EU funds endanger Buskett N2K site

May 13, 2017

Saturday, 13th May, 2017

Endangering Buskett 
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is a Tree Protection Area, with some trees protected for their antiquity, a scheduled woodland, an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, a Site of European Importance, a Special Area of Conservation, a Bird Protection Area, and above all an EU Natura 2000 site.

The remains of an Ash Tree, after being handled by a Landscaper, in the Natura 2000 Buskett.

Yet, to date Buskett has never been professionally managed, especially on the lines of EU obligations. Never. There is absolutely no will, no vision, and no professional commitment. To the extent that a past environment minister was made to believe that Buskett is a garden. There were plans to transform this important ecological habitat into a ‘quality garden’ on the lines eventually implemented at the Mdina Ditch.

One would have thought that this was just a political flash in the pan by a gullible politician who was taken in by those with commercial interests. But to this day, professional environmental responsibilities still have not reached the level of Cabinet’s political acumen.

The only type of management approved by the Authority for the Protection of the Environment is the chopping down of protected trees, such as this one in Buskett – A Natura 2000 site.

As an EU member, Malta had to have management plans implemented for all Natura 2000 sites by six years after accession. This deadline was not met.

Following public consultations, later approved by the government, and boasted about by the incumbent Minister for the Environment, management plans are not yet implemented, and it seems they will never be.

A recent visit to Buskett revealed the complete political failure, lack of professionalism and irresponsibility with regards to the management of this important EU Natura 2000 site.

Clearance of important natural habitat in a Natura 2000 site to restore of a rubble wall.

An extensive area of maquis was recklessly bulldozed and obliterated to enable the restoration of a rubble wall. While the restoration of rubble walls is necessary, and those in hand are being professionally built, this can never justify the massacre of flora and fauna: habitat and species of European importance.

The rich maquis habitat as it was before it was bulldozed with the blessing of the Ministry for the Environment.

I wandered around Buskett and I could see piles of earth and stones dumped on sensitive habitats: habitats important for rare and endangered species, all listed in the data sheets sent to the EU to justify the importance of such a Special Area of Conservation of European Interest.

A butchered Ash Tree where, a couple of weeks before, I was photographing its new seeds.

Piles of stones and earth dumped on sensitive habitat in this EU Natura 2000 site.

It is heartbreaking to see two protected and rare hawthorn trees that were chopped from ground level to make way for machinery, earth and stone dumping. A rare protected ash tree was heavily butchered.

Unfortunately European Union funds are being mismanaged, endangering an important sensitive habitat which according to EU legislation, the Minister for the Environment is obliged to protect on behalf of Malta and the EU.

According to the EU Habitats Directive (article 6.3), an appropriate assessment has to be drawn up for any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 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 the EU Habitats Directive (the Environment and Resource Authority – ERA) shall eventually 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. ERA is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the general public.

Two mature protected hawthorn trees in this Natura 2000 site, 2.5 metres high, were raised to the ground seemingly by the approval of the Ministry for the Environment and ERA 

Can the minister publish the appropriate assessment made (naturally if it has been done), which enabled the ERA board to approve such works in this important Natura 2000 site?

If not available, then ERA approved such works blindfolded, which is very irresponsible, or else the ministry is in complete darkness of its responsibility, and its personnel is on a wild unmonitored spree to obliterate a delicate natural habitat just to restore a rubble wall. Ironically, posters at Buskett advertise these works as an EU-funded Life Saving Project.

It seems that following the acquiring of EU funds, the most important thing is to nail a poster acknowledging EU. How these funds are spent, and whether they are in line with the obligations of the EU Environment Acquis, is not important, not even to the Ministry.

Considering the fact that the minister’s Environment and Resource Authority board is made up of the cream of the crop of Maltese academics, such officially approved ecological damage with EU funds is worse than one can image, both from a professional, an administrative and a political point of view.

60 mature olive trees were chopped down by the approval and financing of the University of Malta, following populist demands. So if it can be done on the University campus, why not on public land?

It reminds me of the massacre of 60 established olive trees on the university campus, where no one batted an eye. We now have to suffer this ecological destruction in a Special Area of Conservation of national and European importance. Seems that academic qualifications today at best are of secondary importance when one sits on a political board.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications, approved not only by politicians but also by the top academic institution of this unfortunate country that seems to sit and tacitly approve?

This is a glaring declaration of total failure of the ministry’s obligations with regards to the protection of the environment. It seems that the latest environment ministers, one from either side of the local political hegemony, are competing among themselves as to who is the most committed to the destruction of biodiversity.

It would do no harm to remind, once again, the environmental promise contained in the 2013 electoral manifesto:

“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.”

A visit to Buskett where this EU Natura 2000 site is being endangered by EU funds, shows not only how an environmental regulator did never exist in the past, but also how the present one is working diametrically opposite to what has been promised and contrary to national and international obligations. Not only is it not functioning, but it is officially involved in such ecological damage.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications?

The minister has gone on record as saying that he has a “sound environmental policy”. Buskett Natura 2000 site, shows the lack of a will to protect biodiversity, as promised, all the result of such a “sound environmental policy”.

 

The result of the ‘sound environmental policy’ with which some are very proud.  Seeing all the above official ecological damage, this is the best diplomacy I could manage. And I am sure there are many others who feel the way I do.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

see also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/another-buskett-onslaught/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/buskett-%e2%80%93-a-special-area-of-conservation-in-the-eu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/il-buskett/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/a-cash-cow-in-the-ditch/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-garden-at-mdina-ditch-officially-inaugurated/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/


Il-masterplan għal Paceville

December 4, 2016

il-mument

Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Diċembru 2016

Amy Borg

Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ

F’intervista ma’ il-mument, Alfred E. Baldacchino jitkellem dwar il-konflitti ta’ interess fix-xogħol biex sar il-masterplan għal Paceville, fuq min taqa’ r-responsabbiltà u x’għandha tkun it-triq ‘il quddiem hekk kif ħamest ijiem oħra jagħlaq il-periodu tal-konsultazzjoni pubblika li kellha tiġġedded minħabba l-protesti u l-ilmenti tar-residenti u sidien ta’ negozji.

Kif għandu jsir masterplan għal Paceville? 

Paceville kiber mingħajr ebda pjan, għalhekk hemm bżonn wieħed illum qabel għada. Dan ma jfissirx li għandu jsir fuq xewqat dojoq kummerċjali mingħajr ħjiel ta’ risponsabbiltajiet soċjali, kummerċjali, saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika, ambjentali fis-sens wiesa’ kollha tal-kelma, kif ukoll għajxien ħieni u anki obbligi, kemm nazzjonali u internazzjonali, li l-pajjiż għandu.

Waqt laqgħa ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Ambjent, l-Awtorita’ għall-Ippjanar stiednet lill-konsulenti barranin li għamlu l-masterplan. Ma taħsibx li dawn kellhom jiltaqgħu mal-pubbliku qabel fassluh?

Fi kliem il-konsulenti barranin stess, dawn għamlu dak li ġew mitluba jagħmlu u xejn iżjed. Qalu li ma ħadux inkonsiderazzjoni ebda studju jew risponsabbiltà tal-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, tal-externalities, jiġifieri dawk il-piżijiet u l-prezzijiet ekonomiċi moħbija; u ma taw l-ebda kas tal-ħsibijet, suġġerimenti, xewqat tal-istakeholders, lanqas tar-residenti.

F’kelma waħda dawn ma għamlu l-ebda konsiderazzjoni socioambjentali. Dan juri n-nuqqas ta’ responsabbilta’ u l-faqar tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’dan il-qasam, minkejja li hija mħallsa minn flus pubbliċi u mmexxija minn akkademiċi li suppost jifhmu u jafu li huma għandhom responsabbiltà lejn il-poplu Malti li qed iħallashom.

Taħseb li l-politiku għandu jerfa responsabbilità wara li ħareġ li jista’ jkun hemm konflitt ta interess għall-kumpanija li ntagħżlet mill-Gvern?

F’pajjiż demokratiku, il-politiċi magħżula mill-poplu jmexxu f’isem il-poplu li fdalhom ir-responsabbiltà. Dawn għandhom jagħmluh b’diskuzzjonijiet wiesgħa biex il-poplu kollu jħossu li huwa parti mid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu. Hekk dawn ikunu magħġuna biex ikunu ta’ ġid ekonomiku, soċjali u ambjentali, għall-ġid ta’ kulħadd.

Għandhom jaraw ukoll li dawk li jmexxu entitajiet uffiċjali f’isem il-poplu, jimxu fuq dan il-prinċipju. Għalhekk, il-politiku li fi ħdan il-portfolio tiegħu taqa’ l-entità li tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huwa l-bniedem responsabbli politikament. Barra minn hekk, jekk dan il-politikant ma jerfax ir-responsabbiltà tiegħu, allura l-Kabinett huwa kollettivament responsabbli.

Allura x’kellu jkun l-irwol tal-Awtorità għall-Ippjanar fit-tħejjija għall-masterplan ta Paceville? 

pa-cartoon

Il-viżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar Maltija, imneżża minn kull viżjoni ambjentali u soċjali.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hija magħmula minn nies akkademiċi u b’esperjenza f’dan il-qasam, imħallsa minn flus pubbliċi, bir-responsabbiltà individwalment u kollettivament, li jaraw li deċiżjonijiet li jittieħu minnhom ikunu fl-interess nazzjonali, jiġifieri, fl-interess kollettiv wiesa’ soċjali, ekonomiku u ambjentali.

L-Awtorità għandha l-obbligu li tisma’, u tagħmilha ħafif u xejn diffiċli biex dawk l-istakeholders kollha li għandhom xi interess fuq is-suġġett, ikunu jistgħu jwasslu s-suġġerimenti u l-kummenti tagħhom, il-biżgħat u l-ħsibijiet tagħhom biex minn imexxi jkun jista’ jieħu deċiżjoni fl-interess ta’ poplu.

Milli wieħed jista’ jara, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar aktar ixxaqleb lejn idejat kummerċjali milli għandha xi interess minimu dwar l-ambjent jew li tagħti xi widen lill-leħen tal-poplu.

X’taħseb dwar il-high rise buildings f’dan il-masterplan?

Dan il-viżjoni tal-high rise buildings saret qisha ossessjoni, bħal ta’ dak it-tifel li ma joqgħodx kwiet sakemm bis-sewwa jew bid-dnewwa jaħtaf dak li jrid. Il-ftit studju li sar juri li dawn ma humiex adattati għal Malta mill-aspett soċjoekonomiku. Ma nafux x’effett sejrin ikollhom fuq il-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, fuq is-saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika tal-poplu u fuq il-kummerċ taż-żgħir, fuq ir-riżorsi naturali tal-pajjiż, u anki fuq il-biodiversità.

Dan it-tip ta’ żvilupp, dejjem bl-għerf tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fit-tmun, inħoss li aktar huwa bħal xi ħadd li jrid jimla’ vażett li jesa’ litru b’għaxar litri. Il-ħela ta’ riżorsi wkoll iddgħajjef l-istruttura ekonomika, soċjali u ambjentali li diġà teżisti.

Minn dik il-laqgħa l-pubbliku qajjem diversi kwistjonijiet u rabja wkoll. X’tikkumenta?

Veru li matul il-laqgħa tal-Kumitat Parlamentari msemmija kien hemm rabja li wasslet ukoll għall-ibbujjar. Din l-imġieba jien ma naqbelx magħha. Imma mill-banda l-oħra meta wħud iħossuhom marsusa f’rokna, imżebilha, iffrustati, ikkalpestati, inġurjati, u jaraw ħwejjiġhom li jistgħu jittieħdu għar-rejba tal-ftit, f’rapport uffiċjali li sewa €300,000, din hija r-reazzjoni li wieħed jistenna’ b’mod naturali. Aktar u aktar meta dan ir-rapport huwa mħallas minn flus pubbliċi li anki l-istakeholders mingħajr ma kienu jafu minn qabel, ħallsu għalih mingħajr ma kellhom l-iċken kontribut.

X’tikkumenta dwar kif wieġbu l-konsulenti barranin għall-mistoqsijiet tal-pubbliku?

Wieħed seta’ jara li l-konsulenti barranin kienu imbarazzati sewwa. Tant hu hekk, li meta kienu ssikkati bil-mistoqsijiet, qalu li huma għamlu dikjarazzjoni verbali lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li kien hemm studji li l-kumpanija tagħhom għamlet għal xi żviluppatur li x-xewqat tiegħu dehru fil-masterplan.

Qalu wkoll b’mod ċar li kull masterplan ma jistax jirnexxi jekk ma jkunx hemm studji dwar l-externalities. Komplew żiedu li huma għamlu dak li ġew mitluba biss. Ma għamlu l-ebda studji li juru l-externalities tal-masterplan. Lanqas ma ngħatalhom xi rapport jew ħjiel tal-biżgħat tal-istakeholdres.

Dawn iwasslu biex ir-rapport xejn ma jidher profesjonali. L-istess bħal dak taż-Żonqor f’Marsaskala. Ħadmu fuq tagħrif mogħoddi lilhom mill-klient, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u tawh ftit kulur, dehra sabiħa u firma.

X’nuqqasijiet fih il-masterplan?

aeb-quote

Fir-rigward tal-qasam kummerċjali goff, ma hemm xejn nieqes: perfett. Ma nstema’ l-ebda kumment kontra dan il-masterplan minn dan is-settur. Minn naħa tal-istakeholders (mhux qed ninkludi lil ERA bħala stakeholder) mhux talli ma kienx hemm nuqqasijiet, talli ma kien hemm xejn li jitkellem fuq l-impatti negattivi ekonomiċi, soċjali u ambjentali: kemm fuq ġewwa tal-masterplan, kemm tal-madwar, kif ukoll tal-pajjiż kollu. Bil-PA fit-tmun ma niskanta xejn. Anżi nistennihom.

L-ERA għada ma tidherx u bla vuċi. U qed jingħad li ma tistax tappella għax l-ERA qiegħda fuq il-board tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar!

Li kieku kelli niddeskrivi dan il-masterplan, kont ngħidlu Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ.

Taħseb li l-ħsibijiet ta kulħadd jistgħu jkunu inkorporati fil-masterplan bla ma jkun hemm kunflitti bejn parti jew oħra?

Kif qalu l-konsulenti barranin, l-ebda masterplan ma jista’ jirnexxi mingħajr studji dwar l-externalities tiegħu. U kif qalu wkoll, ma kien hemm l-ebda talba minn għand il-klient tagħhom, il-Planning Authority, li suppost tippreżenta l-interessi tal-poplu, biex huma jagħmlu dan. Jekk il-mastserplan, bħal kull deċiżjoni oħra, ma jkollux, ma jiħux u ma jkunx irid jieħu l-kummenti ta’ kull stakeholder, din tkun deċiżjoni imposta fuq kulħadd.

Mingħajr dubju, il-kummenti, is-suġġerimenti u l-ħsibijiet tal-istakeholders jwassalu biex ikollhom sehem fid-deċiżjoni biex ikunu jistgħu jgħidu li huma parti mid-deċiżjoni li tkun fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Dan ma tantx jidher li huwa l-interess tal-Planning Authority.

Il-Gvern qed jisħaq li qed joffri lill-pubbliku politika dwar l-ambjent b’saħħitha. Taqbel?

Dan smajtu. U anki qrajtu. Imma ma nista’ naraħ imkien, la fid-deċiżjonijet u lanqas fi proġetti.

Meta niftakar fiż-Żonqor f’Marsascala; fi pjani mressqa mill-MEPA li dgħajfu jew ħattew kull pjan li kien hemm u li fuqu setgħet kompliet tinbena l-politika ambjentali; fil-landscaping imsejjes fuq siġar eżotiċi importati bi dħul ta’ mard u speċi invażivi, ma nistax ma ngħidx li din hija aktar politika ta’ konvenjenża milli politika ta’ konvinżjoni.

Meta nqis li ħafna minn dawn l-attivitajiet huma mħallsa minn flus pubblici u bi ftehimiet sigrieti, ma nafx kif xi ħadd serju jista’ jsejjah din bħala politika ambjentali b’saħħitha.  Aktar naraha bħala waħda msewwsa b’deċiżjonijiet ta’ viżjoni kummerċjali mgħammda bil-barka uffiċjali.

X’għandha tkun il-politika dwar l-ambjent għall-pajjiżna?

Politika ambjentali b’saħħitha hija msejjsa fuq qafas li jiġbor fih id-direttivi, ir-regolamenti, u d-deċiżjonijiet kollha tal-Unjoni Ewropa. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali li tinjora dan il-qafas.

Lanqas ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent tkun maħkuma mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u fejn anki  tlaqqa’ l-poplu għall-konsultazzjoni meta d-deċiżjoni tkun diġà meħuda, u xi kultant il-bidu tal-iżvilupp ikun diġà beda.

Dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet għandhom ikunu awtonomi u jaħdmu f’isem il-poplu u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri mingħajr ebda indħil. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn dawn l-awtoritajiet aktar ikunu lesti biex jogħġbu lill-politikant milli biex jaqdu dmirhom lejn il-poplu u l-pajjiż.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Ara ukoll

Paceville’s hide and seek – https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/pacevilles-hide-and-seek/


Use and overuse of pesticides

March 4, 2016

Reference is made to the letter on ‘The pesticide levels’, by Marcel Pizzuto, chairman of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affair Authority (Febr 4).

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160204/letters/The-pesticide-levels.601173

We would like to bring the following to his attention and to the attention of everyone concerned.

We asked for a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes, regarding the use and overuse of insecticides, even in roads and roundabouts. These are affecting the population of honey bees and the flora they depend on.dead bee 3

We also wanted to bring up the subject that foreign honey products were being sold and labelled as products of Malta. This is unfair competition and affects local honey bees and honey producers.

We were met by the parliamentary secretary’s chief of staff on July 17, 2014, and told most of the matters did not fall under their remit. We were referred to the Customs Department. He undertook to assist in any way possible, but this did not lead anywhere.

dead bee 6So we met the Director of Customs on August 25, 2014, and explained to him the above. We were also told that some of the subjects were not under his remit and we were referred to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

dead bee 8On August 28, 2014, we wrote the permanent secretary at the Health Ministry about the matter. Since no reply or acknowledgement was received, we sent a reminder, dated September 28, 2014. All to no avail.

dead bee 11On September 15, 2014, we met the acting director general and his legal adviser at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority and discussed the matters mentioned above.

Once again, we were told the subject did not concern the regulator but was more related to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

dead bee 7But, during the meeting, the acting director general undertook to organise an inter-departmental meeting between all the stakeholders who apparently had some say in the matter to determine the way forward. An inter-departmental meeting had to be held with representatives of the Environmental Health Directorate, the Trade Directorate and the Agriculture secretariat.

                    “Nobody can be blamed for                                            thinking the worst under the circumstances”
We wrote again to the acting director general and to his lawyer (Consumer Affairs) on January 12, 2015, and copied the letter to, among others, the MCCAA chairman, the head of secretariat at Agriculture and the parliamentary Ombudsman, asking for a reply.

dead bee 7Two days later, we were informed that a reply was being prepared by MCCAA. A reply dated January 16, 2015, was indeed received. The letter only served to shed light on the fragmentation between government entities, leading to a failure to take concrete action.

dead bee 13Then, on January 20, 2015, we were informed that the matter was referred to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

killed by public funds

The result of unnecessary spraying of herbicides and pesticides paid out of public funds.

On February 6, 2015, the attention of the negative impacts of weed killers were referred to the chairman of the Environmental Landscapes Consortium. We received a letter from the office of the permanent secretary at the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, stating that “ELC feels that any complaints regarding the use of herbicides and weed killers should be addressed to the authorities concerned”.

Following our efforts, which we believe public entities should be doing in the first place, can the MCCAA chairman please inform us whether the regulator is really interested and willing to investigate unfair trade?

 

herbicide 2

Spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the countryside, also paid out of public funds.

Are any of the authorities in general (especially those responsible for the environment, health and agriculture) interested in the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the effect of this on the public’s health, which, in turn, affects our economy too (sick people are unproductive, apart from needing treatment)?

We would also like to highlight that, since our initial efforts, herbicides are still being sprayed uncontrolled, biodiversity, including bees, is still being decimated, and unfair competition – from products being sold as ‘local’ when they are anything but – is still ongoing.

dead bee 15We fully agree with the MCCAA chairman that: “Finally, one would have thought that before publishing such an article in the Times of Malta which could alarm consumers unnecessarily, verification would have been carried out to ensure that this was the result of an interview in order to ensure that a factual picture is given to its readers.”

However, this does not justify the blatant lack of concrete action by the government (collectively) to safeguard the environment, to safeguard our health and also to help preserve the business of genuine Maltese artisans. Nobody can be blamed for thinking the worst under the circumstances.

bexx-f'mater-dei

More waste of resources at the expense of the public and biodiversity – also paid out of public funds.

The problems we are highlighting require a concerted effort and concrete collective commitment if they are to be resolved. Maybe the MCCAA chairman is willing to take the initiative in this respect. This was mentioned at the meetings held on July 17, 2014, and September 15, 2014, but to no avail.

dead bee 16

If the documentation we have at our end would help the authorities in any way, we would gladly oblige.

Ivan Mifsud is a lawyer and Alfred Baldacchino is an environmentalist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ara wkoll:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

 


Bee-eater is not to blame for decline in honey bees

October 27, 2015

times of malta

Monday, october 26, 2015

Bee-eater is not to blame for decline in honey bees

Sarah Carabott

 http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151026/local/bee-eater-is-not-to-blame-for-decline-in-honey-bees.589691

bee-eater

The colourful bee-eater bird is gracing the Island in increasingly larger numbers, but despite its name It is not the main cause of a recent decline in the honey bee population.

The biggest klllers of honey bees are in fact pesticides and insecticides, sprayed in the open, according to environmentallst Alfred Baldacctilno. These substances, he said, were not only terminating bees but studies had shown that the affected bees were passing on the chemicals to the honey when they flew back to their beehives.

Mr Baldacchino was speaking to this newspaper followlng complalnts from some beekeepers that this species of bird was increasingly feeding off their bees.

The bee-eater has recently started extending its stay in Malta because although It has always been a protected species, it used to be one of the most sought after. Followlng harsher enforcement and greater awareness, it is no longer hunted, Mr Baldacchlno said.

But he defended the bee-eater, saying it did not just feed on bees but also ate other insects, including the oriental hornet, which recently drew fears in urban areas. And as part of the natural ecological cycle, it actually ate old or weak bees, freeing the colony of this burden.

This was reiterated by ornithologist Natalino Fenech, who said that according to Libyan studies, bee-eaters rendered a service to bees by catching the sick and elderly ones.

The study also showed that bee-eaters went instrumental in limiting the spread of some insect pests as well as reducing the spread of different types of wasps and beewolf.

Mr Fenech acknowledged there had been an increase in the number of bee-eaters spotted in Malta because they were no longer shot at and because populations in Sicily had grown.

He explained that the bee-eater fed on all flying insects – from bees to moths, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and wasps. Photos taken by wildlife photographer Shuki Chefed this summer in Israel even shows a bee-eater trying to swallow a bat.

The biggest killers of honey bees are

in fact pesticides and insecticides

Still, it was not the only bird that ate bees – sparrows, starlings, several warblers as well as II-Merill, or blue rock thrush, did so too at certain times of the year.

Keepers who are worried about the bee-eaters feeding on some of their bees should avoid queening during peak migrations, from late March till mid-April, and in mid-September, he advised.

They should also avoid putting beehive boxes close to or under trees or overhead cables as bee-eaters like to pounce on flying insects from these perches.

Mr Baldacchino’s concern about pesticides was echoed by Michael Muscat, one of the 200 registered bee-keepers in Malta.

2015.10.26---Bee-eater-is-not-to-blame-for-decline-in-honey-bees---timesofmalta_Page_1Mr Muscat, who currently has about 70 colonies, said: “The biggest enemy of bees is the indiscriminate spraying of insecticides and pesticides, especially in the morning, at the peak of pollination.”

According to studies carried out abroad, pesticide and insecticide are the primary culprits of what is known as the colony collapse disorder, which is when the majority of worker bees in a colony abandon the hive because they get disorientated, leaving behind the brood (bee larvae) and stores.

Studies have also shown that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticide, significantly harms the colonies and is the major contributing factor to CCD.

There are other culprits apart from pesticides, although their contribution to bee decline is smaller.

The varroa destructor is a parasite mite that attacks honey bees. In 1992, its importation destroyed some three quarters of the colonies in Malta and Gozo. The bee-keepers have recovered since then.

Another culprit is the hornet, whose population recently exploded in some areas, Mr Muscat said. One particular colony in the Ta’ Xbiex was so severely depleted of foraging bees, because of the hornets, that the colony collapsed.

As for the bee-eater, Mr Muscat said he could not trace the decline of the bee population in some of his apiaries to the bird but he knew of other keepers who have been hit.

See also:

Bees alert: it’s goodbye honey

il-Qerd in-naħal… u n-naħal

COMMENTS

Jay oatmon

To be truthful no one knows the reason for the bee decline – pesticides were not the cause previously (they were not used in the 1880’s or 1920’s) see below: –

http://news.natlonalgeographlc  …

“Today’s pollinator crisis, which has also hit Europe and now parts of Asia, is unprecedented. But honeybees  have done disappearing acts on and off for more than a century. posslbly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago In Egypt.

In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1980 & baffled farrners, and in 1995-1996 Pennsylvania keepers lost more than half of their colonies wtlhout a clear cause. The1980s and 19908 saw various new parasltes that hit bees hard;

Varoa and tracheal miles became major killers, and they continue to plague hives and keep beekeepers up at night.”

Edward Mallia

The fact that “pesticides were not the cause previously” does not meant that they cannot be an Important cause now. The data about the effects of neonicotinoids is pretty clear, clear enough to warrant a strong campaign against their use. This habit of looking for “the [one] reason” for any natural phenomenon has become a fool’s quest, much used by those interested mainly is avoiding any blame. We now know that effects on anlmal and plant communities are seldom single-cause alfalrs. If “pesticides were not the cause previously”, how would one account for the levels of glyphosate levels found in urine of subjects from aromd the EU? My level, from the-pesticide-free pastures of H’Attard, was the second highest found In EU wide samples.

Petar Pan

If the bee eater eats bees, it does not help the bees to multiply for surel

Manual Mangani

Not necessarily. If it subsists mainly on the older, weaker specimens, it could be helping the younger, healthier bees to thrive on more plentiful food sources.


Blinded by a pro-business vision – Alfred Baldacchino

June 21, 2015
 malta-todaySunday, 21 June 2015

Environment policy has been sacrificed in the name of short-sighted greed. Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, outlines how this was achieved

interviewed by Raphael Vassallo
 

Evidence for this was provided by none other than the CEO of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) at a parliamentary committee meeting last Monday: when he candidly admitted that the report authorising the selection of Zonqor Point for this project did not include any input from the environment Protection Directorate (EPD).

Alfred E. Baldacchino was present for that meeting, as he has been present for practically every environmental challenge to face Malta in recent years. I meet the former EPD assistant director at his Attard residence, and find him still re-living the arguments of Monday’s animated meeting.

Before turning to his complaints about the site-selection process, let’s talk a little about the site itself. Zonqor Point. Protestors were indignant to hear the place referred to by defenders of the project as a ‘wasteland’ and ‘dumpsite’. What is the significance of this area for people like Baldacchino?

alfred_baldacchino

Alfred E. Baldacchino (Photo: Ray Attard)

“My comments on the use – or rather, abuse – of this area are mainly based on the negative social and environmental aspects of this project. Because you cannot focus only on the social or environmental aspects; they go hand in hand. One might also add commercial aspects… but not on their own. Unfortunately, however, during last Monday’s discussion the project was being looked at just from a commercial point of view. And this is an official view of the project, by the competent authority: MEPA, which is still the authority responsible for the environment. And although the commercial returns, on their own, may be good, one cannot just ignore the social and environmental aspects. Because obviously, such a project will have externalities: hidden costs which eventually society and the environment will have to pay. Both socially, and ecologically…

This “greed”, he adds, has completely eliminated all social and environmental considerations from a decision which was taken almost as an obsession to develop this area.

“I like to base my arguments on the electoral manifesto of ‘the movement’. I won’t call it a ‘party’, because in my opinion, presently, it would be an insult to the Labour Party and to the concept of socialism. This is not a socialist party. It is a movement… in fact, the government never refers to itself as socialist. To use an environmentalist analogy: this is a socialist party genetically modified into a far right, capitalist movement. This is shown by the various decisions being taken, and also by the help it gets from official entities which are supposed to be qualified and responsible for the management of social and environmental matters…”

continued in part 2 on: http://wp.me/pL6Mk-T1

or

Read the full interview in MaltaToday

2015.06.21---zonqor-point

Żonqor Point which spurred civil society to make an environmental and social point in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Back from green Elba

June 20, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 20th June, 2015

Back from green Elba

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 Elba is a Mediterranean island slightly smaller than Malta. The population of the latter is 14 times that of Elba, which is only 30,000. We found ourselves in Elba at the invitation of two great Italian naturalist friends of ours: Francesco and Franca, the latter the director of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park which includes the seven main islands namely Elba, Isola del Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, Gorgona, and some of the minor islands and rock outcrops.

genista-safra

The yellow flower of the Spanish broom could be seen everywhere

Every possible time, we roamed the national park, admiring the biodivesity, the organisation and the efforts being made to ensure its protection. Along the winding paths of the park, despite not yet being the peak touristic season, we met a number of tourists from Germany, United Kingdom, USA, France, Russia, and mainland Italy, walking or cycling, all admiring the biodiveristy, history and the scenary of the archipelago.

mosaic-of-flowers

The wild flowers adorned the landscape; contrary to those in Malta which succumb to the officially approved and financed spraying with herbicides.

Elba is so green with vegetation. The bright yellow flowers of the Spanish broom were so beautiful against such a green background. The last wild specimen of Spanish broom which I can recall in the Maltese Islands in the vicinity of Girgenti, was burnt down to make way for a single vine. The wild flora on Elba is so familiar to ours: mallow bindweed, poppies, mullein, rock rose, mallow, myrtle, lentisk, buckthorn, evergreen oak, and others. The winding paths were dotted and adorned with the indigenous mallow bindweed: so beautiful.

In Elba, wild indigenous flowers are not sprayed by herbicides as happens in Malta, paid from public funds made available by the central and local governments.

znuber

The Aleppo Pine in all its splendour, as never seen in Malta due to the officially approved endemic ‘pruning’.

All around the trees looked so different from those growing at home. So green, so naturally shaped, so healthy, so beautiful, so beholding. These trees attract birds and their droppings but are not problematic to the residence; not a hindrance to the many restaurant tables laid out beneath them;  no problem to the adjacent buildings with their roots; in no way obscuring views of the horizon or the village fireworks,  or obscuring the vision of the papier mache statue of the patron saint during the village festa. These trees are professionally managed and not regarded as lamp posts, not butchered nor mutilated or decapitated or uprooted by public funds to politically accomodate somebody, despite political promises.

I had to constantly pinch myself into reality to  remind myself that I was not in Malta where such mismanagement of indigenous flora and decorative trees is approved by the Minister responsible for landscaping, or the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for local councils, all with the help or lack of action by the now notorious seemingly politically hijacked environmental watchdog, Mepa.

All around we could hear birds singing: goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins, and chaffinches. My first reaction was to search for the cages to see the birds. Again I forgot I wasn’t in Malta. The birds were in the trees above us, in the bushes in front of us or flying around us. All were busy with their nests.

During our walks we could also see and hear collared doves and turtle doves cooing, busy with their nests too. I held my breath hoping that no shotgun would blast the turtle doves during such a difficult and delicate time. Why did I have to constantly pull myself back to earth and adjust the imprinting from back home? A cultural shock perhaps! There was no politician trying to find loopholes to see how these could be shot or trapped!

swallow's-nest-in-bar

The famous friendly swallows nesting in the rafters of the village bar

In Pomonte, a remote silent small picturesque village, in the small square opposite the village church, we stopped for a breather. In two small adjacent restaurants, the rafters of the roofed terraces, offered adequate habitat for three pairs of swallows which were busy brooding the eggs in their nest – two naturally built nests and an artificial one placed specifically to attract them. We were only a maximum of three meters away from the nests, but the parent swallows were not concerned at all. They carried on with their procreative business.

In 1981 two pairs of house martin did build a nest under a stone balcony in the square opposite the Rotunda in Mosta. And they were the talk of the town. Neither the continuous traffic nor other activities in the square bothered them; except for the ground fireworks and petards of the village festa. The two pairs with their young abandoned the nests! But who would dare think that measures could have been taken to ensure that the village festa would not disrupt two nesting pair of birds. Certainly not in Malta.

sings

The determination and will for communication, education and public awareness, so conspicuous by it absence in Malta.

Can Malta ever rise to its environmental obligations, both national and international? Can the majority of the local politicians one day feel that it is their duty and responsibility to educate the people to appreciate, protect and be proud of what not only belong to all of us, but also to what we have been entrusted to protect? Can the majoirty of politicians one day realise the damage that they are doing, not only to the local society and environment, but also internationally, when they politically use such a natural heritage in exchange for political power? It has locally been said that together everything is possible. Is there a political consensus and a will to ensure that together we can achieve such positive energy with which we can make a difference?

gawwija-prima

Herring gull and chick. Can you image being so close to a bird in Malta that you have to take a step backward to be able to focus the camera.

Sometimes I feel that all this is wishful thinking, becasue unfortunately, the present political movement in government, is so blinded by a pro-business vision, without any concern for anything or anyone except speculators and investors, seemingly in the footsteps of a capitalist system. Not only so, but  it may take a generation or two to correct the damage and mistakes being committed – if ever, that is.  In the meantime, the Maltese society and the environment will have to pay the unsurmountable price.

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” has for more than three decades been teaching why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul?

Is Malta fast heading in this direction?

NAPOLEONElba and Malta both experienced the presence of Napoleon, albeit in different circumstances.  Borrowing  a leaf from this renowned experienced French politician, “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people.”

And this is why I cherish my pen.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


God and landscaping

January 9, 2015

God and landscaping

Friday, 9th January 2015.

with addenda by Alfred E. Baldacchino

Among the many exchanges of jokes and comments over the net, I received one such ‘joke’ from a friend of mine. Seems that Maltese environmentalists and their blogging have also managed to reach the Patron Saint of biodiversity, St. Francis. I thought it would be useful if I shared this with readers of my blog, always thanks to my friend Victor. And it was a bit too much of a temptation not to include some more details for the information of our Patron Saint.

GOD to ST. FRANCIS:    Frank,   …  You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS:    It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:    Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colourful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:    The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:    They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay

St. FRANCIS:    Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:    They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. FRANCIS:    No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:    Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. FRANCIS:    Yes, Sir.

GOD:    These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. FRANCIS:    You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:    What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

St. FRANCIS:    You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:    No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. FRANCIS:    After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:    And where do they get this mulch?

St. FRANCIS:    They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:    Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. CATHERINE:    ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about… ………………….. .

GOD:    Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

For the attention of St. Francis for his next meeting with the Lord.

In Malta, a barren rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, a member of the European Union, the elected representatives of the natives, have set up a Public Private Partnership (PPP) responsible for landscaping in the Malta, with a motto Making Malta and Gozo Greener. This has been done through a contract between the Minister of Finance representing the natives and five eminent businessmen. 8 million euros are made available per year, for seven years, to undertake, amongst others, all that you have listed above. There are no limits to the destruction and elimination of wild flora and trees, to green the island.

No further details are available because this contract, despite being made on behalf of the natives, is kept secret and guarded under lock and key. Whether this secrecy is kept because it embarrasses the signatories, or because there are other obligations which are not in the interest of the natives, one cannot say as yet.

2011.07.01 - wasting water resources - 1

Although the Lord can see their work wonders from up there, the attached photo would not do any harm as evidence and to confirm what you said.  If only I could send you their publications to see the rectangles, squares and circles of green!

Furthermore, if you can perhaps speak to the Lord to illuminate the intelligence of the leaders of this Country to help them appreciate the wonders of His creation, and the better use of resources be they natural or financial, it would be of great help.

PS. I thought you would also be interested to know that besides regarding wild flora NO,-NO,-NO,-NO-this-is-not-Seville.-It-is-the-professional-expert-pruning-and-lanscaping-in-Malta-approved-by-governmentas weeds, they do not appreciate your ‘stroke of genius’ in creating trees either. Look at the way they manage them. They say that trees attract birds (the few that are not shot that is), and the birds dirty the benches beneath. Trees shed their leaves and these dirty the pavements. Trees also damage the pavements and houses, they say. Lately I have heard that the swaying of leaves outsides schools distract the students inside. And most of the trees  finish as logs and mulch, as you said. Please ask the Lord to illuminate them with urgency. My impression is that they all believe in Him, or so they say.

 

 


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

 

 


Let’s hide our face in shame following more information on trees – 2

December 22, 2012

times

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of trees and fortified cities

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Last month was not a good one for trees, not so kindly handled by three contributions to The Times. The director of Mepa’s environment protection directorate was the harbinger (November 13), followed by Mepa board member Giovanni Bonello (November 18), with a past Minister for the Environment completely missing the wood for the trees (November 25).
Bonello’s well-researched, in-depth contribution emphasised the need for better appreciation of fortifications. A very admirable work, though I feel the need to dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
During the Great Siege, the Knights, while defending this barren island, were not in the best of moods to plant trees. It is understandable that paintings of battles do not show any trees in the vicinity of fortifications.
One has to admit that some of the trees, more than 50 years old today, are growing in the vicinity or inside fortifications and some can be of concern. However, one has to accept that such old trees now form part of an ecosystem and one cannot bulldoze the natural heritage to solve an aesthetic problem, creating a more sensitive ecological one.
I would never have planted the Ficus nitida trees in front of the law courts, for example. When the area was dug up, it showed the beautiful hidden magnificent underground arched passages. Today, these accommodate the city’s hidden sewers and priceless, neglected, damaged water cisterns. Some tree roots have also crept in.
Over the years, these trees have become the roost for white wagtails wintering in the Maltese islands. It is an opportunity for a scientific study of such a roost (unless they sought refuge in a walled fortified city for protection). Only a professional plan of action can contribute to a solution, certainly not heavy machinery with men wielding chainsaws. It has to be done gradually with the input of all stakeholders, no matter how “philistine” or “ignoramus” they are in the cultural heritage.
It is indeed surprising how the Ministry for the Environment and its entourage, past and present, are so good at coining adjectives for those who have the environment at heart, the main stakeholders. The November contributions refer to “treehuggers’, “chorus of tree-huggers”, “fifty shades of philistine”, “complete ignoramus on cultural heritage”, “crass ignorance and crasser arrogance of self proclaimed DIY environmentalists”, and “self-anointed custodians of the heritage kingdom”. I know a couple more, not coined this November  (for some other varied coined adjectives please see: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121209/opinion/Trees-and-the-fortifications.448816). If the Ministry for the Environment and its chorus were as good at protecting the environment as they are in coining such adjectives, Malta’s environment would be heaven on earth. Such adjectives, though, are of great satisfaction for environmentalists. Drowning men clutch at straws and shun stakeholders’ altruistic hands.
The strongest points of Bonello’s contribution regarding fortifications make me feel very sad, even though historical fortifications are not my battle horse.
“Nowhere in the world are fortifications more extensive, more impressive, more outstanding than they are in Malta.” “It is to be self-evident, that if a nation has something really precious to boast of, it would want its treasures seen, and seen to their best advantage.” “…people would do their utmost to enhance the visibility of anything inestimable.” “Those who still have them, flaunt them, enhance them, try to squeeze every cent of added value from them.” I feel as strongly as Bonello does regarding such a priceless, unique heritage.
“Over the past two centuries many conspired to debase them.” Yes, not even two World Wars managed to indent such majestic fortifications despite the fact that warfare became much more sophisticated. But after Malta gained independence, the jewel in the crown of our majestic walled fortifications was the first to bite the dust. King Carnival (KC) was helped by Maltese politicians to win the fortified city with just one stroke of a pen! One has to be genuinely demented to inherit the works of the best architect who constructed a monumental façade, and replace it with a garage door to let KC go through without a fight. If only the fortified Valletta gate was hidden behind some trees, KC would not have gone through!

vallettagate

Even the past colonisers realised the importance of Malta’s historical past. When Malta gained Independence in 1964 the responsibility of historical protection passed to Maltese Politicians. It did not take them long to replace this with a garage door (see below)

800px-Valletta_City_Gate

The garage door built  after independence, replacing the Valletta City Gate. It makes it easier for King Carnival with his carnival floats to pass through

A one-in-a-million chance of rehabilitating the fortified Valletta gate was lost when Mepa, the environment watchdog, decided to send such a gate to the photographic album of history, endorsing an €80 million government project.

Borrowing another quote from the learned judge, “Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” Many will walk through such a joke, be they ignoramuses, tree huggers, DIY environmentalists, all shades of philistines, historians, researchers, politicians, clergy or men in the street. It will be the extension of the king carnival joke, with piano music in the background. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

66dfb482b95fc5e5d67279ae159512681882420801-1346759704-5045ec18-360x251

“Unless they look awesome and frightening, bastions are a joke.” (Giovanni Bonello). The plans for the City Gate Project approved by MEPA in 2010. Undoubtedly taking in considration that King Carnival can still pass through with ease. This is surely not the way the Knights of Malta intended the bastions to look. Where walled cities are concerned, “we are definitively guilty of lèse majesté”.

Who can now dethrone King Carnival from Valletta, the magnificent fortified walled city? If only KC was a tree, the magnificent Valletta’s fortification gate could still be seen!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
Alfred Baldacchino was assistant director responsible for the protection of biodiversity within Mepa.

Original article

Of trees and fortified cities – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121222/opinion/Of-trees-and-fortified-cities.450506

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121113/opinion/Further-notes-on-trees.445157

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121118/life-features/Let-s-hide-the-majestic-bastions.445894


On pruning trees in Malta

April 12, 2012

12 April, 2012

On pruning trees in Malta

Alfred E Baldacchino

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining great momentum among the general public, though unfortunatley the official side has still a lot of ground to cover to be in line with modern thinking, despite national and international  legal obligations and much publicised colourful plans and projects.

This has led to the creation of a blog on saving our trees which are so much under official pressure and being decimated by the dozen without any proper management and without any official regulator, making the political responsibility so much greater. Congratulations to all those who have given birth to such a blog and to all those, without exception, who are contributing to it. It is a healthy dialogue which one hopes one day will lead to a proper professional management of trees in Malta.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

A reference was made in the blog to a  tree at Balzan which was damaged by the strong wind (Photo 2).   It grew  on a small traffic island at the end of a one way street reached from Balzan square. Because of the way it was pruned, it was so top-heavy, with a heavy crown on thin main branches,  that with a relatively  strong wind it cracked. This photo (2) was taken on 10th February 2008.

Today I passed from the site to see how the trees there were faring. They did recieve quite an extensive ‘haircut’ as photo 3 shows. To my asthonisment, the tree in photo 2 was not there. Wonder of wonders: it had either gone to heaven, or gone up in smoke. The traffic island though is still there but covered in concrete.

Scandalous management of street trees in Malta.
(photo taken by AEB on 10.02.08)

I walked further up the line of “hair-cut” trees to see how the tree in photo 1, the phallus shaped tree, had fared. It looks more like a lolipop than a tree, or  like an upside down phallus, hiding its head in shame  while exposing its pubic hair.

On this save the tree blog above mentioned, there is a very interesting, educational video regarding the pruning of ficus trees, and one should thank the person responsible for putting it there. But unfortuntely  many of the various suggestions and advice given in this video were not taken in consideration in pruning these trees? I sometimes believe that street trees in Malta have never seen any secutors (imqass taż-żabra) in their lives. Chainsaws are more quick in the job, and thus they do not drain any of the proifts, irrispective of the negative aesthetic value they leave behind (photo 3).

Trees crying in agony after chainsaw treatment, and possibly the one who gave such an order was having an orgasm. (photo taken by AEB,on 10th February 2008)

I remember, as I am sure many of the readers do, when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping,  before the present Governemnt Contractor took over. Such trees used to be pruned with more dedication and with more feeling.  I remember the ficus trees at Saqajja Rabat, which, in those days, were professionally pruned in a  seemingly sculptured way, with a crown that extended from one end of the line to the other, and with small branches seemingly like a trellis, which were so adequate against the historic builidngs behind. At that time the Department of Agriculture did not have any of the resources that today’s  ‘landscapers’ have, but in the past they used to do miracles, with as little public expenses as possible.

If one looks at the way that street trees are being pruned today, one immediately asks how  professional this  is. True that one has to keep in mind that we live in Malta, where everything is possible, and where amateurism is called professinalism and professinalism is called fundamentalism!

While following the line of the trees pruned in 2008, still showing their wounds, I came across the cherry on the cake in present Maltese landscaping approved by the political masters. When I went  past the Lija Cemetery on the road to Mosta, an employee with a tank on his back, probably paid out of public funds, was spraying herbicide around all the trees lining the pavement! Now those who know something about ecology and nature conservation know that at this time of the year the undergrowth is full of life with the various stages of a number of fauna and flora, such as butterflies and moths which are becoming scarcer by the hour.  Those in official positions know that the Governemnt on behalf of Malta is obliged to take measures to control biodiversity loss, an obligation arising out of our EU Membership. Those who chose not to know anything about the subject, endorse invoices for the payment of such activities paid out of public funds.  The poltiical responsiblity is greater than one thinks. It is a permanent dent on the ecological set up of these islands, as much as tampering with Hagar Qim or Imnajdra is a permanent dent on the archaeological heritage of the islands. No wonder a person I met told me that the Maltese people hate trees!

Never in the history of ecological conservation in Malta,  (or its exploitation) have so few benefited at the expense of so many.


Bżonn ta’ aktar immanniġġar tas-Siġar Maltin

March 5, 2012

It-Tnejn, 5 ta’ Marzu, 2012

miktub minn Gaetano Micallef

Il-ġlieda ta’ raġel biex isalva s-siġar lokali

 Il-“massakru” tas-siġar lokali u l-importazzjoni ta’ ċertu speċi ta’ siġar u pjanti li magħhom qed iġibu ċertu nsetti qed jinkwetaw lill-ambjentalist ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO kif wieħed jista’ jara mill-blog tiegħu. GAETANO MICALLEF iltaqa’ miegħu biex jara għaliex mhux jara futur għas-siġar indiġeni u cioè dawk tal-lokal. Fil-blog tiegħek għidt li s-siġar lokali qed jiġu “immassakrati”. X’ridt tgħid biha? X’qed iwassal għal dak li qed tiddeskrivi bħala trattament inaċċettabbli tas-siġar? Skont il-prinċipji tal-UE hemm bżonn ta’ regolatur u operatur biex l-affarijiet jitmexxew sewwa. Jekk nieħdu l-qasam tal-enerġija għandek il-korporazzjoni Enemalta li hija l-operatur waqt li fil-qasam tal-ilma nsibu l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizz tal-Ilma li wkoll hija operatur. Imma t-tnejn li huma regolati mill-Awtorità Maltija għar-Riżorsi (MRA). Issa fil-qasam tal-‘landscaping’ insibu l-operatur, li huwa l-partner privat tal-Gvern, imma uffiċjalment m’hemmx indikazzjoni li hemm xi regolatur. Din tista’ twassal biex id-deċiżjonijiet u l-politika ta’ dan ix-xogħol titfassal mill-operatur innifsu. Ngħidu aħna, xi speċi ta’ siġar u arbuxelli jitħawwlu, minn fejn jinġiebu, jekk għandhomx jiġu impurtati, fejn jitħawlu, minn fejn jinqalgħu, jekk humiex skont il-liġi u jekk jonorawx l-obbligi internazzjonali li għandu l-pajjiż. Imma jidher li m’hemmx regolatur biex jgħid “ara, din l-ispeċi m’għandiex tintuża għax din għandha impatt negattiv fuq is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija”. L-operatur m’għandux direzzjoni u mhux regolat. Ara f’Għawdex ħaġa bħal din ma tiġrix. M’ilux kont hemm u staqsejt uffiċjal fil-ministeru għaliex kuntrarju għal Malta ma rajtx il-pjanti li jgħidulhom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma meta f’Malta dawn tarahom kważi kullimkien. Ir-risposta kienet li f’Għawdex huma jiddeċiedu liema pjanti jitħawlu u mhux il-kuntrattur. U billi jafu li kemm is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma huma pjanti invażivi ma jridux li dawn jidħlu Għawdex u jinfirxu kullimkien bi ħsara ekonomika, ekoloġika u soċjali. Tgħidli x’għandhom ħażin dawn il-pjanti? Dawn huma fost l-agħar pjanti invażivi fl-Ewropa. Pjanta invażiva hija dik li meta tiddaħħal minn barra taħrab u tinfirex mal-pajjiż fejn qatt ma kienet tikber qabel. Is-Swaba tal-Madonna hija pjanta Sud-Afrikana. Li pjanta minn barra tiddaħħal fil-pajjiż ma fiha xejn ħażin fiha nnifisha sakemm ma tkunx waħda li faċli taħrab bi ħsara kbira ekoloġika, soċjali u anke ekonomika għall-pajjiż. U meta din taħrab, tinfirex u tistabilixxi ruħha ma jkunx possibbli li tiġi kontrollata u meqruda. Ħares lejn il-Ħaxixa Ingliża jew il-Qarsu kif jafuh xi wħud. Din inġiebet xi 100 sena ilu mill-Afrika t’Isfel u tpoġġiet fil-Ġnien Botaniku fil-Floriana. Minn hemm infirxet u mliet Malta, Għawdex u Kemmuna. Saret invażiva għax illum qed tikber bla kontroll, ma tistax tiġi kontrollata u impossibbli li tiġi eliminata. Fil-fatt minn hawn Malta waslet anke Tuneż u Sqallija.

Imma mhux kull pjanta tista’ titqaċċat jew titneħħa?

Impossibbli. Kif tista’ telimina l-Ingliża minn hawn Malta li tikber kullimkien u tiksi kullimkien? Anke mas-swar u mal-irdumijiet. Jew is-Siġra tar-Riġnu jew is-Siġra tax-Xumakk? Meta tidħol speċi u ssir invażiva jkun impossibbli teliminaha. Fl-UE l-pjanta tas-Swaba tal-Madonna hija meqjusa fost l-iktar mija invażivi. U aħna nħawluha fit-toroq! Min qed jagħmel il-politika? Ir-regolatur? Anke jekk m’hawnx regolatur xorta waħda tibqa’ ir-responsabilità tal-Gvern li jara li l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu jiġu onorati. U għaliex dan l-interess u din l-għebusija tar-ras biex din il-pjanta u oħrajn invażivi bħala jibqgħu jiġu mħawla u mħallsa bi flus pubbliċi? Din jista’ jweġibha biss min qed jagħmel il-politika f’dan il-qasam. Sadanittant, is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija jħallsu għal din il-politika żbaljata. Id-deċiżjoni li jkun hemm sieħeb privat mal-Gvern, f’dan il-każ l-ELC, mhux idea ħażina. Imma ma jistax ikun hemm operatur bla regolatur iktar u iktar meta l-operatur għandu €7 miljun kull sena għal ħames snin, jingħata l-mixtliet tal-Gvern biex jopera minnhom, jingħata l-makkinarju bħall-bowsers tal-Gvern biex jaħdem bihom u anke ħaddiema li kienu jaħdmu mad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura f’dan il-qasam. F’din is-sħubija hemm riżorsi tajbin, kemm finanzjarji u umani, imma la hemm il-viżjoni u lanqas id-direzzjoni biex l-għan jintlaħaq. Il-Gvern huwa marbut mal-liġijiet lokali u anke b’dawk tal-UE u b’konvenzjonijiet internazzjonali rigward il-ħarsien u l-immaniġġjar tal-biodiversità imma kemm qed ikunu riflessi fix-xogħol li qed isir f’dan il-qasam ta’ tisbiħ tal-pajjiż? Dan narawh iktar ċar meta wieħed jara, fost orajn l-pubblikazzjonijiet uffiċjali tal-MEPA fejn jgħidu liema huma l-ispeċi invażivi li huma ta’ ħsara għall-ekoloġija lokali … fosthom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma. Imma minkejja dan kollu ara kemm flus pubbliċi għadhom jintefqu fl-importazzjoni ta’ siġar eżotiċi, uħud minnhom invażivi, jew li jġibu magħhom speċi invażi. Ma tara l-ebda sinjal ta’ tkabbir ta’ siġar indiġeni lokali. Mela għala noqgħodu nippubblikaw pjanijiet, strateġiji u miżuri oħra favur l-ambjent meta dawn qed jiġu kompletament injorati? Jekk wieħed iħares lejn l-irdumijiet viċin tal-Blue Grotto jara li magħhom tikber is-Swaba tal-Madonna b’kompetizzjoni għall-pjanti indiġeni, uħud endemiċi, li jikbru hemm. Veru li dawn is-Swaba tal-Madonna kienu qed jikbru hemm qabel ma bdew jitħawlu fit-toroq. Allura nkomplu nżidu l-opportunità għal din il-pjanta biex tkompli tinfirex u tikber f’ambjent naturali mhedded.

Is-Swaba tal-Madonna – pjanta li l-UE tqis li hija fostl-aktar 100 pjanta invaziva. Hawn Malta, flus pubblici jintuzaw biex din tkompli tithawwel fit-toroqf pubblici

Anke l-Pjuma qed tinfirex sewwa u rajtha f’għelieqi, tikber taħt il-bankini fit-toroq, fil-widien u anke fix-xagħri. Min sejjer iħallas biex din tiġi ikkontrollata skont l-obbligi legali tal-pajjiż? Min sejjer jirrispondi għall-ksur tal-liġijiet u l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu biex ma jħallix pjanti invażivi jkomplu jinfirxu fl-ambjent naturali?

Il-Pjuma – pjanta invażiva li qed tinferex sewwa b'impatt negattiv soċjali u ambjentali

Kull speċi invażiva hija ħażina għall-ambjent lokali?  Mhux kull pjanta importata hija ta’ theddida għall-ambjent. Erħilha li meta dawn jiġu impurtati, magħhom jdaħħlu wkoll speċi oħra anke jekk magħhom ikollhom iċ-ċertifikat tas-saħħa tal-pjanti. Hekk kellhom is-siġar tal-Palm li magħhom daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm. Għalhekk għandu jkun hemm regolatur professjonali biex lill-operatur jgħidlu xi speċi għandu juża fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż. Li kieku kien hemm regolatur xjentifiku u professjonali ma kienux jitħallew jiġu impurtati siġar tal-Palm mill-Ewropa u mill-Eġittu meta dawn kienu diġà mifnijin bil-Bumunqar l-Aħmar tal-Palm. Kieku ma kienux jitħallew jiġu mħawla ma’ Malta kollha s-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjumi. Imma jekk wieħed iħares biss lejn il-parti kummerċjali mingħajr ma jagħti każ tal-impatt negattiv soċjali u dak ekoloġiku li dawn jista’ jkollhom allura dak li jiġri. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ir-responsabilita hija tal-Gvern imma bħalissa qisu l-Gvern qed jagħti ċekk iffirmat imma vojt u l-ammont jintela minn min jirċievi ċ-ċekk.

Imma fl-ELC ma hemm ħadd li jifhem fil-pjanti u s-siġar?Ma nistax nimmaġina li ma hemmx. Li kieku le, kif ġiet fdata b’din ir-responsabilità f’idejha? Naħseb li hemm min għandu ħafna esperjenza f’dan il-qasam u għalhekk niskanta kif isiru dawn l-affarijiet u jinġiebu pjanti invażi li mhumiex ta’ ġid għas-soċjetà u għall-ambjent ekoloġiku. U għalhekk ukoll ma nistax nifhem kif fil-mixtliet tal-Gvern ma jitkabbrux iktar siġar indiġeni bħal-Luq, il-Ballut, l-Għargħar, id-Deru, is-Safsafa l-Kbira, l-Għanżalor, il-Fraxxnu, il-Ħarrub, iż-Żagħrun, ir-Rummien, il-Lewż u ż-Żnuber. Minbarra li dawn inaqqsu t-theddida ta’ speċi oħra li jġibu magħhom dawk importati – bħal bebbux, pjanti, insetti u rettili – immaniġġjar bħal dan jiffranka ħafna flus milli jmorru barra minn Malta u minflok jintefqu hawn u jservu ta’ ġid għall-ambjent. Imma għidli kemm-il siġra indiġena minn dawn li semmejt tara biex jissebbaħ l-ambjent urban? Fil-passat il-mixtliet tal-Gvern, anke jekk mingħajr r-riżorsi finanzjarji li għandhom illum, kienu jagħmlu kollox u minkejja li kienu wkoll jiżirgħu u jħawlu siġar mhux adattati għal pajjiżna, bħall-Akaċja u l-Ewkalyptus, ma kinux jimpurtaw siġar bħal ma qed isir illum u għalhekk ma kienx ikun hemm periklu li jidħlu speċi barranin. Bil-politika li qed tiġi mħaddma llum, f’dawn l-aħħar snin daħlu ħafna speċi invażivi. Huwa ferm diffiċli li meta tiddaħħal pjanta stabbilita ma ddaħħalx magħha xi speċi oħra anke fil-ħamrija li jkollha. Meta ddaħħlu s-siġar tal-Palm uħud minnhom kienu twal xi żewġ sulari u kważi impossibbli li ma jkunx hemm speċi magħhom. Il-Bumunqar l-Aħmar jgħix l-Asja. Hemm l-ambjent tiegħu. Daħal fl-Eġittu mas-siġar tal-Palm u mill-Eġittu sab ruħu fl-Ewropa mas-siġar tal-Palm li ġew esportati hemm. Fl-Afrika ta’ Fuq dan il-Bumunqar huwa ‘pest’ għax qed jeqred ħafna siġar tat-tamal u kellu impatt negattiv fuq din l-industrija.

Ir-riżultat ta' deċiżjonijiet mhux professjonali – waħda mill 400 siġra tal-palm, maqtula mill-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm li ddaħħal mas-siġar importati.

Issa xi ħadd f’Malta kellu l-idea “inteliġenti” li jixtri s-siġar mill-Eġittu u anke minn Spanja u Sqallija li kienu impurtawhom mill-Eġittu u sal-lum inqerdu mal-400 palma li wħud minnhom kienu ta’ valur storiku. Sa issa dan il-Bumunqar għadu għaddej joqtol kull siġra tal-Palm li jiltaqa’ magħha u qed jintefqu ammont ta’ flus biex dan jipprova jitwaqqaf. F’Malta daħlet ukoll il-Ħanfusa s-Sewda tat-Tut. Is-siġar tat-Tut u ċ-Ċawsli li kien hemm fil-Fiddien kollha sofrew ħafna minn din il-ħanfusa. Kif ġralhom ħafna f’ġonna privati. Issa siġar tat-Tut m’hawnx ħafna f’pajjiżna u daret fuq is-siġar tat-Tin. Min qed iħallas għal dan? L-impatt qed inħallsuh jien u int. Daħal ukoll il-Farfett tas-Sardinell. Kulħadd jilmenta fuqu. Għandi erba’ qsari tas-Sardinell fit-terazzin biex nistudja dan il-farfett … kull sena joqtolhom. Biex wieħed ikompli jara n-nuqqas ta’ miżuri professjonali qed ikomplu jitħawlu s-Sardinell matul it-toroq biex dan il-farfett ikollu iktar pjanti fuqhiex ibid, jiekol, joktor u jinfirex! Diġà qed jinstab jittajjar fil-widien tagħna fejn għandna pjanta mill-istess familja tas-Sardinell li s’issa għadu ma misshomx. Nispera li issa ma narawx impjegati jbixxu kull Sardinella li jaraw bil-kimika biex joqtlu dan il-farfett! Daħlet ukoll is-susa tat-tadam. Qerdet ħbula wara ħbula ta’ tadam. Daħlet għax l-attivitajiet kummerċjali jieħdu preferenza fuq il-ħarsien soċjali u ekoloġiku. Imma hawn xi ħadd li jimpurtah u jieħu ħsieb li dawn l-affarijiet ma jiġrux?  Għandek ukoll numru kbir ta’ speċi ta’ bebbux tal-art li ddaħħal mal-pjanti impurtati. Sa issa għadu ma jinħasx imma meta jibda jinħass imbagħad naħseb li nibdew naraw kif se jintefqu l-flus biex jiġu ikkontrollati. Illum jitħawlu fjuri bħall-Pensieri, Qronfol Tork, Petunji u Sardinell li wara ftit ġimgħat jispiċċa żmienhom u jinħartu biex jerġgħu jitħawlu oħrajn. Ma nistax ngħid li mhumiex sbieħ imma meta fil-gżejjer tagħna għandna ’l fuq minn 1,000 pjanta selvaġġa kollha adattati għall-klima tagħna, li m’għandhomx bżonn ħafna ilma, allura għaliex ma nużawx dawn u nkunu qed inħarsu aħjar l-ambjent ekoloġiku u fl-istess ħin inħarsu l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Din bħall-kwistjoni tal-ilma. L-UE tobbliga li l-ilma tad-drenaġġ ma jistax jintefa l-baħar mhux imsaffi. X’ġara? Investejna f’impjanti biex jittrattaw dan l-ilma imma wara li jiġi msaffi jerġa’ jintrema l-baħar u mbagħad nerġgħu ntella ilma baħar iktar ikkonċentrat biex jerġa’ jissaffa mir-reverse osmosis ħalli jittieħed għax-xorb. L-istess qed jiġri fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż bil-pjanti. Jekk dan  immaniġġjar professjonali nixtieq lil xi ħadd jgħidli xi jfisser dilettantiżmu!

Jiġifieri bħala prinċipju taqbel li m’għandhom jidħlu ebda speċi barranin? Le, mhux qed ngħid hekk.  Hemm ftehim internazzjonali, li wkoll jagħmel parti mir-regolamenti tal-UE u li l-prinċipji tiegħu huma nklużi fil-liġijiet lokali, magħruf bħala l-“prinċipju ta’ prekawzjoni” li permess tiegħu jekk se tittieħed xi deċiżjoni u ma jkunx magħruf x’impatt din se tħalli fuq l-ambjent u s-soċjetà allura din m’għandix tittieħed. Nifhem li jekk se ssir triq u hemm siġra jew siġar fin-nofs ma tistax tħallihom hemm. Imma ma jfissirx li mingħajr ma jkun hemm konsultazzjoni, ix-xogħol isir mingħajr l-ebda pjan ta’ immaniġġjar. Jekk hemm proġett ta’ żvilupp suppost li jkun hemm il-permess tal-MEPA. U meta jkun hemm siġar bħal dawn ikun hemm kundizzjonijiet ta’ kif sejrin jinqalgħu, minn sejjer jaqlahom u fejn sejrin jerġgħu jitħawlu. Nuqqas ta’ tagħrif lill-pubbliku joħloq ukoll ċertu suspetti. Is-siġar taż-Żebbuġ li nqalgħu minn ħdejn il-Monument tal-Gwerra fil-Floriana ġew impurtati u mħawla ftit tas-snin ilu. U s-siġar fejn sar it-terminus tal-Arriva fil-Belt ukoll inqalgħu biex minflokhom tħawlu siġar oħra kbar impurtati bi prezz mhux irħis. L-aħħar darba li mort hemm kelli ċans naraw li tnejn minnhom diġà nixfu. Meta nara dawn ir-riżorsi qed jinħlew u kif bihom jista’ jsir ferm iktar ġid ma nistax ma ninkwetax għal din il-‘laisse faire’. Meta wieħed iħares lejn ir-regolamenti tal-2001 dwar il-ħarsien tas-siġar, li kienu jagħtu ħarsien anke lis-siġar li jikbru fl-urban u li kienu ġew ippubblikat bi sħab bejn il-Ministru tal-Ambjent u dak tal-Agrikoltura, u meta wieħed jikkumpara kif dawn ġew emendati fl-2010, fejn ġew ippubblikat mill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent biss u ma fihom l-ebda referenza għall-ħarsien tas-siġar li jikbru fl-urban, allura ma jistax ikun li dan il-‘laisse faire’ ma jinħasx iktar. Mhux talli s-siġar indiġeni ma jintużawx fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż imma minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ regolatur uffiċjali numru ta’ siġar rari u mħarsa wkoll qed isofru minn din il-mentalità. Il-Professur John Borg, li darba kien Supretendent tad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura, kien jara li siġar Maltin rari fil-pajjiż kienu jitħawlu jew jinżergħu fil-Ġonna ta’ San Anton. Fosthom kien hemm is-siġra rarissima magħrufa bħala s-Siġra tal-Kuruna, li aktarx hija l-unika waħda li għad baqa’, tikber f’San Anton, li l-aħħar li rajtha ftit ġimgħat ilu ġabuha qisha kurċifiss!

Ix-Xewk tal-Kuruna – l-aħħar siġra Maltija ta' din l-ispeċi rari u mħarsa strettament, li qed tikber fil-Ġonna ta' San Anton. Imbiċċra.

Barra minn hekk numru ta’ Siġar tad-Deru li kien hemm jikbru fuq ġewwa mal-ħajt ta’ dan il-ġnien tqaċċtu mill-qiegħ nett. Żabra li min jagħmel il-politika u huwa responsabbli fl-immaniġġjar tas-siġar imissu jistħi jidher quddiem in-nies. Dan biex ma nsemmiex dak li ġara l-Buskett li huwa sit tan-Natura 2000.

Id-Deru - kien jikber matul il-ħajt tal-ġnien f'San Anton. Imqaċċat mill-qiegħ.

Imma forsi għalhekk ma jeżistix regolatur… biex ħadd ma jkun f’pożizzjoni li jistħi. Huwa faċli li wieħed iwaħħal fil-ħaddiema biex taparsi jkun jidher li ħa passi. Imma l-ħaddiema jagħmlu dak li jgħidulhom. U bla regolatur x’tistenna? L-iktar ħaġa li tweġġgħani li dawn qed isiru bi flus pubbliċi u ħadd ma jidher li huwa responsabbli.

Forsi l-akbar ċertifikat ta' inkompetenza f'dan il-qasam huwa il-mod kif siġar f'Natura 200 tal-EU, il-Buskett, ġie mżeblaħ, anki dan bi flus il-poplu. Darba din kiet siġra rari u mħarsa strettament - is-sigra tal-Fraxxnu.

Sakemm ikollna dan ir-regolatur jiddispjaċini ngħid li s-siġar indiġeni f’pajjiżna m’għandhomx futur sabiħ. Jekk għandhom futur. Jekk ix-xogħol jitmexxa b’għan kummerċjali biss, u mingħajr ma jittieħdu kunsiderazzjonijiet tal-għan soċjali u ekoloġiku, wieħed ma jistax jistenna li s-siġar indiġeni ma jibqgħux sejrin lura u li ma jidħlux iktar speċi invażivi. U waqt li l-profitt kummerċjali jeħduh l-individwi, il-prezz iħallsu l-poplu u l-ambjent ekoloġiku.

Ara x'żabra dik? Certifikat għal dak il-politiku li huwa responsabbli biex dan ma jħallihx isir.

Żabra bla ebda professjonalita, bla kuxjenza u bla mistħija.

Għall-ġid tal-poplu u tal-ambjent! Dan qed ngħidu fuq dak li qalu, li qrajt u li smajt, fuq dak li rajt, u fuq ir-riżultati ta' dan kollu, dejjem bi flus pubbliċi.

NOTA: Ir-ritratti ma jidhrux fl-artiklu oriġinali li deher fl-Orizzont, imma dawn żidthom jien fuq il-blogg u kollha huma ritratti li ħadt jien.


Ix-Xagħri

December 20, 2010

It-Tnejn, 20 ta’ Diċembru, 2010

Ix-Xagħri

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.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Why not use native plants for landscaping?

May 28, 2010

Sunday, 23rd May 2010

Why not use native plants for landscaping? Vincent Gauci, Sta Luċija

Environmental Landscapes Consortium (ELC) Ltd is the government contractor for the landscaping of our roads, roundabouts and centre strips. ELC is doing a good job. However, the consortium is quite wasteful with water and it is not difficult to realise that the taxpayer is paying a hefty price for this service. ELC should consider using flora of local genetic origin, i.e. native plants, for landscaping public green areas. Malta is endowed with a selection of scented, colourful and attractive native plants, some of which may be suitable for growing in public green areas. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. Many native plants have deepspreading root systems that protect the soil against erosion. Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, bees, birds and other animals. Moreover, native species require less watering and caring than imported horticultural species. Indeed, encouraging the development of indigenous plant communities in roundabouts and other public areas may also somewhat compensate for the destruction of native communities in the wild due to development.

Comments

Alfred E Baldacchino  (5 hours, 39 minutes ago) Why blame ELC for this rampage on trees going on all over the island. They are supposedly getting their policy from the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, unless of course the ELC drafts the policies themselves and also implement it. If policies are being made by the MRRA, who in such cases also issues permits for such ‘pruning’ then I am afraid that at the MRRA there are none who can distinguish between a tree and an elephant. If policies are being drafted by the executers, then this is very highly irregular and urgent administrative action is needed to correct this. Otherwise the rampage can only gather momentum, unfortunately financed by public monies. This is one of the reasons why such a mentality is doing so much damage to the Maltese natural environment, when one also considers the uncontrolled introduced species, and the spraying of herbicides on every plant that is regarded by these landscapers as a weed, amongst others. It is no wonder that in the year which is the UN and EU International Year of Biodiversity, an EU report has revealed that Malta trails miserably in biodiversity protection. This is just a living example.

Antoine Vella (1 day, 2 hours ago) Native plants would be cheaper than imported ones and ELC would make a bigger profit if they limited themselves to indigenous species. The reasons for growing exotic plants are others.

Annalise Falzon (1 day, 2 hours ago) @ Azzopardi native plants are boring?have you ever been on walk in our countryside?? There are about 800 indigenous plants on this rock! Join any nature walk to learn more or simply have a look at any flora guidebook and website for local species.

S.Zammit (1 day, 8 hours ago) I could not agree more with you Mr.Gauci! I’m no expert on local plants, but I think a patch of poppies, ‘lellux’ and ‘qarsu’ – to name the more common ones – is as striking as a mass of any other cultivated (read moneymaking!) flower….

Andrew Azzopardi (1 day, 8 hours ago) Sticking to ‘native’ species is impractical and boring. Imagine…….no citrus trees, no geraniums, no cacti, basically very little beyond carob trees and widnet il-bahar. And what is ‘native’ anyway?

D.Dalli (1 day, 4 hours ago) I agree with your, what is native anyway. What could have been introduced here a millenia ago could now erraneously be considered as native because the species is further found around the Mediterranean basin. One thing is for sure, and as again you, in my view, rightly state, if we had to stick to what some term native, this place would be boring and much of the trees etc will simply vanish. Agreed some have their particular over abundant thirst for water and compete with “native” species. So do many other things, including humans. 8000 years ago, humans were not indigenous to this place, should we all go, because we compete for a whole lot of resources with animals and plants. I am a firm believer that a responsible (and that is underlines) team of scientists should actually introduce other plants and trees in Malta, making sure they are of a species that don’t destroy what we have in a matter of months/years. Some plantsm, rather than compete alone,destroy and that is where i would be cautious. For example I would actually plant a whole lot of magnificant cactii at the bottom perimeter of Maghtab

Ramon Casha (17 hours, 8 minutes ago) Wow Andrew… you should get out more often – into the countryside in spring. We have an amazing variety of local plants of all colours. I have yet to see a sight as beautiful as a field covered in common “silla” in full bloom. We have flowering plants of all colours – some annual, some more permanent but there’s a great variety.

Paul Borg (1 day, 11 hours ago) Could profits on imported plants have something to do with it? Could the very perishability of foreign plants be their attraction? That way ELC has to keep on replacing them? Is it true that Polidano (aka Caqnu is one of the shareholders of ELC?) Is the care of our roundabouts an ELC monopoly, or does it get tendered out publicly, giving other companies a chance to win the contract?

T Camilleri (1 day, 9 hours ago) Paul Borg Money on imported plants certainly has got to do with it. We are paying millions to ELC apart from paying the wages of the ex-Agricultural Department employees who are seconded with ELC. This is what the people should be told and not that we have more beautiful roundabouts.


Water

May 21, 2010

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Water – ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO

The international scenario – Today there is quite a healthy awareness of global environmental problems such as climate change, global food   crisis, the spiralling cost of fossil fuel, and the melting Arctic ice cap. However, one can rightfully conclude that these global crises have somewhat overshadowed the water crisis, despite the fact that water is a central resource, both directly and indirectly related to all the others. This may be due to the fact that global concerns have been tackled separately rather than in a holistic way. It is therefore not surprising that a serious management approach for such a scarce resource has dwindled due to the lack of, or weakened, strategy. This despite the fact that at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002, it was agreed that countries should integrate water-resource management and water-efficiency plans by 2005. One can understand that tackling such a complex subject differs from one country to another so it is not that easy to formulate a generic “roadmap”.

The Maltese scenario – Malta is one of the top 10 arid countries in the world. It has always been so. This was one of the main reasons why the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem were not at all keen on setting up house in Malta. It was Hobson’s choice that established them here in 1530. With regard to the supply and availability of water, the Order’s professional tailor-made management plans are still valid and still serve the islands and its people. This despite the fact that today some of their management measures are neglected, while others have been abused or completely eliminated in the very recent past. The legal obligation that every dwelling should have a well to collect rainwater was a very intelligent measure; it still is and still serves the inhabitants who are fortunate enough to have such a system. Still in force today although hardly enforced, if at all: “Every house shall also have a cistern in good condition, of a capacity of at least three cubic metres, for every five square metres of the surface of the floor of each room of such house.” (Chapter 10 of the Laws of Malta – Code of Police Laws).

The affluent world we live in today could tempt some to convince themselves that Malta does not have any particular water problem, because the islands are surrounded by sea, has unlimited water access, and so can never run out of water. Try drinking a drop of such water! One can, but only after it has been processed by energy-intensive desalination plants, which contribute to climate change as well as to the food crisis that is demanding more water. And, God forbid, what if there is an oil spill or other toxic leaks in the vicinity of the desalination plants? The Mediterranean is one of the most frequented seas in the world, and European news speak with alarming enthusiasm about the nuclear plants being planned around the Mediterranean coast.

A management plan – Sadly, the word “management” is one word that seems very difficult for us to comprehend, to administer, enforce and implement. We are more accustomed to mismanagement with crisis management being our rule of thumb. The water management plans drafted and implemented by the Knights of Malta are barely implemented or strengthened, despite the fact that the demand for such a precious resource has increased substantially. The consequences of centuries of neglect are now becoming evident. To be able to have a sustainable management plan one must have the necessary data, besides the necessary tools, to consistently monitor and enforce. Some points to address for data gathering are:

  • Water tables:  both the perched and the lower water tables have contributed substantially, and still do, to the welfare of the Maltese community, both from an economical, social and ecological point of view. The ever increasing demand for water and the availability of mechanical and technological facilities have made it much easier to access, and also have an negative impact on such a resource. The number of bore holes, legal and illegal, all reach deep down and pump up this water. The legal and illegal use of pesticides, herbicides, natural and artificial fertilisers, can, and some do, finish in the aquifers. The state of the environment indicators for 2007 published by Mepa, clearly show that the increase of nitrate levels in the aquifers exceeds EU standards. How long will the ground water be available and be potable?
  • Protection of sensitive springs:  dried river beds, known as valleys (widien), traverse the islands from west to east. Today we are more familiar with springs (għejjun) that feed precious water to the surroundings, some a sorry reminder of their glorious past. Some springs are behind closed and chained doors, others have been sucked dry, while others still laboriously function, without doubt carrying the hidden chemicals of “progressive” farming and landscaping. Others, managed as a whole network of planed tunnels and culverts ensuring that not a drop of water is wasted, engineered by the Knights of Malta, have watered hundreds of trees and vegetables for centuries. Yet some of these networks have been cut off from their source, like the ones at Nadur, which have been extensively damaged to make way for a glorified place for the dead – a cemetery. Progressive planning for our future demand for graves perhaps!
  • Afforestation:  it is not only denuding the land of its vegetation that has an impact on water resources, but also the choice of species that are planted. The thousands of alien Eucalyptus trees planted in valleys, on garigue, in fields, in abandoned fields, and in urban areas, do have a tremendous negative impact on water resources. The fact that these trees are used to drain marshes will help one conclude that they contribute to the waste of ground water. A relatively recent trend is the laying of open spaces with turf, some even in roundabouts. Aesthetically they are pleasing. They are however irrigated by electrically powered sprinklers, which at times water even the roads. In the context of the local environment, it is like filling a valley with ice where one can go skating in summer. Not impossible, but at what cost! Thank God that plans for golf courses seem to have been shelved.
  • Urban planning:  every footprint of any building has its impact on water. This was fully understood by the planners and professional resource managers of the Knights of Malta. They ensured that every drop of water that fell on buildings was meticulously saved. In today’s technological era, it is ensured that every drop of water that falls on such buildings is mechanically channelled into the streets so that it can find its own natural and at-no-cost way to the sea. The amount of water going to waste is unbelievable. It does not have to rain cats and dogs: just a shower, like the Birkirkara and Qormi residents, among others, can attest. Due to the aridity of the islands, the Maltese have always prayed for rain. Today, the more rain God sends us, the more water will flood the streets on its way to the open sea. We desperately need to pray to God to illuminate our planners and resource managers and help them get to grips with the management of such a scarce resource similar to the management plans implemented by the Knights of St John 400 years ago.
  • Wise use:  this waste of water is the result of our acceptance and dependence on energy consuming desalination plants, despite their fragility and financial cost. We are so obsessed with desalination plants that the precious second-class water, which according to the EU is being produced from sewage treatment plants, has been officially declared as water of “no economic value”, and is being discharged into the sea. Only for the RO plants a couple of metres away to take it up again with more concentrated salinity, to be processed into potable water. Even if such plants were to use wind or solar energy, it would still be a waste of energy and resources and lacking any management plan.

Conclusion – We are treading on very, very thin ice, and if no urgent attention is given to implement a professional management plan for such a fragile, delicate, and rare resource, we could find ourselves in very deep waters, ironically enough without the possibility of having a drop to drink. Such a management plan has to be part of a holistic national sustainable development plan, having the input of all other entities which directly or indirectly use or have an impact on water resources, incorporating health, agriculture, industry, waste, tourism, finance and the environment. Everyone has to play his part for a real sustainable future. Procrastination is the thief of time. Where there is water there is life. There is no life where there is no water.


Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

February 21, 2010

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The recent proposal to build a road at Ghadira is indeed alarming. The reasons advanced to justify such a road sound more like the environmental joke of the week, rivalled only by the same Minster’s environmental statement that the second class water produced by the drainage purification plant has no economic value. No scientific reports or studies were published with regard to the proposed road. Everyone would have loved to see these, rightly so because of other international obligations. The statement by the Minister concerned, as reported in the press, could lead one to think that the plans to build such a road were hurriedly drawn up before the deadline to apply for EU funds expired, not primarily for the sake of the road, but to obtain and utilise funds. Once this news and maps have been officially released by the DOI, one presumes that Cabinet has approved it.

The green and red arrows are inserted by the author, the former indicating the amount of sound and light pollution, disturbance and impact of the new road, and the latter indicating the area that will be at the mercy of strong easterly winds. These were inserted on the original photo montage issued by the DOI showing the new road and the removal of the existent road.

As an EU member State, Malta is bound by the EU legal obligations of the treaty it signed on 1 May 2004. One such legal instrument of this treaty is Council Directive 92/43 EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, or as it is better known, the Habitats Directive. According to Government Notice 112 of 2007, Malta proposed the Ghadira Reserve as a Site of Community Interest (pSCI), which means a site in the biogeographic region (i.e. the Mediterranean) that contributes significantly to the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type listed in Annex I, or of a species in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, and which may also contribute significantly to the coherence of the EU Natura 2000 network, and/or contributes significantly to the maintenance of biological diversity in the biogeographic region concerned. The Għadira Reserve, together with the other Sites of Community Interests proposed by Government Notice 112 of 2007 (among them also il-Qammieh) was approved by the EU as Special Areas of Conservation. According to the Habitats Directive, a Special Area of Conservation means a site of Community Importance designated by the member State through a statutory, administrative and/or contractual act where the necessary conservation measures are applied for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of the natural habitats and/or the populations of the species for which the site is designated. Moreover, the Malta Government also declared Ghadira Reserve, through the same Government Notice 112 of 2007, as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the Conservation of Wild Birds, better known as the Birds Directive. Today, Ghadira Reserve forms part of the EU Natura 2000 sites. According to the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 sites are a coherent European ecological network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). This network enables the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned, to be maintained or where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range. The Natura 2000 network also includes the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified by the Member States according to the Birds Directive.

L-Għadira Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

Il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

As indicated above, the boundary of the Ghadira SAC touches the boundary of another SAC – il-Qammieh, also proposed by the government through Government Notice 112 of 2007, and now endorsed by the EU. The two site plans published with the G.N. 112 of 2007 are being included. Therefore, the new road will cut through two SACs, both forming part of Natura 2000. And such a proposal for such a new road has to follow the procedure of the obligations of the Habitat Directive. Article 6 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to “…take appropriate steps to avoid, in the Special Areas of Conservation, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this Directive.”

Furthermore, Article 6 of the Habitat Directive obliges that: “Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.” (my emphasis)

Malta is also a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention – the Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. On accession, Malta designated Ghadira as the suitable wetland in its territory for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. As a contracting party, Malta is obliged to formulate and implement its planning to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in its territory.

A number of environmental NGOs, and a substantial number of the public who really and sincerely have the environment at heart, not for any personal gain, have expressed their concern saying that there is no need for such a road. Indeed a comment by one NGO – Din l-Art Helwa – expressed fears that this would open virgin land to speculation. I cannot for a moment imagine such a road with no adjacent “landscaping”, with bungalows and possibly a high-rise tower similar to the one at Mistra. The present four-carriageway road is quite good and adequate enough. The removal of this road would threaten and possibly eliminate the Ghadira Reserve – a Natura 2000 site.

If one were to look at old maps of the area, the present Ghadira Special Area of Conservation was once a salt pan because the sea had access to the deepest inland part of the area, which is below or at sea level. When the strong easterly winds blow, the big waves are kept at bay by the road. It would take only one such strong storm to sweep over and eliminate the Natura 2000 site, including the adjacent surrounding agricultural land. I witnessed such storms twice during the habitat engineering works at Ghadira in the early 1980s. The negative impact of the removal of the present four-carriageway road, would be augmented by those from the building of the new proposed road at the back of the Natura 2000 site, with sound and light pollution, other disturbances and the alteration of the hydrology of the area, besides obliterating pristine natural habitat. These would render the Ghadira Natura 2000 site a mere glorified duck pond, and would also negatively impact il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site too. In brief, the proposed new road does not have any economical benefits, it does not benefit the social environment and it negatively impacts the ecological environment. It is not sustainable, but is merely a “free market concept” without any social or environmental considerations. In the run up to the last general election, and in the first public meeting after the general election, the Prime Minister repeated, wrote and stressed, that the environment is one of the three pillars of his government. I have been trying hard to find a reason, following such a commitment, why the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister responsible for the Environment, as well as the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCSD), is finding it difficult to activate such Commission, which was set up in 2002, in terms of the Environment Protection Act (2001). The main remit of the NCSD is to advocate a national sustainable development across all sectors, to review progress in the achievement of such sustainable development and to build consensus on action needed to achieve further progress, besides being an obligation as a member of the European Union. This lack of action with regard to the NCSD is also further surprising when during a business breakfast organised by the Nationalist Party, The Times (10 September) reported that “Dr Gonzi said the time had come for the pendulum to swing towards the environment. He argued that the country is at a crossroads in terms of how it views the environment and stressed that a strategic decision on sustainable development needs to be taken now.” I am informed that during another recent business breakfast held on 20 November, a member of the NCSD Commission remarked that the Commission has not met for the last two years! The workings of such a Commission would definitely put an end to such environmental antics. It would also be of help to the Prime Minister and his government in honouring their commitments with regard to their environment pillar, both to the local community, to future generations, and also its international obligations. It would also help the people of Malta to avoid embarrassment vis-à-vis their international obligations, especially those of the European Union environment acquis. Present and future generations will doubtlessly ask why EU funds were spent in a way that threaten two Maltese EU Natura 2000 sites. They will also ask why more natural protected environment of international importance was taken to build a road when a four carriageway one existed and was adequate. They will, without doubt, ask which Minister was responsible who approved such a project when historical, archaeological sites and other roads are crying for maintenance and restoration. Certainly they will ask who the Minister was who had the responsibility to protect their environment, which they had lent us, and more so since it was one of the main pillars of his government. Those responsible may not be here to answer such questions.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

February 21, 2010

 

21 ta’ Frar, 2010

IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Nistħajjel xi ħadd jistaqsi: “imma x’jagħmel siġra siġra Maltija u oħra mhux Maltija? Is-siġar mhux kollha siġar?”

Il-gżejjer Maltin kellhom għatja ta’ siġar adattati kemm għall-klima kif ukoll għall-ambjenti naturali tagħhom għall-eluf ta’ snin qabel mal-bniedem medd riġlejh fuq dawn il-gżejjer. Insibu siġar li kienu, u wħud minnhom għadhom jikbru sa llum il-ġurnata, f’ambjent niexef u fqir fil-ħamrija; oħrajn jikbru f’ambjent bi blat bi rqajja’ ta’ ħamrija, waqt li oħrajn jikbru matul il-widien u qrib ta’ nixxigħat minħabba li dawn iħobbu l-ilma. Dawn, li kif għidna, uħud minnhom għadhom jikbru fil-gżejjer Maltin, huma s-siġar Maltin, jew kif huma magħrufa teknikament, siġar indiġeni Maltin. Dan ma jfisserx li dawn is-siġar Maltin jikbru biss fil-gżejjer Maltin, imma huma popolazzjoni ta’ siġar li għal eluf ta’ snin ma kellhomx u lanqas illum ma għandhomx kuntatt fiżiku ma’ siġar oħra bħalhom li jikbru barra mill-gżejjer Maltin. Siġar oħra bħalhom jikbru l-aktar fil-pajjiżi madwar il-Mediterran, imma minħabba li l-gżejjer Maltin huma mdawrin bil-baħar, mhux possibli li s-siġar Maltin jiddakkru jew idakkru, b’mod naturali, is-siġar bħalhom li jikbru fil-pajjiżi tal-Mediterran għax il-firxa tal-baħar tal-madwar hija kbira wisq.

Matul il-medda tas-snin, uħud minn dawn is-siġar Maltin, saru rari ħafna, waqt li oħrajn inqerdu għal kollox.  Ilum insibu madwar 60 speċi ta’ siġar Maltin li għadhom jikbru, jħaddru, u jsebbħu pajjizna, għalkemm ’l biċċa l-kbira huma kemmxejn rari u jikbru f’postijiet imwarrba.

IR-RIĦAN – waħda mis-siġar Maltin, li għadha tħaddar u twarrad f’xi rqajja tal-gżejjer Maltin, tgħamel ħilitha biex tkompli issebbaħhom minkejja l-imġieba negattiva tagħna.  U minkejja li huwa tant ħafif biex titnissel, xorta għad hemm min jagħżel li jdaħħalha f’pajjiżna billi jixtriha jew iġibha minn pajjiżi oħra, fil-riżultati negattivi kollha li jista’ jkollha.

Kif u għaliex inqerdu xi siġar Maltin

Meta l-bniedem rifes fuq dawn il-gżejjer, dan mill-ewwel kellu impatt fuq l-ambjent naturali Malti, anki fuq is-siġar. Dan beda jaqta’ s-siġar għall-injam biex jibni għatja fuq rasu; biex ikebbes in-nar, kemm biex isajjar kif ukoll kontra l-kesħa, u anki biex bl-injam jagħmel manek għall-għodda.  Il-bniedem ukoll ġab miegħu xi annimali domestiċi, fosthom il-mogħoż.  Dawn xejn ma għenu fit-tnissil tas-siġar Maltin, għaliex kull nebbieta ta’ kull siġra kienu jqaxxruha mill-qiegħ biex jiekluha. Il-qerda tas-siġar ħadet xejra oħra meta l-bniedem beda jaħdem l-art biex ikabbar l-uċuh tar-raba’. U numru ta’ siġar Maltin, tbiċċru, tqaċċtu, u nqalgħu biex għamlu wisa’ għall-għelieqi.

Il-ħakma tal-gżejjer mill-barrani matul is-snin, l-aktar dawk Rumani u dawk Għarbin wkoll kompliet tneżża lil dawn il-gżejjer mill-għatja ta’ siġar Maltin.  Dan kien isir ukoll għall-għanijiet ta’ gwerer, u l-injam tagħhom saħansitra għen biex inbnew xi xwieni. Anki llum il-ġurnata għadna naraw l-imġieba negattiva u n-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-bniedem lejn is-siġar.  Wieħed ma jieħux gost jgħid, imma n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar dan il-wirt, tkompli tgħin biex is-siġar Maltin ikomplu jonqsu bil-mod il-mod.  U kif ngħidu aħna, tieħu mingħajr ma trodd, is-swar tħott.

Illum naraw theddida oħra ġdida għas-siġar Maltin.  Din ġejja mill-importazzjoni, jew id-dħul fil-pajjiż ta’ siġar minn kull rokna tad-dinja: mill-Asja, mill-Amerika, mill-Awstralja, u mill-Afrika t’Isfel, mingħajr l-iċken ħsieb ta’ l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom mhux biss fuq is-siġar Maltin imma anki fuq l-annimali u l-pjanti slavaġġ, jiġifieri fuq l-ekosistema Maltija.  Dan biex ma nsemmux ukoll l-impatt ekonomiku, dak storiku, dak tas-saħħa tal-bniedem, dak estetiku, dak agrikolu, u impatti oħra.  Sfortunatament, wieħed mill-għanijiet ewlenin għad-dħul ta’ dawn is-siġar barranin huwa biss għan ta’ qliegħ ta’ flus.

Hawn ukoll min jaħseb li biex tgħin lis-siġar u l-ekosistema tal-gżejjer Maltin huwa billi jinxtraw jew jinġiebu siġar bħal dawk Maltin, minn pajjiżi oħra, mingħajr ma jqis l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom fuq is-siġar Maltin stess, bħal ma sfortunatament diġa rajna. Hawnhekk ma jistax ma jingħadx li dan huwa kollu riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tas-sistem ekoloġika, nuqqas ta’ għarfien tal-obligazzjonijiet internazzjonali f’dan il-qasam, kollu frott tan-nuqqas ta’ rieda u n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


In search of tiger’s documents

January 11, 2010

Tuesday, 15th September 2009

Talking Point

In search of tiger’s documents

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the red palm weevil, the Geranium bronze butterfly and other alien species, which got a foothold on these islands, now a Bengal tiger has surfaced on a rooftop! Without doubt, this felid was brought to Malta, either imported from a country outside the European Union or transported from one of the EU member states.

The Bengal tiger hunts medium to large prey such as wild pigs, deer, antelopes and buffalo. This second largest wild big cat can reach a length of three metres from head to tail and weigh about 250 kilogrammes. It can jump a horizontal leap of 10 metres and a vertical jump of five metres. It is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 wild Bengal tigers, each having a minimum territory of 20 square kilometres.

Because of widespread illegal trade in wild animals and plants, which, incidentally, is second only to international drug trafficking, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) came into force in 1973. The Bengal tiger is listed in the convention’s Appendix I, which includes the most endangered animals and plants threatened with extinction. International trade in such species is prohibited. In exceptional cases trade may take place provided it is authorised by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit. This means that:

If the Bengal tiger was legally imported from outside the EU, the Maltese Cites management authority, which is Mepa, had to issue an import permit after the scientific authority had given its advice that the import will not be detrimental to the species involved. An importation and export permit from country of origin had to be surrendered to Mepa.

If the Bengal tiger was transported to Malta from within the EU, then two EU wildlife trade regulations, (EC) 338 of 1997 and (EC) 865 of 2006, which implement the provision of Cites, come in play. The object of these regulations is to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to guarantee their conservation by regulation trade therein. The introduction into the Community of specimens of the species listed in Cites Appendix I is subject to the completion of the necessary checks and the prior presentation of documents at the border Customs office at the point of introduction, which member states have designated and notified the EU and Cites secretariat accordingly.

If the Bengal tiger was imported legally, then Mepa, which is the management authority both for Cites and also for the EU regulations, should have all the documents at its finger tips. If it does not have any, then the Bengal tiger was imported into Malta, and into the EU, illegally.

The importation and exportation of wild flora and fauna is not just the responsibility of Mepa, which is just concerned with the ecological aspect. Nonetheless, the importation of living species can have a social and an economical negative impact, something the local administrative entitles are finding it so difficult to apprehend. Poisonous species like snakes and spiders are of concern to the Ministry for Social Policy, responsible for health. Dangerous animals, like felids, chimpanzees and also reptiles, also fall within the wing of the ministry responsible for veterinary services.

The Veterinary Service Act designates a “border inspection post” for carrying out veterinary inspections by veterinary officers on imported live animals. The EU and Cites both have been notified of these specific posts. This means that the Bengal tiger had to enter Malta through one of these designated posts, accompanied not only by the Cites/EU documentation but also by a veterinary health certificate issued by the country of origin. The Animal Welfare Act, administered by the veterinary services within the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, is also responsible for the monitoring of ill treatment of animals and aggressive animals that may present a danger to the safety of man or other animals and which are classified as such by the minister. These animals shall not be bred, imported or sold in Malta.

In another section of the press, the Director of Animal Welfare is reported as having said that the Bengal tiger is being taken good care of, has an air-conditioned room, is fed chickens and there are no indications that it has bothered anyone from the surroundings. Yet, no mention has been made of any veterinary health certificate that had to be surrendered to the veterinary services at the border inspection post, more important as felids are included in the Fourth Schedule of the Veterinary Service Act.

So while a search for the importation and veterinary documents is being conducted, the Bengal tiger is comfortably in an airconditioned room, eating chickens. And during such search for the legal documents, will it come of age and start searching for a mate? Will it do the Houdini act? When pigs can fly in Malta, why cannot their predator fly too? Will it be infected by some endemic virus and be eaten by rats overnight? Time will tell. In the meantime, the search from all sides goes on. But the most important question, considering the above legal provisions, is: But how on earth did such a blessed tiger manage to surface on an urban rooftop?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com