Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

March 2, 2017

univ-of-faith

Thursday, 2nd March, 2017

Universe of Faith talks to Alfred E. Baldacchino, an environmental expert who is highly concerned about the fact that in Malta, we keep repeating the same mistakes detrimental to human health, the environment and the economy.

Fountain grass, Penisetum at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fountain grass, Penisetum sp. at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

“In the 1970s the government introduced Acacias trees which are detrimental to some people suffering from asthma, allergies, sinusitis etc. This alien species was introduced in Malta after a donation to the government of the time. Today, landscapers are doing the same mistakes by introducing alien species in our roundabouts, streets and other urban areas. One such example is the fountain grass, Penisetum, which following its planting in major roads, has now escaped and is growing uncontrolled along streets, in fields and also in valleys, competing with indigenous flora.” He explained that while there are also indigenous plants which can cause allergies these grow in small quantities and not invasively like the alien species.

Alfred believes that landscaping our streets needs to be combined with respect for the local wildlife and ecosystem. “Australia and New Zealand spray each plane that lands to control the introduction of alien insects from being accidentally introduced in their country. They have learned their lesson hard after Europeans introduced foreign species which brought havoc to their indigenous biodiversity. England is spending billions to control the negative impacts of invasive species. What can we learn from them?”

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

He insists that our approach needs to change and that things can be done more professionally. “We can use many of our indigenous flora, which are so easy to propagate. We have so many beautiful wildflowers. Israel uses indigenous trees, such as the carob, to landscape its streets. We can do the same. Indigenous flora should be propagated locally and not imported for commercial reasons. This would help economically, ecologically and socially. We have to put our priorities right. Environmental landscaping needs to move hand in hand socially and ecologically.”

He also warns about the dangers of importing olive trees which are suffering from a deadly disease causing great economical and ecological damages. “Do we have to go through such negative ecological and economical experience to make us aware of the actions that needed to be taken?” he asks.

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe Major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud www.maltawildplants.com

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud http://www.maltawildplants.com

Alfred calls for the appreciation of our indigenous plants, those which have been adorning our country before the arrival of man, as well as implementing clear policies concerning alien invasive species which are destroying our ecosystems.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter On Care for Our Common Home also echoes this thinking when he said that some profits cause “terrible injustices, much greater than the economic benefit to be obtained,”. He also dedicates thirteen paragraphs (24, 32-42, 169, 190) of this letter on the value and protection of biodiversity.

Published: March 2017

Further Reading:
How can I become a “Green Catholic”?


Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

Mid-October 2013, saw Xylella fastidiosa, the olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) recorded in Italy: its first record for Europe. By April 2015 it had infected up to a million olive trees, many of them century-old, in the southern region of Apulia. This invasive disease is believed to have been introduced by ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where it is also causing havoc.

By July 2015 it quickly spread to Corsica, in municipalities of Nice, and Mandelieu-la-Napoule and by late October in Alpes-Maritimes in France. August 2016 saw it in Germany infecting oleander plants.

November 2016 found OQDS in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in a garden centre on three cherry trees and an oleander.

OQDS is regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. It infects grapevines, peaches, citrus, oak, sycamore, and many other trees and ornamental plants, such as spurge, lavender and rosemary. No cure has yet been found for such disease, as the European Food Safety Organisation has warned.

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) had since 1981 listed it on its A1 list of pests recommended for regulation as quarantine pests, regarding it as representing a very serious threat for the EPPO region

effect-of-x-f

Symptoms of OQDS, regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world.

Across Europe, 359 plant species have been identified as susceptible to Xylella. Many of these species show no symptoms of the disease, and provide a reservoir for reinfection of other plants, thus making Xylella difficult to control and making phytosanitary certificates  useless

This bacterium thrives in the water-conducting vessels (xylem) of plants. It invades these vessels and blocks the transport of water and other soluble mineral nutrients. This leads to the drying, scorching, wilting of the foliage, and eventually the collapse and death of the tree.

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

It spreads with the help of insects such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs, which feed on the plant xylem. These insects do not fly long distances, but can be helped by the wind, by other animals, and by vehicular transport.

Spain and France were deeply concerned when Xylella was recorded for the first time in 2013. Their production of olive oil and wine is under a great threat. The matter was also raised at European Union level.

Italy is heavily affected, considering that the only method to date to control such disease is by eradication of the infected million olive trees. These contribute to 40 per cent of the olive oil produced in Italy. Besides the economic loss, the social and ecological impacts are beyond any estimate.

effect-of-x-f-2

Olive trees which succumbed to OQDS. Not that we really need Xylella to reduce our olive trees to such a state. The sight of the 60 olive trees on Malta University campus were similarly aesthetically reduced and paid for by University funds. Perhaps the University’s educational pro-active vision wanted to show the people a picture of things to come if Xylella succeeds in being imported in Malta. The only difference would be that they will give up their  ghost for ever.  

Malta is blessed that it is an island surrounded by an expanse of sea that makes it impossible for these xylem-feeding insects to arrive naturally. But… it seems that we never learn.

butchered tree 7

Pruned olive trees which once enhanced the campus of the University of Malta. A mis-management exercise of the highest grade.

Palm trees were imported for landscaping purposes from areas known to be infected by the Asian red palm weevil. More than 5,000 palm trees have been lost to date. Timber introduced the African long-horned mulberry beetle, which besides killing most of the mulberry trees in the islands, now has turned its attention to the white mulberry, carob and fig tree.

Imported geraniums by garden centres have also helped to introduce the geranium bronze butterfly from South Africa. All of these have been introduced by trees and plants carrying a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin, to confirm that they were all disease free. How many imported tomato seedlings accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, introduced the South American tomato moth (Tuta absoluta)?

Trees and other plants mainly, for landscaping and ornamental purposes, are still being imported from countries which are infected with this OQDS.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible to ensure that such invasive species and other pathogens are not introduced in Malta, both through the Environment and Resource Authority, and also through its Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Department of Agriculture. Once there was a renowned experimental farm at Għammieri, which today is more concerned with domestic dogs, cats, and birds.

A very good animation video has been produced by the Plant Health Department. Very good. What is needed now is urgent action.

Environmental responsibilities are far from being helped by the Ministry of Landscaping. Doors are flung wide open for exotic species to be planted in ‘landscaping’ projects, paid out of public funds, administered through an €8 million yearly budget, according to a secret agreement which, despite the Commissioner for Data Protection’s ruling, is still being withheld.

If Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination

Those handful of pro-business politicians and their acolytes might ask if they are expected to stop the importation of exotic species. The question is whether such politicians are worried, not only for the young developing olive oil industry in Malta which is trying hard to acquire an EU/EC Declaration of Conformity (DOC) for CE Marking, but also for the wine and citrus industry. And naturally the islands ecosystem which if, God forbid, Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination.

Prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure all. That would be the day when one can honestly boast of a sound environmental policy. From experience, political action in this regard will only be considered when the social, economic and environmental fabric have bit the dust, or as it is said, when all the horses have bolted.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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


Butchered olive trees

June 4, 2016

The butchering of trees on the campus of the University of Malta was quite a shock, which not only questions professional, technical and administrative management, but also the void there is in the offering of opportunities in the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values – silviculture.

Following the justified uproar by organisations and individuals, the University issued a statement, which, if anything, rubs more salt into the wound.

The undated and unsigned statement, anything but professional, tries to absolve everybody from responsibility for this butchering job. There is, of course, at least one obvious accountable person.

The University statement outlined the fact that it “had received complaints from the Gżira local council, which raised residents’ concern about safety and security issues following burglaries in the area.

The residents suspected that the dense overgrowth of the trees could provide cover for unwelcomed prying. There were also complaints about falling twigs, olives and leaves on cars parked below.

The University succumbed to the local councils’ mentality which has, and still is, seeing trees butchered around the island because of selfish complaints such as: shedding of leaves, bird droppings, obstruction to seeing a patron saint statue going in and out of a church, and hindering residents from watching firework displays.

Who would have thought that the University would also join in blessing the chopping of trees on its campus for similar puerile, amateurish, selfish reasons, at the expense of society and the environment.

The local mentality, which is showing great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University

The mentality in this country, which is demonstrating great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University, to the extent that, because of lack of monitoring of work in progress, not only those trees which attributedly were contributing to “unwelcome prying and dropping leaves and olives” were chopped down but even all the 51 indigenous mature olive trees on the campus.

Even those not contributing to these alleged inconveniences were chopped down too, including those on the sides of the track on campus, which in no way could have been involved.

Less than half were contributing to peeping toms, or raining leaves and olives, if at all. Interestingly, the 10 invasive Australian she-oaks (casuarina) growing over the parked cars beneath were not touched at all.

Their wood is not worth anything.

The University statement also reveals that “the olive trees had grown inordinately high, and the upper branches had dried up the result of unprofessional pruning. In Malta there are no professional tree pruners, but only self-appointed ones.

 Trees are pruned using cherry pickers, and these reach a limited height. So the trees become top-heavy when pruned by cherry pickers. And when they become top-heavy and dangerous, these are chopped from deep down the trunk.

However, according to the University, the Precincts Office had decided to go for the most favourable offer because “the contractor had previously done satisfactory pruning on campus”.

And this is the result of the professionalism accepted by the University.

The Insiter, the “only student centric newsletter” of the Student Media Organisation of the University, on May 11 released information on this tree butchering.

The statement, which also emphasised that the University expressed its regret over the outcome of the olive tree pruning, quoted the landscaper from the Times of Malta that the trees had a fungal infection, which is commonly referred to as a Peacock spot.

There are biological ways how to control this fungus. But the cherry on the cake, oozing out of the professionalism at the University, was the statement on this newsletter, and I quote: “And which we can’t be sure that the trees were indeed infected or that such drastic pruning was necessary, it should be easy to check on the tree’s health next year.”

A clear indication that there was no certainty that the trees had such a fungal infection, and even if they did, this was not the way to manage them.

A number of measures the University has completely ignored are:

  • the precautionary principle, which means that “if the effects of a product or action are unknown, then the product should not be used or the action should not be taken”;
  • the Plant Health Directorate had not been consulted;
  • the Environment and Resource Authority was not consulted either;
  • the operator seems to have also acted as the regulator and given a free hand to do and decide on his own;
  • professionals on biodiversity management within the University itself were, likewise, not consulted;
  • measures were not taken to ensure that the ‘infected trees’ were monitored to ensure that they did not infect other trees during transportation;
  • there was no control on the disposal of infected trees;
  • no control on the disposal of logs taken from the trees;
  • no data on the qualifications of the Precincts Office that took such decisions on behalf of University.

The conclusion seems to be that even the University falls short of environmental professional management, both from the technical as well as the administrative point of view.

Such butchering should never have taken place at University. And no amount of regrets can rectify the amateurish environmental damage done, professionally endorsed and officially paid.

Not even the planting of 30 new trees, the more so if these are imported, as I am sure the professionals at the University know about the national and international obligations Malta has.

There seems to be a flicker of light at the end of the long and deep tunnel of mismanagement in the field of natural environment. The statement issued by the University says that: “This serious matter is being looked into in detail by the University authority to determine whether further action should be taken.”

The butchered trees are indeed a wake-up call for the University; a very expensive wake-up call paid by the general public and the environment.

The University of Malta needs to take immediate steps to offer professional training so that those self-appointed landscapers and tree-pruners can become qualified professionals and would not be able to wield a chain saw unless they have at least a diploma from University on how to professionally appreciate and manage the Maltese biodiversity, in the interest of society and the environment.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading:

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/missing-the-wood-for-the-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/1028/

 

 

 


National hobby of butchering trees

May 11, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 11th June 2016

National hobby of butchering trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Since the first day when the tree protection regulations of 2001 were amended in 2011, the future of trees in Malta was open to the whims and fancies of developers and so called ‘landscapers’ who butcher them to their hearts’ content.

butchered tree 3

A common sight of the trail left behind by Maltese landscapers, who now seem to have also been accepted by the University, unless one hears to the contrary.

Through these years, the environmental NGOs, or some of them, have protested and protested against such butchering of trees paid out of public funds. And the conscientious and intelligent general public also kept on protesting ad nauseam. But nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to hear and nobody seems to listen. Nobody is conscious about the environmental and social damage. And the butchering goes on and on and on.

It would do no harm if one is reminded of the Government’s ‘Malta Tagħna lkoll’ electoral manifesto with regards to trees and woodland:

We will constantly protect existing trees in the Maltese towns and villages, and we will encourage the planting of more trees, especially indigenous trees. page 101, article 56.

butchered tree 7

seems that this is the official accepted professional  protection and encouragement of trees in Malta

The government has been involved in a Private Public Partnership for the last 14 years. The total amount paid for this so called landscaping, for which there is no official regulator from the biodiversity and social aspects, is approximately €112 million, or €8 million each year. And what has the country got to show for it. Invasive species and exotic trees, imported species for such landscaping, even imported indigenous specimens, to the detriment of Maltese biodiversity and to society, and planting of annual flowers which are ploughed and uprooted after a couple of weeks.

Despite the number of national and international obligations including EU obligations, with regards to the control of invasive species, such ‘landscaping’ goes on without any consideration for them.

Furthermore, the use of expanses of turf gulping the scare resource of water with the use of added herbicides seems to be the cherry on the commercial cake of this private public agreement. To the extent that the Minister responsible for landscaping still persists in keeping this public agreement confidential, and endorses €8 million annually.

Why? What is there to be ashamed of, unless of course this mismanagement is not in line with the public contract?

In the meantime the Minster for Environment looks as if environment is not his responsibility.

butchered tree 5

One of the many olive trees which have been ‘professionally pruned’ on the University of Malta campus. If this ecological vandalism is accepted by the University of Malta, then I am sorry to say that the University has been taken for a ride. Twice. The University deserves much much better than this.

Such gross mismanagement and waste of public resources lacking any scientific and professional basis, ignoring international and EU obligations, to the detriment of society and the environment, now seems to have also infected, penetrated and hijacked the University of Malta.

The Times of Malta (May 7) produced photos of butchered trees in the precincts of the University of Malta –  66 mature olive trees. The institution, one would presume, is aware of the public outcry regarding the mismanagement of trees in the Maltese Islands for the last decade or so.

Who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees?

There are qualified professional staff at University who, I am sure, if they had been consulted would have strongly objected to such nonsensical, unprofessional butchering of trees.

The more so since during this time of the year the trees are in flower and are beneficial to pollinators, including bees. So who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees, especially when olive tree wood is so much in demand? Who is paying whom for such mismanagement? Who is going to pay for the damages done?

One wonders why such butchering was allowed on the University campus. Has it been an internal decision or was it an imposed decision from outside?

Civil society looks at University as the source from where trained professionals find their place in society and be involved in the professional running of the country. Civil society also pays to achieve this too. But the butchering of trees on the campus does not reflect any success of trained professionals in the field.

On the contrary such mismanagement officially approved on the campus, look more like a failure on the part of the University. One can add that lack of qualifications of self-proclaimed landscapers in the management of trees, has completely taken over any professional management one would expect from a University.

uom poster

picture says it all

Could this be the result that the educational system where each and every faculty is just concerned only in its narrow specialties, not caring a finger on the externalities or responsibilities that the decisions taken by their eventually qualified students on the wider social and environmental fabric of the island?

One can only hope and wait that one day, possibly yesterday, Malta too would have qualified professionals having a wider vision of social and environmental responsibilities, who are also accepted and involved in the governance of the country. The butchering of mature trees on the campus if anything, has severely dented the professionalism at University in this field. And everyone expects a strong reaction to address this mediocrity which now has been going on for far too long without anybody taking any responsibility for it.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further reading on this national hobby of butchering trrees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/maltese-trees-conserving-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/is-sigra-nazzjonali-u-l%c2%ad-politikanti-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/2-%c2%ad-is-%c2%adsigar-barranin-l%c2%ad-impatt-dirett-taghhom/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/sigar-maltin-u-sigar-mhux-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-sigar-fil-bliet-u-fl-irhula-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/hello-world/

 

 


Alien invasive species – animation film

May 5, 2015

Alien invasive species – animation film

4th May, 2015

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Invasive alien species are causing havoc the world over, not least in our island. Little attention is being given to them locally. The price being paid by society and the environment is on the increase with little help from the official entities who are responsible to control such invasive species before they establish themselves in our ecosystem. The commercial and financial gain of the importation of species and their derivatives takes priority over the negatives financial impact borne by society and the environment.

Great Britain spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species.  The EU, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. The official vision of the prevention and control of local invasive species seems to be heading that way too for Malta.

Il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm

The Red-palm weevil devastating palm trees on the island, introduced by infected palm trees imported from infected areas, to be used for landscaping, despite advice to the contrary.

The recent locally introduced invasive alien species and the damages caused are known by one and all. These include the Red Palm Weevil which has to date destroyed about 1400 palm trees including a great percentage of mature and historical trees; the African brown mulberry long horn beetle which has decimated the great percentage of old mulberry trees in Malta, and now seemingly turning its attention to the fig trees and possibly citrus trees; a new beetle which is killing carob trees and other indigenous trees; and the geranium bronze butterfly which as yet is only impacting cultivated geraniums and has not as yet attacked the indigenous wild species of related geranium species.

Il-Ħanfusa-tl-Qrun-Twil-tat-Tut

The Brown mulberry longhorn beetle (Phryneta leprosa) introduced with the importation unfumigated of timber

As yet the disease (Xylella fastidiosa bacteria) which is spreading in Italy and attacking and destroying olive trees has not been recorded in Malta, as far as one is aware.  Italy may have to destroy about one million olive trees to control such disease and is under pressure by the EU to do so. But what is being done  to prevent the introduction of this disease with the olive trees still being imported from Italy despite such imminent danger?

The general public has been informed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, that all imported olive trees have to have a phytosanitary certificate, and olive trees are being monitored. This naïve statement shows the poor awareness of the dangers of such destruction of local olive trees, citrus trees and vines, and the industry they support. No proactive measure are being implemented, let  alone considered. Then when the horses bolt, a study will be commissioned on how to close the stable doors.

The species which carried the above recently introduced alien invasive species were all accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. It seems that the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Agriculture is following the footsteps of his predecessor under whose ‘reign’ the above invasive species were introduced. Unfortunately he seems to be more interested in finding a loop hole to ensure the shooting of birds during their spring migration than taking professional steps to protect local agriculture and the ecosystem of the Maltese Islands.

According to the EU, the disease affecting the olive trees in Italy, can also attack citrus trees and vines by the insect-transmitted bacteria, which causes the trees to wither and for which there is no remedy. Would be very interesting to see the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary if, God forbid, such a disease would establish itself also in Malta. Money talks and the people and the environment pays.

Platform Stop invasieve exoten, from the Netherlands has produced the following animation film on invasive species which one hopes will help politicians understand the negative impacts and the financial, social and ecological damages these can do. This animation film can be seen by clicking the following link, which also gives other links on data on invasive alien species:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFaQLShW0Zc

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


The ‘garden’ at Mdina Ditch officially inaugurated

March 7, 2013

times

The ‘garden’ at Mdina Ditch officially inaugurated

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Thursday, 7th March, 2013.

 So the ‘open space’ in the Mdina ditch, or the ‘garden’ from where close to 300 trees, mainly citrus trees, olive trees, and cypress trees were uprooted and carted away, was finally officially opened by the Prime Minister on Wednesday 6 March, 2013. According to The Times  of 6 March, 2013 “None of the trees have been lost but they have been rearranged so as to help one get a better understanding of the bastions “. Honestly, I pity the Prime Minster for being pushed in the front line for such official openings, as if to shoulder the responsibility of the decisions taken by his subordinates. But anyhow, it is his decision.

On Wednesday morning I visited the Mdina ditch to see this seventh wonder of an ‘open space’ in a ditch, or this ‘garden’. I must say that the restored bastions look superb after years of neglect, though I still cannot understand how the decimated trees in the ditch or the ivy covering the Howard Garden wall, in any way interfered with their majesty. The bastions are as exposed as they were before, though restored, and still showing the majesty they showed before.

2013.03.06 - Laurel trees replacing citrus trees

Citrus trees which died replaced by imported Laurel trees.

I walked in Howard Gardens along the ditch. The expanse of concrete today make up more than half this ‘garden’ or ‘open space’; the rest is taken by turf. The citrus trees which were uprooted and replanted were all leafless.  Those which had any leaves were those which were not uprooted and left in place. Not only were the replaced citrus trees leafless, but some had also given up the ghost, and were replaced by imported Laurel or Bay Trees.  I could count up to 30 of these.

Wonder of wonders in this new ‘garden’ were a number of potted Laurel trees. So while established protected trees such as an 80-year-old protected olive tree were uprooted and carted away, it was found necessary to introduce imported Laurel trees in pots in this ‘garden’!

2013.03.06 - Laurel trees in pots in the garden

Laurel trees in pots in the garden

Reminiscing the natural habitat in the ditch before such destruction, I walked along the railings overlooking the ditch with heavy feet as I contemplated the ecological destruction beneath. I could not reconcile the expanse of turf with the historical bastions. I thought about the cost of such imported turf.  I also tried to figure the commercial cost of the rare resource of water needed to water such an area of turf. Along my walk, the path was full of ministry vehicles, engines, and a generator, including all the electrical and electronic paraphernalia both attached to the railing and also in the ditch. I tried to convince myself that I was not walking back in history when Malta was celebrating the granting of independence with such a fanfare. I tried to imagine the cost involved in such ‘celebrations’. I tried to see how one could get some information on such waste of public money and also EU funds.

2013.03.06 - THE BLACK MARBLE PLAQUE - 3

Concrete, turf and the tomb stone in the ‘garden’

I finally arrived at the other end of the ditch near Saqqajja. And wow… wow… what a cherry on the cake. In the ditch beneath the playing fields I saw a large black cuboid. I first thought it was some electronic equipment covered in black plastic for protection to be used for the evening celebrations.  But as I looked closer, I realised it was a black marble plaque which easily dwarfed the citrus trees in the vicinity, those “which have been rearranged so as to help one get a better understanding of the bastions.”

I focused my camera lens on the writing on this plaque.  On one face it read: “Il­-proġett sar mid­-Direttorat tar­-Restawr tal­-Ministeru għar­-Riżorsi u l­-Affarijiet Rurali taħt id­-direzzjoni tal­-Onor. George Pullicino”. (This project was undertaken by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs under the direction of the Hon. George Pullicino). I moved on and focused on the other façade of the cuboid where there was another inscription which read: “Dan il-­ġnien fil­-Foss tal­-Imdina jgħaqqad il­-passaġġ tal-­istorja ta’ pajjiżna mal-­preżent u l­-futur” (This garden in the Mdina Ditch connects the passage of history of our country with the present and the future).  The writing on the plague finally declares this project as a garden. Such a plague is more of a tomb stone clearly showing how the future will look at the present which has placed the past in such an artificial environment. The number of concrete passages will make it relatively easy to arrive at such a conclusion. And the good thing about it is that it is autographed by the director of such a project.

2013.03.06 - THE BLACK MARBLE PLAQUE - 2

The black marble plaque

I invite all to go and have a look at it. A photo near the tomb stone would be quite historic in the future.

This justifies my previous writings on this project (see links below).  It lacks any ecological vision for any garden. Its main aim was just commercially orientated.

FURTHER READING and photos

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

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-mdina-ditch-trees-is-the-eu-really-involved/


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.