Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

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

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

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

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

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

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

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

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

Modern environment friendly public access gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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Masters in eco destruction

November 20, 2017

Monday, 20 September, 2017

Masters in eco destruction

Alfred E Baldacchino

One of the many activities at the Majjistral History and Nature Park: educational walk for schools.

The Majjistral Park has been struck, not by blows from prevailing north-westerly winds, but by the Minister for the Environment, who succumbed to pressure and increased the time for the decimation of biodiversity at the park, and diminished the park’s educational potential.

Added to this is the tacit approval and the clearing of all obstacles for off-roading in the park, despite it being illegal.

It was during Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee that I first met Herrera. His outburst, completely unrelated to the subject under discussion, was of promises of invasive species and tree protection regulations, which never materialised, and I do not have any inkling that they ever will.

The first environmental hurdle sent the Ministry flat on its face and the second one nailed it for keeps. ERA, the Authority responsible for our environment, was silent and absent from the PA decision on the power station and from the decision related to environmental permits, because of divine intervention and conflicts of interest! I can almost understand this better today. The sound of silence reigns supreme at ERA and the Ministry when confronted with anti-environment decisions.

It was very evident from day one that under this tenure, the Maltese people and our environment had to fasten our seat belts for a very rough ride.

60 olive trees on the university campus were so ‘pruned’ because their leaves were dropping on car parked below.

And so it was to be. Months later 60 mature olive trees on the university campus were chopped down, because the leaves of the trees were falling on cars parked below! And down went the trees with the order from university and the blessing of ERA.

Another feather in the Minister’s cap – half a dozen old indigenous oak trees eliminated to widen the road, barely half a metre.

More recently, half a score of old indigenous majestic oak trees at Lija, some centenarians, were also chopped down with the blessing of Herr-ERA, without any consideration of any tree protection order.

Instead, the minister boasted that they were not protected, confirming his failure to do so. Down they went too with ministry blessing. Rubbing salt in the wound, the strip where they grew is still there, and the only invasive tree which grew in the area is still there too. Who can understand endemic political intelligence, backed by top cream University academics?

The University saw no harm in chopping 60 old olive trees on its campus, so why should they worry about chopping down half a score of old oaks on public land?

Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, has a Cabinet-approved management plan sitting somewhere on the ministry’s shelves. (photo: Times of Malta)

The strange environmental (or anti-environmental) mentality within this ministry is also evident at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, which has a Cabinet-approved management plan sitting somewhere on the ministry’s shelves. Works are being undertaken by the ministry’s employees with funds from the EU, in a LIFE Saving Buskett project.

environmental massacre taking place makes one wonder if the University is academically competent to prepare professional, scientific non-partisan qualified citizens

A stretch of maquis in this Natura 2000 site was bulldozed to accommodate machinery to build rubble walls. Two rare, strictly protected trees were chopped down to enable machinery manoeuvring. Adjacent trees were ‘pruned’ not to scratch machinery. Terrain was dumped on rare species of flora: thanks to EU funds and ERA.

Two mature hawthorn strictly protected tress in Buskett a Natura 2000 site chopped down to make way for vehicles! And not a whisper from the Ministry for the Environment.

From my understanding, University professional personnel are monitoring such works at Buskett. If true, what kind of qualifications is the University dishing out?  Undoubtedly “one will find something more in woods than in books. The trees and stones teach what one never learns from the masters” (Bernard De Clairvaux).

University professors abound on the board of ERA, including the rector of the University himself. The environmental massacre taking place under the watch of this ministry makes one wonder if the University is academically competent to prepare professional, scientific non-partisan qualified citizens.

Their tacit stand (or direct or indirect involvement) on environmental matter can only lead one to start asking if they are hand in glove in such official environment loss. And one cannot help but ask if partisan politics are having their toll on university academics too?

The invasive fountain grass used in landscaping by the Government’s landscaper, has invaded valleys, fields, roads, and urban areas without any action from the Ministry for the Environment.

Herrera’s ministry is more renowned for chopping and killing trees and biodiversity than anything else, despite the fact that it should be “planting a tree in the name of every new-born or adopted child in Malta”, as the electorate had been assured and promised.

Besides, this ministry, tacitly or not, has never taken any stand on the control of invasive species planted by its now official landscaper, contrary to national and international obligations, and with negative impacts on the social and biological detriment of our islands.

His vote in the EU on the complete ban of glyphosate, which is decimating pollinators, is now awaited.

Herrera knows that these decisions are diametrically opposite to his government’s electoral promise where all the people were assured that “environmental protection will be given priority and strength in all major decisions of the government”.

Why can’t we have a real ministry for the environment? Why cannot we have an environmental minister on the side of biodiversity protection and conservation, in the national interest?

My country, its people and our environment come first and foremost, above any blinkered partisan mentality. This is what prevents me from keeping silent. What is wrong in yearning for my country to excel socially, ecologically, spiritually, ethically, and financially?

Is it anti-good governance to hope that the less fortunate, educationally, financially and socially, are not exploited for the benefit of a selected few? Is there anything wrong to expect that such aims and social justice are encouraged, and help given to those involved trying to achieve such noble aims? Shouldn’t these aims be upheld by all those who have true Maltese blood running in their veins?

Unfortunately it seems that it is becoming unsafe to even dare have such a dream. Some are being labelled ‘traitors’, and may also be exposed to danger of life and limb, as has indeed happened.

Has local partisan politics eroded, for sectarian benefits, even our strong character which has seen us Maltese win over every evil since we set foot on these islands? Have we reached a state where “it is dangerous to be right when the established authorities are wrong”, as the French enlightenment writer Voltaire said.

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

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