Where have all the butterflies gone?

July 21, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Landscaping works contributing to further biodiversity loss

Jessica Arena

 

A few decades ago, butterflies of every shape and colour would take off in swarms as you walked under carob trees. Nowadays, the decline of butterflies is occurring at such a high rate that when naturalists spot a particularly uncommon species, they do not disclose its location; to protect the insects from harm.

While migratory butterflies can still be spotted with some frequency, local butterflies have all but disappeared from view. Landscaping works being carried out without consideration for local fauna and flora are having a devastating effect of the state of Maltese biodiversity, according to experts.

Jake Farrugia, an earth systems student and amateur lepidopterist, recounts how just earlier this month, while collecting fennel for his own larvae, he spotted a large number of swallowtail butterfly larvae nestled in the fennel bushes. Returning to the site a few days later, Mr Farrugia says that during landscaping works in Triq il-Buskett, Rabat, the native fennel bushes on the side of the road were all removed, taking the butterfly larvae with them.

“Plants growing under country walls and other walls are essential in providing micro habitats for all sorts of flora and fauna,” Mr Farrugia says.

“A butterfly looking to deposit eggs, such as the swallowtail, would have gladly chosen this spot since it is sheltered from the sun and wind as well as potential predators.”

The removal of fennel bushes and other local flora constitutes as habitat loss… We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Mr Farrugia says, adding that the desire to ’embellish’ public spaces is not allowing nature to adapt .

Alfred Baldacchino, an environmentalist and former assistant director at the Mepa Environmental Directorate, describes the conservation of biodiversity as pitiful.                   ,

“Despite the fact that the Environment and Resources Authority is responsible for biodiversity protection and conservation through the enforcement of EU legislation, they  are incompetent, ignorant of the situation and failing to take any proactive measures,” Mr Baldacchino says.

Biodiversity loss can be attributed to an intersecting number of external situations, the most pressing of which, according to Mr Baldacchino, is climate change. Rapid changes in temperature, the use of fossil fuels and pesticides are compounded upon flora and fauna, giving the environment very little time to adjust.

“ERA is incompetent and ignorant of the situation”

“This year alone we have seen temperatures in France soar to 45’C, several fires in Europe, the destruction of Miżieb,” says Mr Baldacchino.

“There is a complete lack of interest, lack of tangible effort, lack of any help at all from the Ministry responsible for climate change and the environment.”

According to Mr Baldacchino, the ERA and Ambjent Malta are not doing enough to mitigate  the   effects  of   climate change and prevent further biodiversity loss through adequate conservation plans.

“Mizieb is a case in point,” he says,”first there’s a disaster and afterwards we run a study about how it could have been prevented.”

When it comes to landscaping, Mr Baldacchino says the authorities and entities concerned demonstrate a pattern of disinterest and wilful ignorance with respect the havoc being wreaked on native flora.

“The Environmental Landscapes Consortium is the worst enemy of biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino says. “Their only interest is.monetary profit. Despite the fact that they have been paid €8 million a year for the past 15 years from public funds, all they have to show for it is the destruction of biodiversity, use of chemicals and water-thirsty turfs which compete with local flora.”

There is a public perception of biodiversity that regards the majority of wayside flora as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (weeds) and that its removal causes only superficial damage. This position is something Mr Baldacchino calls “professional ignorance” as even school children are taught that flora is an integral part of the ecosystem.

Wayside flora are unique ecological niches and  often serve as breeding grounds for insects and other fauna, as well as being highly attractive to pollinators, such as bees and even butterflies.

The careless removal of these niches could spell doom not just for our butterflies but for the long term health of the environment itself, Mr Baldacchino stresses.

“When ELC act like they derive pleasure from removing every blade of grass that grows, we only have a recipe for disaster.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Where the wind blows

April 12, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where the wind blows

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The EU met on 8th March 2016 to decide whether to extend for another 15 years, the use of glyphosate, a crucial weedkiller ingredient. The decision was abruptly postponed at the eleventh hour.

pic-3

A glyphosate-based weed killer

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture, public areas and private gardens. It is also used in genetically modified crops, which are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate-based products.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, announced that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  Environmental groups have since been calling for its ban.

Following WHO’s warnings, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will undertake further studies to see if glyphosate can cause cancer, interfere with reproduction or damage the hormone system. The herbicide glyphosate can enter the body through food or drinking water. A new study has shown that the majority of Germans have been contaminated by the compound.

killed by public funds

Dead pollinators – bees – after spraying pesticides, especially for purely commercial purposes. 

According to scientists, heavy and repeated uses of glypohosate-based herbicides, contributes to many envirionmental and soil-ecosystem problems. Glyphosate results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food. And its impacts on biodiversity is also well known: it decimates and eliminates pollinators such as bees.

On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contends that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weed killer deemed safe for humans to consume, a report which Greenpeace has referred to as “a whitewash”.

spraying pesticides 1

Whose responsibility is it: Ministry of Landscaping? Ministry of Health? Ministry of Environment? Ministry of Consumer Affairs?Ministry for Local Councils? 

The Swedish Environment Minister said: “We won’t take risks with glyphosate and we don’t think that the analysis done so far is good enough. We will propose that no decision is taken until further analysis has been done and the EFSA scientists have been more transparent about their considerations.”

Before the scheduled vote of 8 March, leaders from Italy joined Sweden, France, and the Netherlands against the widely-used herbicide.

Following such postponement, EU Member States were given till the 18 March 2016 to provide their opinion for the next meeting, scheduled for 18 May. But the Times of Malta (March 29) quoted a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Environment, that Malta did not submit such opinion by the 18 March, because discussions were still ongoing.

spraying pesticides 2

Workers are just a cog in the pro-business machine. As long as they deliver, it is not important to ensure that they wear hazardous clothing.

Following a number of articles and comments in the press, it is now more than obvious that in Malta the eagerness for monitoring and enforcing is at its lowest ebb, if at all. The professionalism of passing the buck is more pronounced.

As per Pesticides Control Act, 2001 and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act, 2011, the competent authority for the authorisation and regulation of pesticides in Malta is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA).

But, according to this newspaper, MCCAA refused to state it’s position and directed questions to the Environment Ministry. The latter is responsible for the protection of biodiversity, the Pesticides Control Board (PCB) which is chaired by a Ministry’s representative, and also for agriculture for which a parliamentary secretary is accountable.

Because of the impacts of pesticides on human food and animal feeds, representatives of the Food and Safety Commission and the Environment Health Department, both under the responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Health are represented on the PCB.

“I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on May 18 with an official public position”

One of the functions of the Food and Safety Commission is to effectively apply the precautionary principle when a significant risk to consumers is identified or reasonably suspected. Sitting on the fence is the Minister of Landscaping who is responsible for use of pesticides by his landscaping official public partner who seems to be immune to any regulation with regards to human safety and biodiversity.

One would tend to ask. “What would Malta have voted if the matter was not postponed?” In such a sensitive social and ecological matter, one would have thought that the decision was easy. But in all probabilities the pro-business vision is quite a high and a strong hurdle to overcome.

From past and present experience, considering the pro-business vision dominating every other sector, and the fortunate position in the EU’s alphabetical list, I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on 18 May with an official public position. The position will be reached according to the way the majority of the EU Member States vote: in other words, where the wind blows.

spraying pesticides 3

Commercial interests spray to their heart’s content: in public area, in public gardens, in street, outsides residential areas, close to public outlets. Anywhere as long as they make some profit out of it. Externalities will be paid by the general public and the environment. 

This despite the negative impacts that such a decision will undoubtedly have on society and ecology, which will be more acute locally considering the smallness of the country. Why does Malta have to be feel embarrassed by a vote in favour of society and the environment?

Miriam Dalli, member of the European Parliament Environment Committee, is quoted as saying that “ultimately we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest.”

One has to wait till the vote on 18 May to see what stand Malta will take: whether MCCAA will be on the side of commercial interests, or use the precautionary principle in the interests of social and environmental health.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/