija tal-ħamrija, u anki tbiddel il-kompożizzjoni tal­-fawna u n­-numru tagħhom. Il-Peniżetum jew il­-Pjuma tkun bil-fjuri kważi s-sena kollha. Hija tista’ tgħix għal madwar 20 sena. Iż­-żerriegħa tagħha tinfirex bir-riħ, bil­-karozzi, permess tal-bniedem, bl­-ilma, bl-annimali li jġorruha meta teħel mal-pil tagħhom, u anki bil-għajnuna tal-għasafar. Il-karozzi u l-annimali jistgħu jeħduha distanzi twal.

Il-karozzi jgħinu biex iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum tinferrex 'l bogħod fil-madwar

Il-karozzi jgħinu biex iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum titferrex ‘l bogħod fil-madwar

Iż-żerriegħa tal­-Peniżetum tikber fejn hemm biżżejjed umdità u b’hekk mill-ewwel tiksi nħawi imqallba fejn ma jkunx hemm xita spissa. Hija tadatta malajr għall-ambjenti differenti.

Il-Peniżetum tikber kull fejn issib ftit umdità

Il-Peniżetum tikber kull fejn issib ftit umdità.

Din hija pjanta indiġena tal-Afrika u l-Lvant Nofsani. Fil­-pajjiżi fejn hija indiġena tikber f’ambjent nieqes mill-ilma. Infatti f’pajjiżha hija aktar rari milli fil-partijiet oħra tad­-dinja fejn ġiet imdaħħla u fejn invadiet. L-inħawi li tinvadi, fost oħrajn, jinkludu ambjenti naturali u mħarbta, għaram ramel, mal-ġnub tat­-toroq, f’kull xaqq fil-blat jew taħt il­-bankini. Biex namluhiela aktar faċli hawn Malta, fid­-dwawar fit-toroq u partijiet oħra fit-toroq inbexxuha bl­-ilma. Naturalment iħallas il­-poplu u l-ambjent.

Il-viżjoni pollitika u uffiċjali tal-MEPA

Il-viżjoni politika u uffiċjali tal-MEPA. U l-poplu u l-ambjent iħallsu.

Kif rajna f’artikli oħra, il-MEPA hija l-Awtorità Kompetenti responsabbli, għall-anqas fuq il-karta, biex tara, fost oħrajn, li l­biodiversità ta’ pajjiżna tkun imħarsa. F’wieħed mill-pubblikazzjonijiet tagħha l­-MEPA tgħid litagħraf il-fatt li l­-pjanti ornamentali huma magħrufa bħala r-raġuni ewlenija tal-pjanti invażivi fil-gżejjer Maltin. U għalhekk wieħed għandu jara li qabel ma jintroduċi speċi ġodda fil­-villaggi, bliet jew inkella jħawwilhom fuq skala kbira, wieħed għandu jikkonsulta l-linja gwida tal­-MEPA. Il-pubblikazzjoni tal-MEPA jgħidu li l­-firxa ta’ dawn l-ispeċi nvażivi qed tkun ta’ tħassib ambjentali. Tant illi huwa aċċetat li l-ewwel pass huwa li titwaqqaf id-dħul ta’ speċi invażivi. Iżda hemm bżonn li tittieħed azzjoni minħabba li l­-firxa  u l-impatti ta’ dawn l-ispeċi invażivi qed timmina sforzi għaddejjin biex tiġi mħarsa l­-biodiversità tal-gżejjer Maltin, tgħid il-MEPA! Tgħid ukoll li speċi ġodda qed jagħmlu ħsara kbira fl­-ambjent tagħna, kif ukoll huma ta’ tħassib għal Malta.

Ir-riżultat tal-użu ta' pjanti invażivi mingħajr ebda ħsieb ħlief dak ta' qligħ ta' flus.

Ir-riżultat tal-użu ta’ pjanti invażivi mingħajr ebda ħsieb ħlief dak ta’ qligħ ta’ flus.

Mill-kliem għall-fatti hemm baħar jikkumbatti jgħid il­-Malti. Il-MEPA hija magħrufa li qatt ma kellha qalbha taħraq għall-ħarsien tal-ambjent. U wara li d-dipartiment tal­-ambjent fl­-2002 tqiegħed f’ħoġorha, mill-ewwel ħakmithu, libsithu sarima, u għamlithu s­-Sindirella tagħha. Illum dan jinstab orfni fil-limbu tal­-MEPA. U llum il­-MEPA qed tistenna bil­-ħerqa kollha biex l-ambjent jitneħha minn ħdanha għax taħseb li hekk ma tħossx aktar il-piż tal-qerda tal-ambjent tal-gżejjer Maltin li hija qed tħalli jsir. Jekk wieħed iħares lejn il-proposti tagħha għall­-bdil fil-politika tal-ODZ (Żvilupp fiż­-Żoni barra l-Iżvilupp), dawk tal-iSPED (Pjan Strutturali għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp), il-proposti għat­-twaqqif tal-Awtorità għall­-Iżvilupp tal-Ippjanar, u deċiżjonijiet meħuda mill­-MEPA, bħal fost ħafna oħra, ngħidu aħna d­-deċiżjoni tal-bini taċ­-ċimiterju tan-Nadur f’Għawdex, u l­-permessi tal-bini mostruż fil­-Mistra bl­-impatt ta’ ħsara kbira soċjali u ambjentali, wieħed jara kif u kemm il­-MEPA falliet fil-qadi ta’ dmirijietha lejn il­-ħarsien tal­-ambjent ekoloġiku u lejn is-soċjetà Maltija. Dan minkejja li l-poplu qed iħallasha biex tħarislu l­-ambjent tiegħu. Ara x’ġej meta ssir Awtorità tal­-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp! Sfortunatament l­-ambjent xejn ma hu fuq quddiem fuq l­-agenda politika tal­-partiti. Dan jidher ukoll mill­-fatt li llum l-hekk imsejjaħ landscaping li hija attività b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità, qiegħed taħt ir-responsabbiltà tal-Ministeru tat-Transport u l-Infrastruttura. U dan, mingħajr l­-għajnuna professjonali fil-qasam tal-biodiversità, u bil-MEPA ma tara, ma tisma’, u ma tgħid xejn, il-Ministeru japprova dan kollu, u l-poplu u l­-ambjent iħallsu.

Iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum lesta biex tissiefaħ 'l bogħod u tikber fejn taqa' - dejjem bil-barka tal-MEPA

Iż-żerriegħa tal-Peniżetum lesta biex tissiefaħ ‘l bogħod u tikber fejn taqa’ – dejjem bil-barka tal-MEPA.

Huwa għalhekk li kull darba li ngħaddi mit-toroq fejn ikun hemm il­-Peniżetum tikber (fost pjanti invażivi oħrajn), kemm fid­-dwawar fit-toroq, kif ukoll taħt il-bankini, xagħri, wesgħat imqallba u postijiet oħra fejn ħarbet, inkompli nsaħħaħ il­-fehma tiegħi li l-MEPA falliet bis-sħiħ. U ma għandniex xi ngħidu l­-falliment tal-MEPA jkaxkar miegħu l­-falliment tal-politikanti responsabbli minnha. Dan minkejja liġijiet Maltin u dawk internazzjonali, inklużi dawk tal­-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan sejjer jagħmilna l­-aħjar fl-Ewropa għal mod kif niġu naqgħu u nqumu mill­-obbligj u viżjoni tal-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-impatt soċjali. U filwaqt li kulħadd jgħajjat bid­-drittijiet tal-minoranzi, mid­-dehra il­-maġġoranza ma għandha l­-ebda dritt. Bla dubju Malta hija tagħna lkoll, imma nħoss li l­-viżjoni soċjali u ambjentali qiegħdin taħt muntanja ta’ flus. Illum naraw li huma l-ftit li qed jiddettaw u jistagħnaw għas-spejjeż tal-ħafna. Bħalma qed jagħmlu l­-ispeċi invażivi li qed jerdgħu kull roqgħa ta’ pajjiżna, bil-barka tal­-MEPA.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com  


Cash cow in the ditch

April 2, 2014

times of malta

Wednesday, 2nd April 2014

Cash cow in the ditch

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

On the anniversary of the official opening of the ‘quality garden’ at Mdina Ditch,  6th March 2013.  I thought of revisiting this jewel in the crown of bad planning and management.

A bird’s eye view of the ditch from Howard Gardens prepared me for the worst. A water tanker was busily engaged close to a newly excavated cistern adjacent to Greek gate, connected with its umbilical chord: filling the cistern to quench the thirsty turf?

Statistic regarding the planning and management of the site were indeed shocking. The original 300 plus citrus trees had been numbered before uprooting. Some still sport their number, one labelled 270.  Only 151

Tree number 270 managed to remain on site.citrus remain. 30 laurel bushes, seemingly imported, replaced the citrus trees which had given up the ghost. The total number of trees in the ditch is 198.

Past the place where the 80 year old protected olive tree was uprooted and carted away, without any approval from that toothless environmental watchdog, I could not but ask why Maltese authorities, especially those entrusted with tree protection, hate trees so much?

Part of the ditch was always under lock and key contributing to a rich biodiversity. When the doors were flung wide open, local entrepreneurs swooped on the EU funds and with political blessings and direction, destroyed and eliminated such natural habitat to create a ‘quality garden’.

The deepest end of the ditch offered new surprises. A historic low arch leads to a platform of deck timber, approximately 20 m by 15 m, raised on strong iron beams. Why such waste of resources? It was surrounded by membrane which was covered with white spalls, like those which recently were spread around part of Howard Gardens. The area previously embraced a rich meadow full of local wild flowers, similar to an adjacent area. Was such platform meant to obliterate any sign of wild flowers with determination and vengeance? Was it meant to spend every cent of EU funds, no mater how?

the ghost platform

  The ghost platform

Adjacent to the platform is a new low rubble wall built with the use of concrete. According to the Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Rubble Regulations, 1997, a rubble wall is a dry stone wall, built in loose, unhewn stones which stand by gravity and friction without the use of mortar.

Around such barren, jarring monster of architectural acumen, without any consideration for biodiversity, are a numbers of lamp holders. In this ‘quality garden’, lamp lights total 161: tall, short, ground and flood lightings. Good business, considering that for every 1.2 tree there is one lamp light. And one has to include the electric elevator in this ‘quality garden’.

Some of the different lighting on site

Some of the different lighting on site

Light pollution is impacting nocturnal life, as it does in any garden and its surroundings. The amount of energy and carbon emission used daily to light the whole area further expose unprofessional landscaping, the more so since the same ministry was also responsible for biodiversity, and for the reduction of carbon emissions thus cutting down on use of electricity, both according to EU obligations?

the triumphant caper

Capers raising their heads in victory

I was always under the impression that the bastions, badly needing restoration, were accomplished in a professional way. But my optimism was short lived. After barely twelve months of restoration, a line of capers dotting the cordon and facade of the bastions are triumphantly showing their heads in victory. The invasive cape sorrel is waving its bright yellow flowers in spite; while wall snapdragon sports white bed slippers for the planners and advisers.

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

These wild flowers have already reclaimed and won back their previous foothold on the bastions. In a couple of year’s time, say five or six years, the restored bastions would once again have surrender to this vegetation, notwithstanding the 6 million euro injected from EU funds.

white snapdragon

A good opportunity has been missed. Was it bad workmanship? Was it unprofessional advice? Was it lack of experience in such delicate works, or was it the urgency to officially open this ‘quality garden’ before the election which contributed to such a waste of resources?

In such a ‘quality garden’ the lack of professional planning and environment management is supreme. Yet those responsible had the audacity to etch their names in stone on the monstrous black plaque. It is a shame that MEPA’s contribution is not also acknowledged. Neither is the EU who footed the bill.

During my two hour visit, the ‘quality garden’ felt more like a cemetery. I must admit though I saw one cabbage white and one red admiral butterfly, about a score of sparrows, and half a dozen people!

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars

I looked at this ‘quality garden’ from the heavily frequented professionally planned, though miserably managed, Howard Gardens above. I stared aimlessly, and could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars, in a grab, suck dry and go project. I can never come to terms with professionals claiming integrity who are on the wrong side of a decision. When wrong becomes right, nothing can be wrong anymore, and once this gathers momentum, nothing can stop it. Regrettably this mentality is gathering momentum at a very fast rate.

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second”. (John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

March 9, 2013

times

Saturday, March 9, 2013 by

Juan Ameen

Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

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

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

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

1. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

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

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

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and brmable

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and bramable

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

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

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

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

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

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

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

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

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

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

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

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

8. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Consistent follow-up was required for sustainable management.

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

 

Further reading:

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/