Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

March 9, 2013

times

Saturday, March 9, 2013 by

Juan Ameen

Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

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

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

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

1. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

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

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

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and brmable

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and bramable

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

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

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

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

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

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

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

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

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

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

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

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

8. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Consistent follow-up was required for sustainable management.

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

 

Further reading:

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

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

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

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Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125


Once there were green leaves

July 31, 2012

maltastar

Tuesday, 31st July 2012

Once there were green leaves

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It is indeed of great satisfaction to see such a strong public awareness towards the appreciation of nature, also expressed towards the need for more protection and appreciation of trees. Such tree-appreciation includes the trees’ aesthetic, social, ecological, educational and intrinsic values. Unfortunately and regrettably, the greatest hurdle towards the achievement of such noble aims is the present policy being implemented by government.

With regret one sees and reads of hundreds of established trees being heavily pruned and deprived of any form of a tree and its majesty. The pruning and uprooting of trees, irrespective of the appropriate season, is being undertaken for a number of childish, amateurish reasons, such as that they are harmful to buildings, they attract birds which poo on the benches beneath, they are obscuring the view from people’s houses, they are dropping their leaves in front of people’s doors, and they are a pest. In most cases these are replaced with new exotic imported trees.  One must however, admit that there are instances where some trees need to be transplanted because of justifiable reasons, though not including any of the above.

Nobody responsible for landscaping in the islands, whether political or private, seems to officially appreciate the fact that trees contribute to control carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. They are also barriers to noise, and to the many obnoxious fumes and emissions with which our life is daily and increasingly exposed to. But a Lilliputian mentality unfortunately prevails, dominated by commercial gains. And what is more alarming and worrying, is that the destructive mentality is officially endorsed and publicly financed, sometimes even by European funds.

One of the projects which today tops the list of this poor, destructive mentality is the works going on at the Mdina ditch. It only tops the list because a similar project, about six years ago which was initiated at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, was stopped in time by MEPA and Buskett was saved by the skin of its teeth, though some wounds still show.

Those who hail from Rabat and Mdina, and those who frequent this historical area have over the years benefited from the past professional landscapers with real love and understanding of the natural environment. Howard Gardens is a perfect example of a garden with short winding paths among the surrounding greenery, and also open spaces. The ditch was later planted with around 400 citrus trees, about a dozen Cyprus trees, adding to a dozen of old olive trees, and a majestic old Holm Oak. The latter guarded the left hand side entrance to Mdina, while and old Olive Tree stood on the right

Following such a government approved project paid by public and European funds, more than half the citrus trees, were uprooted when in bloom, and carted away. Only two Cyprus trees and two olive trees are now left. Even the old majestic Olive tree guarding Mdina Gate, was first fiercely pruned, and then uprooted and also carted away.  Such pruning and uprooting needed the endorsement of MEPA considering the age of the Olive tree. I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree. Yet the Lilliputian mentality backed by official authority had the last say.

(left) the remains of the once majestic, protected, old Olive Tree, waiting to be uprooted and carted away. (right) the moribund citrus tree, uprooted from a few meters away, which replaced the majestic protected old Olive Tree.

Initially it was said that the place was going to be transformed into a garden. The general public asked how one can plan to make a garden and in the process uproot scores of trees. Now it is being said that the place is going to be transformed into an open space for the family, as an advertisement board at the entrance of HowardGardens depicts. Most of the ditch area has already been covered in concrete, more concrete than tree-cover. And more and more areas, some previously covered with trees, will be used. Some of the citrus trees, all in bloom, were uprooted to be planted again a couple of metres away, in a regimental line-up.  It was also officially said that most of the area would be planted with turf, and there would also be water fountains! Considering the local climate, the eventual rise in temperature because of climate change, the heavy demand expected for water both by the general public and also by agriculture, one indeed shudders to think how government failed to foresee this and how such maintenance would negatively impact the island, both from a social, economical and ecological point of view.

One of the destructive actions which hurt me beyond any healing was the scraping and removing of Ivy (Liedna – an indigenous, Maltese wild species). This covered a substantial part of the boundary concrete wall along Howard Gardens, and the garden wall opposite the bastions. It was such a site to see, aesthetically pleasing, an adequate habitat for local rare fauna, especially some rare indigenous moths. Hailing from Rabat, I have seen this beautiful, majestic free nature’s gift, grow over the last 15 years or so. And yet, in about 15 hours or so it was gone, completely gone. The regulator (Government) and the operator (ELC) in their wisdom, which is neither accepted nor understood at all by nature lovers and biodiversity conservationists, decided to eliminate it completely. It would without any doubt have been an added asset to any project in the ditch, both if the area beneath is going to be turned into a garden, or if the area is going to become an open space for the family. What a pity, what a shame, what lack of ecological appreciation and awareness. It reminds me of 1970 when the ivy at Buskett was similarly and systematically removed and eliminated. The same mind is behind both destructions. No wonder that people have started to believe that government hates trees.

The indigenous Ivy adorning the boundary wall overlooking the Mdina ditch

Howard Gardens boundary wall cleared from Ivy

The accompanying photos shows nature’s gifts with all their beauty, which the private landscapers, paid by government were authorised to destroy. It also shows the greedy hands and the lack of biodiversity

The Mdina Ditch covered in rich greenery offering a natural habitat to both flora and fauna

Ivy and the natural habitat completely destroyed

appreciation.  The questions being asked are: When is the natural ecological beauty of these islands going to be positively appreciated? When shall environmental projects also take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect, and not be assessed just from the commercial point of view? When shall the people be heard and be able to contribute to the positive national development of our country?  When is government going to show real appreciation of trees. When shall we grow up? Unfortunately the destructive public-financed works at Mdina Ditch, besides others, show that despite EU membership, EU obligations and EU financial help, we still have a long, long way to go.

see also 

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino has a M.Sc. in Environmental Planning and Management


Environmentalists vs government over trees

May 25, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012 

Report: Kristina Chetcuti
Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Environmentalists vs government over trees

The bastions of Mdina seem to be the setting for a battle scene once again. The dissent, this time round, concerns the rehabilitation of the ditch gardens, now being converted into a recreation park, which has left environmentalists very unimpressed.
Until recently, the Mdina ditch was an underutilised ground that was inaccessible to the public, which the Rural Affairs Ministry has tried to change. However, the plan has failed to convince some people.
“This is the work of architects with no background in environmental management. This is vandalism,” said Alfred E. Baldacchino, former assistant director at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.
The work includes the uprooting of more than 270 citrus trees lining the bastion walls. About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.
“This is not the right time for uprooting. We are in spring, blossoming time. It is a trauma for the trees. There is no guarantee they will survive,” said Mr Baldacchino.
Similarly, environmentalist Antonio Anastasi said on Facebook that if the uprooting had to happen, it should have been done without removing all the trees’ foliage.
Mr Baldacchino questioned the reason for moving them only by a couple of metres, calling it a “sheer waste of money”. The estimated value of the project – to be completed this year – is €1,200,000.
On site, a crane was uprooting the trees to loud pumping music.
“Look at that, all the roots of these citrus trees are sawn off with a chainsaw so that they fit in the new hole. They should at least make the hole bigger,” he said.
The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.
A spokesman explained the trees being transplanted to the other side of the counterscarp were being moved to “expose the scale and majesty of the bastions”.
Mr Baldacchino pointed out that citrus trees did not grow tall and could not obstruct the view of the bastions. However, he also
noted that, before being uprooted, the trees were being pruned hastily.


“When you prune, trees ‘weep’. You need to coat them immediately to protect them from insects,” he explained. He also believes that the project does not embrace Maltese biodiversity. “Turf, for example, is not part of the Maltese ecosystem and it’s very expensive to maintain because it needs a lot of watering. We need gardens that highlight the
biodiversity of the place. “Why are we just recreating a Victorian garden?”
The government insists the project includes an “intensive water management exercise” through a water catchment on St Paul’s
bastion. “All the water received during the last year has been diverted toward an existing reservoir in the courtyard of Vilhena Palace,”
a ministry spokesman said.
“This will serve as one of the backup reservoirs for the main reservoir behind the counterscarp in the ditch and may be replenished by bowser during dry seasons.”
The project proposes to collect the greater part of the rainwater run-off in shallow reservoirs that have been creatively designed by taking advantage of the difference in the levels of the grounds.
A Mepa spokesman said all permits were in hand and continuous archaeological monitoring was being carried out during the works.
In the meantime, a petition against the pruning of trees – Save Malta’s Trees – sponsored by columnist Pamela Hansen is doing the rounds online and has already garnered more than 200signatures.

The original article and video in The Times can be seen on:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120525/local/-Battle-scene-at-Mdina-ditch.421226

See more exchange of views on the Save the Tree group on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

Those who want to sign the petititon can do so on:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/629/494/052/save-maltas-trees/

An old legally protected Olive Tree heavily pruned on the 16th May 2012. A few days later it was uprooted and disappeared.

All the old legally protected Oive Trees in the ditch were heavily pruned and a few days later they were uprooted and all disappeared.

Additional comments by A E Baldacchino

• “About 150 will be replanted a couple of metres across the ditch and the remaining trees will be relocated to Buskett.”
Buskett is small woodland with forest remnants of Holm Oak and Aleppo Pine. It has been declared an EU Natura 2000 site following submission by Government. Despite this the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs has been consistently claiming that Buskett is a garden. Buskett is crying for the strengthening of the population of wild trees which once graced this woodland, and which today are on the verge of extinction. Indigenous rare trees which should be planted at Buskett are the Ash, the Bay Tree, Elm, Hawthorn, Mastic Tree, Buckthorn, Poplar, Holm Oak and others. Yet the Minster responsible for landscaping has chosen to plant the uprooted citrus trees from Mdina Ditch at Buskett.
• “The Rural Resources Ministry said any protected species “will be left in place” and the design of the paving will work around them.”
The dozen or so old established protected Olive trees were first heavily pruned. Then one by one, by the 20th May 2012, they were all uprooted and carried away from the site.

The remains of the grove of citrus trees after a substantial number were uprooted to mke way for a ‘garden’. Part of the ditch opposite the bastions is covered by a beautiful cover of Ivy, providing much needed adequate habitat for local fauna. All the greenery is probably waiting for the chain saw to clear it to make way for a ‘garden’. No details as to the future of such natural habitat are availed.

The out of the way sign showing the financial help received room the European Union with regards to the Mdina project.


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

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highlight link, then right click, and then click on go to

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MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

April 30, 2012

29th April, 2012

MASSACRE OF MDINA TREES –

IS THE EU REALLY INVOVLED?

Alfred E. Baldacchino 

A very interesting debate has developed on the site Save the Trees which can be accessed on: http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/267876579975675/?notif_t=group_activity

An outstanding feature on the above blog is that 99% of the bloggers who love trees and biodiversity are criticising the official persecution and  massacre of trees in the Maltese Islands.  But those who express such concern are taken to task by one particular blogger who clams that he works at ELC.

2012.04.26 - Up till a few days ago, these orange trees where in full bloom

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I read on this blog in defence of the mutilation of trees and biodiversity by ELC. It is to the tune of the official Government  policy on projects relating to biodiversity, despite the electoral promise of an environmental column. Such a blogger says they he is  writing in his own personal capacity, a right which he has and which he can exercise to create such a discussion. Yet details are given which the public is not aware of. This makes one think that ELC is finding it very convenient to let their alleged workers speak for them, and these cannot do otherwise but  laud all ELC’s works of wonder.  They would certainly be shown the back door if they were to write something which the ELC, or their Ministry, does not approve of. They would be charged with conflict of interest  if   they  criticise, even constructively,  the works of their Ministry. And they will surely get the axe if they make a faux pas, even if what they say  might have been suggested to them.

In criticising Ministerial projects, although the EU obliges public consultations on public projects, blogers are called names, accused of not knowing anything about trees and their ‘pruning’ and also accused of belittiling the ELC workers. This still happens, despite the fact that time and time again, all blogers have made it clear  that workers have to do what they are ordered to do and cannot be held accountable for executing the decisions taken by their employers or their Minister.  But this calling of names is something which is now very synonymous  with such quarters.

2012.04.26 - orange trees in full bloom awaiting the chainsaw and the bulldozer!

The ELC is responsible to the Minister of Resource, whom it shields.  The mania about creating gardens in such fashion, is something well known within this Ministry. A few years ago there was an attempt to transform Buskett into a garden!!

A wild Laurel tree at Buskett - an EU Natura 2000 site - mutilated by ELC with Ministerial approval, in the attempt to transform Buskett into a garden, before MEPA intervened and stopped the works.

Everyone knows of the massacre executed at Buskett by ELC with the blessing of their Minister. Now we have the transformation of the Mdina Ditch into a garden, with TURF and fountains as the Save the Tree site  have been informed by  an ELC alleged spokesman.

Uprooting trees to create  a garden….. very hard to believe. Substituting them with  TURF which takes gallons and gallons of water, such a rare resource in the Maltese Islands, especially in the hot summer months.  The paving of straight-line paths furthermore contributed  to the uprooting of  even more trees. This Ministry seems to have a mania with expanses of turf and dancing-water and fountains, like the dancing-water at St. George’s Square in Valletta. And believe it or not, all this  has been approved by a Ministry responsible for the local scarce resource of WATER, and also for Climate change!!  Unbelievable! I am sure that a  spokesman for this Ministry will come up with some crude explanation and possibly with  more calling of names. But one has to accept that some Ministries  are very good at this type of dialogue! It is their forte.

2012.04.06 - The beauty of the Mdina Ditch - a biodiversity haven. Is this going to be cleared away to make room for a garden? And is this going to be undertaken by EU funds as an insider from ELC has indicated?

The reference to EU funds by the ELC alleged-worker in the Save the Trees blog is interesting because it is coming from this semi-official  bloger in favour of this project leading the public to understand that this project is funded by the EU, saying that 85% of the total cost of the €6.2m project is being funded by the EU! This creates and incongruency with the press release issued by the Minister which  said that it was being done by the Minster’s (public) funds “The works are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.” No mention of EU funds; and “The project, costing  €1,200,000, is due to be completed by the end of this year.”  See the attached link for the official press release: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120406/local/works-start-on-recreation-area-in-mdina-ditch.414277

When I visited the site, I failed to notice any reference to any EU involvement on the site. Now if there are any funds from the EU, one of the obligations is that the EU logo has to appear on all the publicity for the project. There are now two version with reference to the financial input to this project: the Ministerial publicity which refrains from mentioning any EU involvement; and EU funding according to a bloger with ELC connections.  Which is the correct version?  I am sure that the EU would be very interested in knowing  how its funds, if it has funded this project, are being ‘used’ and ‘managed’, what the public opinion vis-a-vis this project is, and how such project is impacting on biodiversity!

According to EU obligations, whether it has financed the project or not, the  public is entitled to a breakdown of the money which is going into this project, such as  how much the turf will cost, the quantity of water it will consume per annun and at what cost; how much will be the upkeep, how much did the planners and designers charge, and how much will the launching of the  project cost.

The lack of any biodiversity and social concept are evidently lacking to any informed visitor. This view is sustained by the comments supporting this project on the Save the Trees  blog: Orange trees are being uprooted because they interfere with the vision of the bastions, but fountains do not! And insects and birds aren’t going to commit suicide, if they do not find a tree, they go on another one, the  Rabat environs are full of trees. ( L-insetti u l-ghasafar mhux ser jaghmlu suwwicidju, jekk ma jsibux sigra, imorru fuq ohra, inhawi tar-Rabat huma mimlija sigar min daqsekk). Not surprising at all since this is the recurring approach used by the Ministry under whose responsibility this project falls!  No wonder that when the same Ministry was responsible for the EU measure to tackle biodiversity loss, it made a complete mess and failure out of it.

The official Ministerial publicity material attached to the bastins, (shown above) states that this project is a Rehabillitation of the ditch. In contrast, the bloger with ELC inside informations states that “The ditch outside Mdina’s bastions from Greek’s gate to Xara Palace including the area below the main gate, is being turned into a recreational space which will be open to the public”. There is a great difference between ‘rehabilitation of the ditch’ and changing its use to a recreational area, especially when the tennis court, the basketball pitch, and the football pitch, which formed part of the ditch to be rehabilitated have been removed.

Somebody is surely trying to take the people for a ride despite the fact that the Prime Minister has promised that he will come closer to the people to listen to what they  have to say…………    I understand that heeding it is another matter!


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man