Environment Landscaping Conundrum

September 10, 2019

The environment landscaping problem

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

One of the environmental legacies from such ‘landscaping’ “secret contract” – the ubiquitous invasive fountain grass.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) report of September 2017, “landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership” was a matter for which an agreement was entered into on October 31, 2002 between the government (Ministry of Finance) and the Environment Landscaping Consortium (ELC) “for managing government resources, which were made at its disposal to deliver the landscaping projects in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated in the agreement.”

This agreement “was not derived through competitive tendering procedures” but awarded “through direct negotiations with ELC following a call for an expression of interest.”

The government further opted to extend this contract twice, namely in 2007 and 2012 through two direct orders which “also deviate from the spirit of competition promoted by the Public Procurement Regulations where it is stipulated that material contacts are to be subject to a European Union wide call for tenders”.

According to the NAO, “the contractual rates negotiated are not favourable to the government” because of such procedures.

This contract expires at the end of 2019, having to date received from the government approximately €8 million per year (that is, €136 million in total).

The NAO report goes into detail about the contractual deficiencies of this agreement. Amongst these, the report outlined how the parties’ documents did not reconcile on various aspects of service delivery. It noted that the Project Management Committee was non-functioning and that there was non-receipt of a number of reports, particularly the quarterly management accounts, which “constitutes a contractual breach”.

The report noted the use of pesticides at Buskett Gardens’ orchards despite the restrictions within an EU Natura 2000 site, and also how documentation relating to a detailed survey of the sites could not be traced by the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The NAO also outlined how work was carried out without any authorisation and that work on four projects, which had to be completed by 2017 and which were to be carried out by the contractor at no additional cost to the government, had not yet commenced.

There was mention of how the government had not kept abreast on the status of the contractual clause needing to be fulfilled whereby the government had agreed to finance an in-house training course for students following horticulture studies at MCAST. There was also mention of the government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input, which was not conducive to a balanced partnership.

The report noted how the contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities and that the operational and financial information gaps were not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement. It went on to note: “The contractor’s non-compliance remains evident on a number of issues.

In some cases, deviations from contractual clauses that date back to 2002 impact negatively on the government’s direct and broader interests.”

Bad planning, wrong use and waste of scarce water resources.                    Photo A E Baldacchino 2011.07.01.

The NAO report refers only to the financial and commercial aspects of this PPP contract. The national and EU obligations with regards to biodiversity are not entered into.

A copy of this public agreement was requested on June 23, 2015. This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, as was the subsequent appeal dated August 13, 2015.A request was filed with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner on August 19, 2015. The Commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 considered “that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.”

 

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum

 

The Commissioner’s decision went on to say that, hence, “in the spirit of transparency and accountability as contemplated by the Act, the MTI [Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure] is instructed to accede to Mr Baldacchino’s request by not later than twenty-five (25) working days from the receipt of this decision”.

Following this ruling, an appeal was lodged by the said Ministry to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (14.09.2107) waived the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection ruling (19.01.2016), and ordered that a copy of the agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2002 should be given to the applicant.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal in its ruling (27/2016) concluded, amongst other things, that “in the said agreement, there is no information of a commercial nature that cannot be made public and that in terms of article 35(2) of the said Act, it is in the public interest that such an agreement be made public.”

The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure was unhappy with this ruling. An email from the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government in October 2017 subsequently explained: “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed the Tribunal’s decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court”, arguing that the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Data should be declared “null and void”.

maintenance of public gardens –  pruning agony.

Judgement had to be reached by December 2017, but the sitting has been postponed and postponed again. The decision is still pending.

Considering the Freedom of Information Act (Chap. 496 of the Laws of Malta) and considering that, as a member of the European Union and also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention (Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), one would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But after four years from the initial request for a copy of this agreement, such a contract is still not publicly available.

One would have thought that the ELC – the government’s private partner – would be proud to inform everyone how they utilised the €136 million from public funds in relation to their contractual obligations.

The NAO’s report (page 55) concludes: “Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, the government’s position shifted from one where action could be initiated to dissolve this PPP Agreement, to one where prolonged weak enforcement implied tacit consent”.

 

The Fountain grass will long be remembered after the demise of the ELC.  It will be up top the social, financial and ecological expenses to control and manage such an EU listed invasive species used in local ‘landscaping’.

The Ministry for Finance has opted for the second position and continued to vote €8 million per annum. What will be the stand taken by the Ministry of Finance vis-à-vis the coming budget with regards to this ‘secret agreement’? Hopefully the Ministry for the Environment, who is now responsible for this ‘secret contract’, will put its foot down.

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Related articles

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Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

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updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

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

 


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


Another Buskett onslaught

September 15, 2016

times-of-malta

Another Buskett onslaught

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is one of the few remaining rich ecological areas. It is a tree protection area. It is also a bird protection area: birds of prey migrating in both spring and autumn and for other migrating, wintering and resident species.

Buskett supports eight different habitat types of EU Community interest, whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation (SAC). It also supports six different species of fauna (besides birds) and plant species of EU Community interest, whose conservation also demands the SAC designation.

At Buskett, there are 32 bird species recorded, all qualifying for special EU conservation measures with regard to their habitat to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. Because of this, Buskett is a special protection area (SPA).

Buskett is thus both an SPA and an SAC, making the place an EU Natura 2000 site. These are designed to afford protection to the most vulnerable species in Europe.

buskett

BUSKETT – an SPA, an SAC – and an EU NATURA 2000 site.

Within six years, at most, from the designation of a Natura 2000 site (from 2004, in our case), member states are obliged to establish priorities in the light of the importance of the sites for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type or a species for the coherence of Natura 2000 and in the light of the threats of degradation or destruction to which those sites are exposed.

 

Since EU accession in 2004, the environment has never been
so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today
 
The priority that has officially materialised so far is a rave party in the midst of this Natura 2000 site during a sensitive migration  for birds of prey. This despite the fact that EU funds were acquired for the rehabilitation of Buskett’s environment.

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 its conservation objectives.

The competent national authority (the Environment and Resources Authority) has to agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and after having obtained the opinion of the public.

By December 2015, management plans for Malta’s Natura 2000 sites were ready and approved by the government after a public consultation exercise. However, Buskett is still under tremendous pressure and disturbance.

Highlighted negative impacts on this Natura 2000 site, according to the management plan, are noise and light pollution resulting in disturbance. Noise was attributed to large groups of people, unnecessary shouting and also the use of megaphones.

Light pollution was also referred to from a transient source, such as from a passing vehicle or from adjacent areas.

The management plan confirmed that “all these result in considerable disturbance to wildlife”.

The plan also recommends that the range, population size, roosting habitat and future prospects of migratory raptors are to be maintained; the future prospects of breeding and wintering passerines are to be improved.

buskett-kuccarda-bghadam-wrdpress-2

Buskett is a Special Protection Area (SPA) declared under the EU Bird Directive because of its importance for migratory birds of prey.

It further recommends that Buskett should receive full legal protection implemented according to national legislation and local polices. With regard to birds, one of the main objectives is to maintain its high ornithological value. These are all in line with obligations arising out of the EU environmental acquis, which have been transposed to local legislation.

The Minister for the Environment and his ERA seem to be yet oblivious to what has hit them. They failed terribly at their first hurdle, which seemingly was a bit too high for them. Now they seem to have been mesmerised by this rave party, which took place on September 7 in the midst of Buskett. This should never have been given a permit to be held –  unless, of course, it was held without any permit, which would still be of ERA’s concern.

 

2016-09-08-black-kitss-marcus-camilleri-wordpress-photo-3

One of the largest flocks of Black Kites congregating over Buskett EU Natura 2000 site on the 7th September 2016, waiting to roost in the trees, on the same day the rave party was held.

The minister and his ERA are intelligent enough, I believe, to see that such a rave party is diametrically opposed to the EU Natura 2000 obligations, especially in a sensitively bird of prey migratory period. Even genuine bird hunters and bird conservationists (who, in the recent past, have never seen eye to eye) have come out in force against such disturbances to this Natura 2000 site.

malta-taghna-lkoll“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.” So were the people promised in the Malta Tagħna Ikoll electoral manifesto in 2013.

But the people are still waiting for this promise to be realised and the responsibility of the environmental regulator (“which our country does not have”) to be effective.

Not only has Malta not become the “best in Europe”, as also promised, but, since accession to the EU in 2004, the environment has never been so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Honey Buzzard – Pernis apivoris  – il-kuċċarda
Black Kite – Milvus migrans – l-astun iswed
Marsh Harrier – Circus aeruginosus – il-bagħdan aħmar

 

photos-of-buskett

A photo of Buskett an EU Natura 2000 site, taken on 12th September 2016. For the attentino of ERA,  the promised environmental regulator.

See also

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/2010/07/13/the-eu-habitats-directive/

 

 

 


MEPA leaves no stone unturned

August 19, 2014

times

Mepa leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta lately reported the construction of a dirt and concrete road on Comino, an island with barely half a dozen residents and an EU Natura 2000 site.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, thus also for Natura 2000 sites, was quick to show its surprise and lack of awareness of the matter.

It immediately issued an enforcement notice on the Commissioner of Land, on the grounds that Comino is government land. Pontius Pilate would have envied this. Incidentally, the Commissioner of Land falls within the portfolio of the Prime Minster.

Natura 2000 sites are sites listed according to important habitat types in the EU Habitats Directive. On accession, each member state has to declare such sites, and once approved by the EU Commission as Special Areas of Conservation, these form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network, all of European ecological importance.

Member states are obliged to draw up a management plan for each Natura 2000 site. Following agreement with the EU, Malta’s management plans were finalised by December 2013. What happened to these management plans: have these been shelved sine die?

According to the government’s electoral manifesto, the Environment Directorate had to be separated from the Planning Directorate. “The main aim of the separation will be to strengthen the respective autonomy of the two important parts”, “the environment will be given the priority it deserves” and “the environment and resources will be conserved, protected…” the new authority established “will assume the important role of a regulator which to date our country does not have”.

Furthermore, “a new government will be more seriously committed in the environmental field. We will work with determination so that we will recover the lost time, conscious that there are a number of difficult decisions to be taken, amongst them the Mepa reform. We will take these measures in the interest of the environment of our country so that we will be in a positon to address the challenge”. (Malta Tagħna Lkoll – Manifest Elettorali 2013 – section 9, pages 92 – 96)

Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before. After 18 months, the environment is still in limbo, still hijacked by Mepa.

2014.08.17 - mepa reform

A cartoon which appeared in the Sunday Times of Malta – 17 August, 2014

The political responsiblility today rests with a Parliamentary Secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister. This can lead one to rightly conclude that the aim behind the separation of the directorates is more a measure of convenience than of conviction. The status quo has definitely not strengthened the environment. It is contributing to its destruction.

The fact that the environment does not fall within the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but is still in Mepa’s grip, also shows the lack of good governance of this social, national and international responsibility. The damage and rampage going on in the environment, endorsed by the Competent Authority paid to ensure that this does not happen, is unbelievable.

The feeling of those who honestly have the national interest of society and the environment at heart is that the environment is not a priority on the govenment’s agenda, despite the fine words in the electoral manifesto. In fact,the environment is not on the agenda at all.

Mepa is on the front line, as a Competent Authority, leaving no stone unturned to accomodate widespread and massive development and to sanction illegalities, with a hugely negative impact on society and the environment.

I fear there is much more to come. Such laissez-faire in environmetal protection leads one to ask if Mepa is finding it difficult to honour its obligations. It seems as if it wants to imply that one should ask any related questions and forward any complaints on the environment to the European Commission, because Mepa is not interested, not willing and perhaps not competent to deliver.

 The Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for this Competent Authority, is miles away from a basic awareness of professional environmental management and planning, judging by his comments and stands taken.

And with such an official political lack of vision of environmental matters, despite the electoral manifesto, one can understand the sorry state to which the environment is degenerating.

 

“Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed, but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before”

Aware of Mepa’s workings, I can almost see another Montekristo on Comino, with Mepa eventually boasting that it has issued scores of enforcement notices to stop the rape – and doing nothing about it.

One such note has already been issued. Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken. And if the electoral manifesto is anything to go by, Mepa has ample directions, unless it has succumbed to a rubber stamp role.

“We believe that Malta should be in the forefront on environmental standards. Not because there is the obligation of European directions, but because our children deserves this.” Eloquent words in the manifesto, which every citizen of this country should applaud and look forward to achieve.

But with the Competent Authority finding it difficult to address a mere illegal dirt road in a Natura 2000 site, I very much doubt whether such an electoral promise can ever be achieved.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Imagine the stand Mepa will take with regard to the White Rocks development, extending into a Natura 2000 site, which will definitely be negatively impacted. The more so since the project cannot be regarded as a development related to the management of the site.

I believe that if the Prime Minister – who is responsible for Mepa, the Competent Authority for environmental matters – really wants to achieve the electoral promises made in the Labour Party’s manifesto, he has to seriously commit himself before it becomes almost impossible to achieve them.

“Our aim is clear: we want to be the best because this is what we deserve. We want to leave behind us a heritage to future generations so that these will be better than we are today.”

Too much time has already been wasted and much damage has been done.

With Mepa at the helm of environmental protection and management, there is no possibility at all for the government to achieve and honour its electoral promises.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Kunsilli Lokali… mill-Imdina għal Pembroke

July 7, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 7 ta’ Lulju, 2014

Kunsilli Lokali… mill-Imdina għal Pembroke
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Rajna u tkellimna dwar xogħolijiet li kellhom impatt negattiv fuq il-biodiversità. Tkellimna fuq ix-xogħol li sar fil-konfini tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina li jiġbor fih il-qerda tal-biodioversità fil-foss tal-Imdina fejn inqalgħu numru ta’ siġar biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità. Rajna ż-żrar li ntefa fil-madwar tal-ġnien Howard u fih tħawlu numru ta’ kaktus eżotiċi, biex kif intqal isebbah l-­ambjent. Rajna ukoll is-serħan tal-karozzi fuq it-Tomba fil-ġnien Howard. Rajna kif pjanti indiġeni tqaxxru mill-ġnien Howard u tħallew pjanti invażivi. Insomma rajna l-faqar ta’ dan il-Kunsill lejn l-apprezament u l-ħarsien tal-biodiversità Maltija, u kif il-qerda tagħha issir bil-għajnuna ta’ flus pubbliċi.

Xi kultant naħseb li qisu hemm xi taqtigħa bejn xi kunsilli biex jaraw min minnhom iħallas l-aktar biex tinqered il-biodiversità Maltija. Ftit wara li dehru dawn l-artikli fuq dan il-blog dwar ix-xogħol tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina, ċempilli ħabib tiegħi u qalli bil­-qerda li qed issir fix-xagħri ta’ Pembroke. Ħaddiema, li kif nista’ nifhem kellhom l-approvazzjoni u mħallsa mill-Kunsill ta’ Pembroke (sakemm ma kienux ta’ xi Ministeru), dehru fix-xagħri jaqtgħu l-ħaxix li huwa meqjus bħala ħaxix ħażin.

Il-ħaxix-imqaxxar-minn-Natura-2000

Il-ħaxix – ambjent naturali – imqaxxar mis-sit Natura 2000 f’Pembroke.  U dan mhux la tal-ewwel u lanqas tal-aħħar.

Ix-xagħri f’Pembroke ġiet dikjarata mill-gvern ta’ Malta bħala wesgħa li hija sinjura fil-pjanti indiġeni Maltin li jikbru waħdehom fis-selvaġġ. U din toffri ambjent naturali għall-fawna li tgħix fuqhom u madwarhom. Dan ix-xagħri f’Pembroke huwa meqjus bħala Żona Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni taħt id-Direttiva tal-Ambjenti Naturali tal-Unjoni Ewropa. Tant li kienet uffiċjalment imħarsa u ntbgħatek lill-Unjoni Ewropea bħala waħda mill-obbligi li kull pajjiż għandu meta jissieħeb biex jiddikjara żona li tkun sinjura fil-biodiversità, bħal fil-każ tax-xagħri ta’ Pembroke. Illum din hija meqjusa li għandha importanza internazzjonali, tant li titqies li hija ta’ importanza għall-UE u tifforma parti mix-xibka Natura 2000. Jidher li dan ix-xogħol sar qrib proġett li sar bil-flus tal-UE! U kull xogħol li jsir fiha jrid l-barka tal-MEPA!

Pembroke---Heritage-Trail

It-tabella li turi li l-heritage trail sar bi flus tal-UE. Il-ħaxix li tqaxxar kien biswit il-passaġġ u parti mill-ambjent naturali importanti. It-tneħħija tiegħu tmur kontra l-għan tal-heritage trail.

Meta mbgħad wieħed jisma’ u jara kif kunsill lokali li għandu ambjent daqshekk importanti fil-konfini tiegħu jonfoq flus pubbliċi biex jibgħat jew iħalli ħaddiema jaqtgħu l-ħaxix li jitqies bħala ħażin, wieħed ma jistax ma jgħidx li n-nuqqas ta’ għarfien u apprezzament tal-biodiversità tagħna f’dan il-pajjiż hija fil-qiegħ net, minkejja wegħdiet politiċi li saru, u obbligi internazzjonali li pajjizna għandu, sa mid-dħul tagħna fl-UE.

Ma naħsebx li wieħed ikun qed jgħid xejn ħazin li wħud mill-kunsilli lokali mhux biss ma għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-obbligi ta’ pajjiżna fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-biodiversità, imma lanqas għandhom ħjiel tal-programm elettorali tal-gvern. U lanqas ikun ħażin li wieħed jikkonkludi li xi kunsilli lokali jonqfu flus pubbliċi li jkollhom sempliċement biex ikunu nefquhom. Fin-nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni professjonali, tagħrif tekniku, kooperazzjoni ma’ entitajiet oħra governattivi, allura l-ħsara fil-qasam tal-ħarsien u apprezzament tal-biodiversità sejra tikber matul iż-żmien, obbligi u mhux obbligi,  wegħdiet u mhux.

Vandalism

Il-vandaliżmu li sar fil-heritage trail fin-Natura 2000 f’Pembroke. Mhux aħjar li l-flus marru biex ġew imsewwija dawn il-ħsarat milli biex għamlu l-ħsara lill-ambjent naturali tas-sit Natura 2000.

 

Niżżu ħajr ‘l Alla li  dan ma japplikax għall-kunsilli lokali kollha. Meta kunsill ifittex tagħrif professjonali u tekniku, jew inkella ikollu fi ħdanu xi membru li jkollu għarfien tal­-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ta’ dan il-wirt naturali, mill-ewwel wieħed jista’ jara ix-xogħol fejjiedi u professjonali tal-kunsill, bir-riżorsi jintefqu b’mod għaqli li jkun ta’ ġid kemm għas-soċjetà kif ukoll għall-biodiversità Maltija.

Smajt li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Pawl il-Baħar fuq pariri professjonali ta’ wieħed mill-membri tagħhom, li mhux biss huwa kwalifikat iżda għandu kuxjenza soċjali u ambjentali, ħa deċiżjoni li wieħed jittama li tiftaħ it-triq għall-kunsilli oħra biex jimxu fuqha. Il-Kunsill waqqaf il-bexx bl-erbiċida li kien isir fuq pjanti slavaġġ fl-inħawi. Bexx li kien joqtol il-ħajja ekoloġika kollha f’dan l-ambjent naturali, u li wkoll seta’ jkollhu impatt negattiv fuq l-ilma u jniġġeż inħawi oħra.

Dan ukoll wassal biex minbarra li ma baqgħux jinħlew bla ħtieġa riżorsi finanzjarji, li jistgħu jintużaw għal xogħol ieħor, twaqqfet ukoll il-ħsara fil-qasam soċjali u ambjentali. U wasal għal widnejja wkoll li kunsilli oħra ġirien ta’ San Pawl il-baħar imħajrin li jaħdmu ukoll fuq l-istess linja.

Wieħed jifhimha li mhux kulħadd huwa mistenni li jkun jaf kollox. U għalhekk hemm il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm diskuzzjonijet u direzzjoni fuq xogħol delikat li għandu jew jista’ jkollu impatt negattiv fuq il-biodiversità u s-soċjetà. Meta r-rieda tajba ma tkunx imsejsa fuq ħsibijiet u tagħrif xjentifiku u tekniku, din twassal għall-ħsara ambjentali u soċjali; bħal meta sikkina li biha jista’ jsir ħafna ġid, tingħata lil tarbija għada kif telqet timxi. Jekk il-kunsill lokali ikollhom direzzjoni professjonali jistgħu jagħmlu ħafna ġid fil-qasam soċjali u ambjentali.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ARA WKOLL:

Tkompli l-qerda fil-ġnien Howard… imma għaliex? http://wp.me/pL6Mk-H9

Ir-rabja tar-Rabtin… u bir-raġun http://wp.me/pL6Mk-D3

Cash cow in the ditch  http://wp.me/pL6Mk-Ek

 


Discovering wild flowers at Dingli Cliffs

August 29, 2013
logo                                                                                       Dingli Local Council –  Spring 2013

Discovering wild flowers at Dingli Cliffs

Alfred E. Baldacchino

widnet-il-bahar--blogg

Dingli Cliffs rise from the depths of the sea to a height of 253 meters above sea level. Their majestic height, facing North Africa, forms the highest point in the Maltese Islands.

Although exposed to the winds and sea spray, Dingli Cliffs offer a unique natural environment which can also be regarded as one of the richest in the Maltese islands. It embraces sea cliffs, garigue, and maquis, with adjacent woodland at Buskett on the inland side. A walk along these majestic cliffs brings one face to face with the beauty and wonders of nature, whatever the season of the year. A very brief look will give an idea of the richness of the place and the natural wealth there is to discover.

MALTESE ROCK-CENTAURY – Widnet il-Baħar

Without doubt, a must see at Dingli Cliffs is the rare, evergreen Maltese Rock-Centaury. This wild plant is an endemic species, that is, it is found growing wild only in the Maltese islands and nowhere else in the world. Even in Malta, the plant’s distribution is limited to the southern coastal cliffs of the islands. It flowers between May and July. It was declared Malta’s national plant in 1971. The Maltese Rock-Centaury is threatened by the destruction of its natural habitat mainly through quarrying.

It is listed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as a critically endangered species and is also listed as an Annex II species in the European Union Habitats Directive. It is also protected by Maltese legislation.

 Azure-Stonecrop---blogg

AZURE STONECROP – Beżżulet il-Baqra

The exposed garigue rocks can lead one to think that they are just bare rocks. A closer look at such habitat, especially where some water accumulates during the rainy season, reveals the spread of a low lying succulent plant, the Azure Stonecrop that only grows 6 to 7 mm in height. With the advent of summer, the leaves of the Azure Stonecrop turn red, with small white flowers having sky blue tips. These can be seen from March to May. The Azure Stonecrop is abundant in the Maltese Islands.

fennel-blogg

FENNEL – Bużbież

Fennel is a very common plant that can be found along waysides, disturbed ground and garigue. It can reach heights up to 250 cm and having thin segmented leaves. It flowers from May to October bearing yellow bunched flowers in the form of an umbrella, mainly in summer. The leaves are very aromatic. Our forefathers, and today some still do, used fennel seeds as a seasoning to oven-baked potatoes and to flavour meat. It was also believed to help against digestive problems and nausea. It is said that its leaves placed among clothes in drawers deter insects. Overseas, liqueurs and perfume essence are also made from fennel. The flowers of the wild fennel attract a number of insects, the most noticeable being the Swallowtail Butterfly. This endemic subspecies lays its eggs on the tender shoots of the fennel. The green-coloured caterpillar decorated with orange and white dots is also a sight to behold. Eventually it pupates and develops into a beautiful yellow-and-black butterfly, the largest in the Maltese Islands with a wing span of up to 65 ­to 88 mm.

 capers-blogg

CAPER – Kappara

The Caper is a common wild plant which can also be found along Dingli Cliffs. It is a sprawling greyish shrub with thick rounded leaves. The 5 to 7 cm white flowers each have four white petals and a number of purple stamens. They also have a delicate odour and are in bloom from April to September. The caper is salt-tolerant and can grow on sea-cliffs. It is also widely distributed through the Mediterranean. A local tradition is collecting and pickling the flower buds in brine and vinegar to be added to Maltese salads and sauces. It has a sharp piquant flavour affecting taste or smell with a sharp acid sensation. It adds a peculiar aroma and saltiness to food such as fish, meat, salads, pasta sauce, and pizza. It contributes to classic Mediterranean flavours which also include olives, anchovies, artichokes, and garden rocket. It is said that the caper plant can be used as a poultice – the soft moist mass of the plant, often heated, is spread on cloth over the skin to treat aching, inflamed or painful parts of the body, especially inflammations of joints such as those of the feet and hands. Leaves are also crushed and put on painful areas of hip gout. Furthermore, a decoction – an extraction obtained by boiling leaves or roots – is used on skin rashes.

 Tree-Spurge-blogg

TREE SPURGE – Tengħud tas-Siġra

The Tree Spurge is a frequent dense shrub which grows on valley slopes, on garigue, and also adapts to difficult sites. This shrub can reach a height of 2 m. It is a deciduous plant and loses all its leaves in summer. After the first rains, the green-bluish leaves begin to appear. It is covered in yellow flowers from December to May. With the approach of summer it turns from reddish-orange to rosy-bronze. Its dried leaves fall off completely in summer, as it waits for the first autumn rains. The Tree Spurge has a poisonous milky sap which is also a skin irritant, and should be handled with caution. Since ancient times, the toxic white and sticky sap has been used to treat skin outgrowths like tumours and warts, and is today being studied for such treatments. The name ‘spurge’ is derived from the Middle English/Old French (to purge/espurge) because of the use of the plant’s sap as a purgative. In folkloristic medicine the tree spurge is used to treat various ailments and as an insect repellant.

Maltese-spurge-blogg

MALTESE SPURGE- Tengħud tax-xagħri

Another interesting relative of the Tree Spurge frequently found growing on arid, rocky places in the garigue is the Maltese endemic Spurge. This species, which only grows in the Maltese Islands, is also found at Dingli Cliffs and is one of the protected wild flora. It only grows to a height of 10 to 30 cm. From November up till June it is covered in bright yellow flowers.

swallowtail-blogg

Swallowtail Butterfly on Mediterranean Thyme

Mediterranean Thyme – Sagħtar

Walking along Dingli Cliffs, one cannot miss the purplish-pink patches of the Mediterranean Thyme’s crowded flowers spreading on the garigue between May and August. This common indigenous aromatic shrub grows from 20 to 50 cm in height, and has a sweet aromatic smell when touched. The purplish-pink scented flowers attract many an insect such as butterflies. The honey bee is also an important visitor to wild thyme flowers gathering nectar for the production of the famous Maltese honey. In the past the plant used to be collected for firewood and to decorate Christmas cribs.

In popular medicine, thyme was used as a stomach treatment, to stimulate appetite, against bad breathe, to help against coughs, hay fever, throat, and bronchial asthma, and to ease muscle tension. It was also used  as a disinfectant, against infections and skin disease; as an astringent to threat flu and even cancer. Its medicinal properties were sometimes also used for rheumatism and arthritis, and mixed with vinegar for headaches. The dried ground-powdered leaves and stems were also used for their antibacterial activity. In aromatherapy, which uses essential oils extracted from various parts of the plant, it is used for perfumes, cosmetics, and other pharmaceutical products. It is also used to make liqueurs. This is one of Malta’s protected plants. Unfortunately, although the Mediterranean Thyme is still very common, it is under increasing pressure, especially from hard stone quarries.

Silver-Ragwort-blogg

SILVER RAGWORT – Kromb il-Baħar Isfar

The Silver Ragwort is a dwarf shrub growing to about 100 cm high. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean and a perennial, that is, it grows and blooms during spring and summer, then dries up in autumn and winter, and springs back to life again from its root stock. It is tolerant to extreme conditions, and is a water conservation species that also thrives in environments with a very high concentration of salt. The leaves are lance-shaped, as is the stem, and are covered with long, white matt hair. It grows in rock fissures, walls and cracks, and is very common near the sea, flowering in spring and summer.

The flower head is a compact flower, an inflorescence, that is, a group or cluster of yellow flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or an arrangement of branches. The yellow flower is 4 cm in diameter. It is also used in cultivation and landscaping, though unfortunately not in the Maltese Islands.

The Silver Ragwort is also used in herbal medicine, mostly for eye treatments, such as cataracts and for treating inflammation of the membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and the exposed surface of the eyeball.

CONCLUSION

This is just a glimpse of a few of the common wild flowers one can discover while walking along Dingli Cliffs. The floral richness of Dingli Cliffs, and the different natural habitats, makes Dingli Cliffs so important that they are regarded as a special habitat of EU Community Interest. Dingli Cliffs are a Special Area of Conservation declared under the Habitats Directive, thus forming part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 Network.

Besides adorning and filling the natural environment with so many colours, wild flowers can also embellish our urban environment if they are used in urban landscaping, or planted in front- and back-gardens. There are many other species of wild flowers, though unfortunately these are not appreciated but are neglected and ignored. This information is intended to help create greater awareness of the natural wild flora of the Maltese Islands.

Scientific names2


From nature study to biodiversity

July 9, 2013

times

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From nature study to biodiversity

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

When we were young, we used to be taught nature study: by collecting tadpoles in jam jars and pinning butterflies on pieces of cork. Eventually, this changed to a wider vision of environmental studies. Following accession to international conventions and the European Union, a more sophisticated word is used: biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the amalgamation of the words biology and diversity. It means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

All living organisms (biotic) need adequate physical environment (abiotic) such as land, air, light and water to live and procreate. Biotic and abiotic form a delicate dynamic balance sustaining all life: the complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Such diversity within and between species and ecosystems essentially is a synonym of ‘life on earth’.

biodiversity

Graphic image of biodiversity

Another principle related to biodiversity is its sustainable use: the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and the aspirations of present and future generations. It has ecological, economic and social dimensions.

The reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands are referred to as the ‘three pillars’ – if ‘pillars’ are anything to go by locally.

Human_Sustainability_Confluence_Diagram

The three pillars of sustainability

Such a concept of life on earth is not always accepted by some sections of the self-proclaimed most intelligent species on earth, – homo sapiens, maintaining that such an intelligent species cannot be subject to such a natural system. Such ‘sceptics’ are mostly found among commercial, political and even religious entities.

Senior citizens remember days when we used to drink out of any streamlet or cistern without any fear or health worries. There was no acute asthma or coughing problems that have become so common and are normal background sounds to any public gathering.

Summer was warm months; winter was cold months and there was never any thought of sudden climate change and its impact on living organisms.

Occasionally, I try to image the modern way of life in the biblical Garden of Eden. Not only would the self-declared most intelligent species swoop on the forbidden fruit, some with the sole intent of genetically modifying it to make it better and feed the people, but the slightest vision of a Eurodollar-clad serpent would create a stampede to approach and eventually take possession of the fruit, uproot the tree and replace it by an investment yielding  maximum financial profits.

The early 1970s saw a crescendo of local waves of publicwide communication, education and public awareness on specific species, initially birds and later trees. Such was the impact that it led some politicians, past and present, to conclude that there were those who thought the environment was just development, birds or trees. I have heard this more than once from different coloured quarters.

A couple of days ago,a group of ecoskola students were convened in Parliament, where they also addressed members of the House of Representatives. Their message relating to ‘caring for our future’ focused mainly on fostering further awareness on the importance of environmentally sustainable policy.

Some politicians, the world over, have managed to coin their own ‘political’ definition of technical words, not necessary in the context or in line with scientific jargon. The latest political definition of sustainability is sometimes development has the upper hand, while sometimes the environment does. If this definition was applied to a football league, it would perhaps be close to acceptance. But applying this to sustainable use of biodiversity qualifies it for the best political joke of the year. It simply means sustainable use of biodiversity is far from being understood and biodiversity is on the development chopping board.

Malta is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and also forms part of the European Union. Ignoring and failing to understand and implement such concepts of biodiversity can never place any country high up in EU rankings: it can only place it on top of the infraction list.

During the past decade, biodiversity has been the Cinderella of government, misunderstood and mismanaged even by the competent authority established for its very protection: Mepa.

A brief, backward look at Buskett, Dwejra and RamlaBay in ecoGozo, and Għajn Tuffieħa, all EU Natura 2000 sites, shows the disinterest and laissez-faire towards biodiversity.

Such lack of interest, the newly coined political definitions, the splash of fireworks to make us different, extinguish any hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for the better management, protection, enforcement and appreciation of Maltese biodiversity.

The national and international obligations for the protection of biodiversity go much further than just protecting birds or trees from development.

But if schoolchildren can understand and embrace the real meaning of biodiversity, why can’t politicians? After all politicians are intelligent and honourable men, unless they themselves disagree with such public perception.