No future for Maltese trees

June 23, 2020

Monday, 22nd June, 2020

No future for Maltese trees

Alfred E Baldacchino

The feeling that indigenous Maltese trees and biodiversity have no future is increasing from day to day, despite national and international obligations.

There are four ministers who are involved with trees and biodiversity: Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg; Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, and Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia.

A 100 year old indigenous Holm Oak chopped by the Ministry. Could easily have been saved, but it is not an electricity pole.

The minister under whose watch biodiversity loss is increasing by leaps and bounds is without doubt Borg. To add insult to injury the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is importing a number of ‘indigenous’ trees, only for political numerical reasons: planted, some in pots, or distributed to local councils.

No biodiversity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases and the contamination of the local gene pool; just a waste of resources which could be used for the benefit of a new local industry propagating indigenous trees.

The tarmacking and concreting of valley paths, the cosmetic rubble walls, built with EU funds, further add to biodiversity loss.

If there was a reward for a politician who contributed so much to biodiversity loss, the transport minister would win it hands down. History will surely document this.

Ian Borg’s rubble walls: more concrete, iron netting and no ecological niches, so diametric opposite to Legal Notice 169 of 2004. And they are still not covered by a top concrete layering.

The 15-year-old notorious ELC, pocketing €8 million per year, introducing invasive species all over, ignoring the EU Environment Acquis, mutilating a number of street trees, is now under the auspices of the Minister for Tourism. This ministry’s vision on biodiversity is also based on the importation of more trees.

Agriculture Minister Refalo is responsible for the phytosanitary of trees and other flora. There is never a word to protect indigenous trees from risks by importation of so many foreign imports.

No biodivesity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases

Environment Minister Farrugia has the utmost responsibility regarding protection and management of trees and biodiversity.

The protected Elderberry tree left for dying at the Central Link Project, Attard, by Ian Borg’s Ministry, irrispective of ERA conditions or not.

His Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) is the focal point and competent authority of the European Union with regard to biodiversity.

On paper, ERA is very professional and publishes regulations and guidelines on biodiversity to honour EU obligations, and declares Natura 2000 sites, though left unmanaged, such as Buskett. In practice it is almost non-existent. Nobody takes any notice of these. The tree protection regulations and guidelines, and the way trees are being decimated all over the islands, by ERA’s permits or not, are there for one and all to see..

The Environment Ministry dishes out €30,000 to local councils to plant trees. Not a bad idea, but not when lists of imported exotics, some invasive trees are given to choose from, and conditions imposed to plant some in pots, as if to accommodate somebody.

During summer months these can be seen either parched dry, or on the verge of kissing their roots goodbye. In Attard the potted trees have been changed once or more.  The roots and soil in the pots become so hot that it would be a miracle if trees survive.

Ambjent Malta, once in the portfolio of the Environment Ministry, was short-lived.  These had the foresight to start a nursery to propagate Maltese biodiversity. But the change of hands at Castille saw that this was disbanded. The only remnant is the livery on vehicles they used. Ambjent Malta was also supposed to manage Natura 2000 sites.

If the government has the will to honour its electoral manifesto and the European Union Environment Acquis, it would not have fragmented such responsibilities in a way to make nobody accountable.

There is no will, no intention, no desire, no vision, no plan, no sensitivity to rise to such a national socioecological responsibility. Only the dictatorial urge to destroy, for political commercial purposes, some with EU funds.

Financial resources, managed by the environment minister, can contribute to a professional set up to see to the conservation of local biodiversity.

We need to do away with the present scenario where ministers compete with one another on who imports most trees, destroying Maltese indigenous ones in the process.

What future does all this offer to Maltese indigenous trees? No wonder that many are concluding that the government has a road map to make Malta the Easter Island in the Mediterranean!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino, former MEPA Assistant director

 

related articles: 

A tree, a Minister and the EU

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment hit by EU funds

The environmental destruction of Malta

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 


Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

The news of the restoration of Wied il-Qlejgħa, alias Chadwick lakes, is good news. Not least because the ‘cleaning of valleys’ has been put to bed.

The largest dam at Wied il-Qlejgħa in all its glory

The measures highlighted in the media for such restoration are also something to look forward to, namely: restoration of dilapidated rubble walls; removal of the playing area; removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna; removal of accumulated sediment behind dams; restoration and utilisation of the Fiddien pumping station; and the planning of walking trails.

Dilapidated rubble walls – not an uncommon site after some heavy rainfall

Valleys in the Maltese islands are a sensitive ecological areas – much ignored, unappreciated and abused. These have been abandoned and mismanaged for years, making their restoration more delicate. They are dried river beds, once adorned with dwarf hippopotamus and endemic swan. Climate change reduced these rich fresh water habitats to what they are today.

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.

 

Dilapidated rubble walls is the first item that should be addressed, thus stopping soil erosion, one of the main culprits for the filling up of the dams.

The use of gabbjuni (big cages) to repair/replace rubble walls should not even be considered. A look at the 30-year-old gabbjuni installed along the valley, shows how barren they are. Not even the tenacious invasive cape sorell (l-ingliża) has managed to colonise any of them.

The play area in the midst of willow trees. Now who would have thought of this?

The removal of the playing area in the midst of the valley is a sine qua non. I wonder who was the architect who conceived this idea in the middle of one of the largest valley in the Maltese Islands!

Alien invasive eucalyptus trees dominate the valley. One might have to tread careful here because these can be protected by the latest tree protection regulations issued by ERA.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and  fauna is another step in the right direction.

No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour. It is not just bulldozing them on the lines of how the Ministry of Transport bulldozes trees. The invasive species of flora have to be gradually removed  in some areas, while being replaced by indigenous species.

Invasive species growing in Wied il-Qlejgħa include: she oak (less than a dozen), castor oil trees (less than 100), acacias and eucalyptus (more than a score and twenty of each species).

Their removal has to be professional so as not to contribute further to their dispersal. This applies mainly to the castor oil tree which has to be uprooted, and burned on site thus eliminating the possibility of giving it a free ride and opportunity to its seeds to germinate on new reclaimed grounds.

Furthermore, indigenous species which grow in the valley, such as poplar trees, willows, almond trees, lentisks, olive trees, chaste trees,  should not be mistaken for invasive species and removed. Not a far-fetched concern.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna is another step in the right direction. No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour

On the other hand, the notorious lately introduced red swamp crayfish also abounds in the valley, detrimental to any fresh aquatic life such as indigenous painted frog and its tadpole, dragonflies and water beetles larvae. The person who introduced such alien species, should be chained to a poplar tree until the last crayfish is collected.

The indigenous poplar tree – adorns its natural habitat. No it is not dead.

On the other hand indigenous trees adapted to such a riverine habitat include the poplar tree, already established in the valley, willow (two species also established), chaste tree (of which there is half a dozen) and rare species of ash and elm.

AmbjentMalta can start propagating them immediately so that they will be readily available for planting as standard trees as soon as a parcel of the valley has been restored.

There are also a number of indigenous flora, some  rare and scarce aquatic species, such as water cress, sanicle-leaved water crowfoot, and bulbous buttercup. Others not so rare are greater plantain, creeping cinquefoil, rushes and sedges.

Rare and scarce aquatic plants whose seeds aestivate in the sediment. (Photos by Stephen Mifsud).

 

Another delicate exercise is the removal of debris, and sediment accumulated behind the two main water dams. Presumably, one would think, this would be undertaken during the hot summer months when the cisterns are dry. This means that the top layer of the sediment will be full of seeds and ova of species frequenting the aquatic habitat. The collecting of approximately 15 cm of scraped surface sediment to be redeposited in the restored parts, would contribute to the survival of these rare species.

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

The valley bottom is constantly being abused by off-roading motorbikes as one can see from the erosion of footpaths and fresh tyre marks.

One of the shallow dams closest to Fiddien has also been damaged to make easier access.

Modern environment friendly public access gate

So the suggestions for walking trails is another positive approach, especially if these are somewhat raised from the ground, for the convenience of wild fauna.

Furthermore, public access gates can be installed along the way, as a measure for controlling bikes – motor or manual.

I know that if Dr Daniel Micallef, one of the few politicians with environment at heart, could see this, I am sure he would send some people to hell.

The Fiddien box, which was restored during the time when Daniel Micallef was Minister for Education and Environment, has long been vandalised and the heavy water pump has seemingly disappeared – hopefully taken by the Water Services Corporation for safe keeping?

The plans for their restoration and educational use is also another positive step.

The second dam, needing some structural repairs, still contributes its best for the storage of water, before it passes it to Wied tal-Isperanza.

Once restoration works are completed, the valley has to be monitored and managed. Traffic management tops the list.

This will ensure that the number of vehicles frequently jamming the area on public holidays and Sundays will not bring such restoration to naught by their haphazard parking. So it would be beneficial to one and all if the road through the valley is made one way: from Imtarfa to Mosta.

The farming community can have an identification permit displayed on car windscreens, to allow them to use it both ways during working days.

The proof of this EU funded pudding is in the eating.

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/xqed-naghmlu-bl-ilma-tax-xita/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/water-harvesting-culture/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/aghmel-xita-aghmel-2/

 

 

 


Question time

October 22, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 22nd October, 1946

cleaner-and-greener-header

Alfred E Baldacchino

Afforestation is beneficial to society, to the ecosystem and also economically if this is undertaken in a professional way. The economic, ecological, and social benefits are priceless. It contributes to better health conditions, reduces stress, contributes to storage of water, and reduces erosion. In some countries afforestation is included in their gross national product.

buskett-h-004-16-05-14

What everybody is wishing, and hoping and waiting for, but…

Afforestation contributes to the control of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres and gives back the indispensable life bearing oxygen, thus also addressing Climate Change which is having such a tremendous social, economic and ecological negative impacts on life on this planet.

But to be able to plan with determination and achieve such noble aims these benefits have got to be appreciated and understood.

The fact that a report on afforestation has remained on the shelf for two long years clearly shows that there is no political will, no political desire or determination, no political appreciation, no political understanding, no political awareness of the responsibility in taking any action towards the achievement of such benefits.

Not only so but the decimation of trees and the planting of exotics and invasive species going on unchecked, with political blessings also leads one to conclude that there is an official hate for indigenous trees in Malta.

No public consultation has been held on such a report. The only thing that has been done is the usual ‘animated cartoons’ showing where such afforestation projects can take place.

Furthermore, the much promised tree protection regulations, which go hand in hand with such afforestation projects, and which have been drafted three years ago under the previous Minister Leo Brincat, are still ‘being studied’ after being initially shot down by some technocrats. The new Minister during the House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Environment and Development Planning, some months ago promised that they will soon be out for public consultation.

What is holding the implementation of such an afforestation report and the accompanying regulations for the protection of trees and afforestation?

Without doubt the highest hurdle towards achieving such benefits in the national interest is the lack of political will. This is further extended to the many political advisers who are not au courant on related national and international obligations, if they are even aware of the government’s electoral manifesto.

From past experience, one can see how MEPA handled such biodiversity obligations, before it shed its “Malta and Environment” responsibilities and changed its clothing to a PA. One can also see the decisions being hurriedly taken by this PA, blindfoldedly approving developmental permits without any concerns for anyone or anything, except developers.

It also seems that ERA, after three years in limbo, has been so blinded by the light of day that it cannot even find its own two feet and seems to be still under the beck and call of its past bedfellow. Could the implementation of such an afforestation report be seen as a stumbling block to the PA?

Sometimes I honestly hope that such an afforestation report is kept on the shelf and postponed sine die by the Minister for the Environment.  I believe that if it were to be implement with the political expertise he is dependent on, it would be another brick in the wall towards the further massacre of the environment, both with regards to the choice of species, and also with the now institutionalised pro-business vision, leading to the importation of indigenous trees used for such project because of pressure from ‘landscapers’. All contrary to international obligations such as the EU Environment Acquis, the Berne Convention, its recommendations and decisions, and also the Biodiversity Convention.

sleeping-dog-cartoon

… unfortunately

Where there is a will there is a way. Naturally where there is NO will there is NO way, afforestation or not. So the best step forward is to let sleeping dogs lie.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

For the views of the Dr Josè Herrera, Minister for sustainable development, the Environment and Climate Change see the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161022/opinion/Cleaner-and-greener.628708#.WAtVEVbhyoc.email

See also the following articles on my blog:

Another buskett onslaught

Trees butchered at university

Yet another toothless dog

Trees and invasive species

There is no respite for trees

The national wonders of tree pruning in Malta

Alien invasive species animation film