Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

March 1, 2016

interview

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Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, a noted environmental lobbyist and keen writer has been working hard on the envronmental protection front since the early 1970s. Following the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development The Malta Independent contacted Mr Baldacchino to see what the avid blogger and environmentalist had to say about the new proposal, the effects it will have on the flora and fauna of the area, and the role of NGOs.                 ___________________________________________________

Q. What flora will be affected by the development?

natura-2000-logo_2_fs.jpeg (800×600)Ta’ Ċenċ is an EU Natura 2000 site. This embraces a Special Area of Conservation with regards to flora and fauna (except birds) according to the Habitats Directive and also a Special Protection Area with regards to birds according to the Birds Directive.

Ta’ Ċenċ was accepted by the EU Commission after Malta forwarded a list of flora and fauna which were of importance to the EU according to the habitat types and species listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. This was accepted by the EU Commission, and these NATURA 2000 Standard Data Forms (MT0000034) are referred to in the report on an appropriate assessment based on terrestrial ecological resources and on avifauna published by Ecoserve in December 2015.

These EU Directives do not only protect the species per se but also protect the habitats important for certain species within the delineated boundary. The site is important as one holistic ecosystem. These EU Directives oblige Member States to see that all activities, within the delineated boundary, are to be either aimed towards the management of the site or else they, and even those immediately outside, do not impact any habitats and any species of the Natura 2000 site.

endemic-sub endemic flowers

Photos courtesy of Stephen Mifsud

The proposed development, will have a negative impact on most of the flora, whether  common, vulnerable, endemic or endangered. These will be somehow affected both during and after works, and also during the increased human activities, mainly commercial, subsequent to the works not relevant to the management of the site. Some of the important flora found in this EU Natura 2000 are the sub endemic Maltese waterwort, the sub endemic Maltese toadflax, the endemic Maltese cliff orache, the endemic Maltese hyoseris, and the endemic Maltese rock centaury. These besides other important threatened vegetative communities such a those dominated by the endemic Maltese salt tree, and others including garigue and rock pools all of EU Community Importance.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015, besides highlighting the above, also states that: “More accurate prediction of environmental impact would necessitate extensive experimental work on the ecological responses of the species concerned and establishment of a mathematical model linking cause with effect.” A proper Environment Impact Assessment as obliged by the Directive, will have to be undertaken if the development is to proceed.

Q. What fauna will be affected by the development?

All the fauna will also be affected both during and also after the completion of the works. The proposed development will greatly affect and damage the ecological set-up and the conservation of this EU Natura 2000 Site.

short toed lark - michael sammut

Ta’ Ċenċ is the stronghold of the short-toed lark, which is a summer resident to the Maltese Islands where it nests.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 states that not only the sedentary fauna within this EU Natura 2000 will be affected, but also those which can visit and can leave the area. All the breeding birds in this EU Natura 2000 site will be affected, not only the sea birds colonies breeding on the cliffs but also those which breed or use the plateau for foraging, whether residents or migratory.

blue rock thrush - michael sammut

The blue rock thrush (the national bird of Malta) also breeds at Ta’ Ċenċ and besides the sea cliffs it uses the garigue plateau as its feeding grounds.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions 24 species of breeding or potential breeding birds recorded at Ta’ Ċenċ. These are either species of global conservation concern, or unfavourable conservation status whether concentrated or not in Europe. Eleven of these are all protected and either vulnerable or endangered and listed in the Maltese Red Data Book such as the corn bunting the short-toed lark, the blue rock thrush, and the barn owl, among others.  This is also confirmed in the Appropriate Assessment 2015.

Short-toed Lark nest at Ta' Ċenċ - Michael Sammut May 2015

The nest of the short-toed lark at Ta’ Ċenċ.  

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 stresses that “Development within these two zones (the hotel area including the interpretation centre, and the villa area) is likely to generate environmental impact that may affect significant resources within Ta’ Ċenċ SAC and this assessment accordingly focuses on processes in these zones.”

Q. How valid are the impact assessments which have been performed and what could they have done better?

The assessment which has been published in 2015 is just an Appropriate Assessment. It is not a proper Environment Impact Assessment which is required before every development in an EU Natura 2000 site, as obliged by the Habitats Directive and as also indicated in the Appropriate Assessment.

The Appropriate Assessment also states that the proposed footprints of the Hotel area, the villa area and the interpretation centre “will obliterate plant assemblages and sedentary or slow moving fauna, and displace more vagile (free moving) fauna from the habitat”.

An earlier Environment Impact Assessment on Ta’ Ċenċ was by made by John Azzopardi in 2005. John Azzopardi is a past Assistant Secretary of the then Malta Ornithological Society with over 35 years experience in field ornithology, and also a past chairman of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Malta Section) – today Birdlife International. In his study John Azzopardi  elaborates “that nocturnal seabirds may be disoriented by artificial lighting whilst travelling from feeding grounds to nesting sites. Possible effects of artificial lighting on nocturnal seabirds, include abandonment of nest sites and burrows (with subsequent vulnerability of chick to starvation or depredation), collision with structures during flight, reduction of reproductive rate and of recruitment rate, interference with navigation and direction-finding and interference with the food sources of the birds.”

According to the EU Habitats Directive, each EU Natura 2000 site has to have a management plan not later than six years after accession, in our case, 2004. Malta did not reach this deadline and was given additional time up to December 2015. By that time, the management plans for all EU Natura 2000 sites were finalised by Epsilon-Adi Consortium, and discussed at public meetings. These had to be approved by Government and sent by MEPA to be approved by the EU Commission.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions these EU obligatory Management Plans for the EU Natura 2000 sites, but indicates that no reference was made to them despite that these are public. One can either conclude that these have not been sent to the EU, or else that they have not been approved by the EU Commisison. I just cannot image how such a development can be considered by MEPA, when it failed to consolidate and get EU approval for the management plans, now overdue as obliged by the EU Commission. But MEPA is MEPA – no real concern for biodiversity and no interest in EU environmental obligations despite being the official Competent Authority for environmental matters.

Q. What is the role of the NGOs in all of this, and do you think they are acting accordingly?

I believe that every NGO convinced and proud of its statuary aims for the protection of biodiversity, in whole or in part, have to make its stand publicly known on this unique important EU Natura 2000 site. To the time of writing, only Din l-Art Ħelwa has publicly declared its disagreement with this proposed development so damaging to this EU Natura 2000 site.

http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2016-02-29/local-news/Din-l-Art-Helwa-hits-out-at-Ta-Cenc-proposal-building-in-ODZ-land-unacceptable-6736154093

Sometimes environmental NGOs do surprise me by the stand they take or by their complete silence. The Malta Independent (25.02.16) carried a back page article with a declaration that “Proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits – BirdLife Malta”.

Having been the Hon. General Secretary of the MOS (now BirdLife Malta) from 1974 to 1986 when bird protection principles were established with great sacrifices by many, I find it very difficult to believe this. IF this is correct, this is a stab in the back to all those who have and are still contributing to biodiversity and bird protection in Malta, and an insult to all the personal sacrifices by  many who contributed or are contributing, in one way or other towards bird protection.

GuideOne has only to take in consideration the various official publication of BirdLife Malta on the area. Ta’ Ċenc is regarded as the stronghold of the breeding Short-toed Lark, and important for a number of potential breeding species referred to in the Appropriate Assessment 2015, all listed as vulnerable or endangered in the Malta Red Data Book.

An international seabird conference was hosted by BirdLife Malta on 22 November, 2015, and attended by an international delegation of marine scientists, government authorities, and the European Commission representatives, (incidentally, though not much publicised, held at the Hotel Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo). There it was agreed that “Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) represent the largest global network of important sites for biodiversity”.

The Maltese Environment EU Commissioner, Karmenu Vella who addressed the conference by video link is reported as having said that: “Natura 2000 sites (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) are the centrepiece of European nature legislation, helping in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.

IBA booklet2In July 2004, Birdlife Malta produced a booklet, printed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): Important Bird Areas of EU Importance in Malta. This is compiled by John J Borg and Joe Sultana, (the former one of the authors of the Appropriate Assessment 2015). Under the Important Bird Area of Ta’ Ċenċ, the authors list the following as threats for this IBA, now an EU Natura 2000 site: “A tourist complex is situated about 100 m from the cliffs with plans of extension. Uncontrolled recreation, mainly trekking and rock climbing, unsustainable exploitation (e.g. illegal bird shooting and trapping).”

RDBTaking the above, besides many others, in consideration, I find it very very difficult to believe Birdlife Malta statement regarding the non negative impact of development at Ta’ Ċenċ. Of course, one expects an official declaration by Birdlife Malta if this is not correct and is contrary to what Birdlife Malta have been working for, through popular and scientific literature, and publicly campaigning for bird protection since the birth of the society’s in 1962 when it was the Malta Ornithological Society –  MOS.

If such an official declaration is not forthcoming, then I have to regrettably believe it. However, I would then also expect a clarification by Birdlife International for this change of position regarding bird protection in Malta from their local partner, whom they support morally and financially.

I have to strongly disassociate myself from this declaration from Birdlife Malta that the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits, as reported in your paper, and hope that this is a very grave lapsus.

Do you think it is possible to have any sort of compromise with the developers where they can go ahead with development while safeguarding the natural surroundings?

Compromise is not a word in my vocabulary, especially when it comes to eliminating ecosystems, the more so when there are international obligations with regards to the protection of biodiversity of an EU Natura 2000 site. As stated in the Appropriate Assessment 2015 with regards to the obliteration of habitats: “No mitigation measures can be proposed for the actual area obliterated, since this impact is irreversible.”

Where biodiversity is concerned, there can be no compromises: in an EU Natura 2000 site, impacts are either wrong or not wrong. Compromises are reached only by those who have a pro-business vision willing and ready to accept the elimination of a living ecosystems, which after all also sustain us all. And such a compromise is reached only for commercial personal gain, naturally at the expense of society and the living environment.

scientific names

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

 

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Environmentalists argue weakness of governments on environmental issues

December 26, 2014

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Environmentalists argue weakness of governments

on environmental issues

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Kevin Schembri Orland

“The environment is nothing but a buzzword for politicians on both sides, a buzzword used by them to sound nice and be popular”, Environment photographer Guido Bonett told The Malta Independent.”There has been a gradual degradation of the environment. This is due to a number of things, one of which is the mentality, where they believe that if it doesn’t vote or make money then it is useless. The development boom over the past 30 years has been a real back-breaker as far as the environment is concerned”.

Swallowtail butterfly - Farfett tal-bużbież

Swallowtail butterfly – Farfett tal-bużbież

Roads also disrupt habitats. “I don’t even want to imagine what kind of damage works around the Salina Coast road has caused”. “One thing that really worries me is the state of insect life on the island. Take butterflies for example, we have already lost a number of species and this comes down to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. If we were to use insects as a thermometer for the wellbeing of the environment then it becomes obvious that we are in trouble. When I was younger, turning over a stone one would find a number of insects and arachnids, from scorpions to centipedes while today one would be lucky to find a couple of snails”.

As an example of species lost, Mr Bonnet said that the small copper butterfly hasn’t been sighted for over ten years. Turning to plants, he said we are losing species of plants just as we are losing species of insects.” One must look at nature as a guidocircle. If part of it is cut, then ripple effects will occur and man is part of this chain”.

Turning to marine life, he said that people who want to dispose of certain rubbish just chuck them into the sea. “The amount of sea pollution is staggering. When scouts hold a clean-up session at a beach, they collect around 50 sacks of garbage in a single morning”. Mr Bonett had a message to politicians, telling them to take the environment more seriously and not encroach on virgin land. “Decision makers need to realise that people who care about the environment have as many votes as those who don’t”.

Lack of appreciation a result of greed

“The fact that we are a small island means that developmental impacts on natural habitats are multiplied. In addition there is a lack of professional management with regard to such developments that leads to the loss of other resources. Take water for example, today we are no longer concerned with storing water when it rains, but rather pay a lot of money to funnel it out to sea. This affects wildlife as all species rely on water. There is also no professional planning when it coms to utilising such a scarce resource.

Landscaping is another problem, as it brings żringabout exotic invasive species of plants that contribute to the further destruction of the Maltese environment. If species being destroyed by development are utilised within the development, at least we would see some of what was taken given back to the eco-system”. “The ecosystem is like a web with everything intertwined. Without bees, for example, pollination would not occur, and thus flowers will not be able to multiply. If one is aware of such beneficial use of all living things, one would realise the importance of protecting such things as without them man wouldn’t be able to survive”.

Mr Baldacchino explained that insects provide food for other species, so aside from directly helping man, they help sustain other species thus creating a balance. Due to education and the availability of mass communication there is a strong awareness to the importance of our environment, he said. “We do tend to push the need to educate our children on the environment and while this is important it would take these children 25 years to really begin to contribute to society”. This shows a failure on the part of current generations who are trying to educate but not lead by example, he said.

Turning to the ‘Save the Countryside’ campaign launched by Din L-Art Helwa, Mr Bonett said; “I am very happy that Din L-Art Helwa took the initiative, which has seen many people showing interest in the environment”.  Mr Baldacchino said that the campaign focusses on saving wild species around the Maltese islands and the environment. “It is useless to protect species without protecting their habitats. This campaign is aimed at creating awareness and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the general public. The campaign is very stimulating and opens doors for future similar campaigns to help communicate and educate the public. It goes without saying that in a couple of years’ time, society and the eco-system will begin to pay the price for such neglect”.

“Membership in the EU means that we are obliged to transpose European legislation into local legislation and on paper, environmental legislation is sufficient. The main concern is, however, that nobody takes care of such legislation. It is not enforced, not administered and it is an open secret that nobody is eager to help the environment and everyone is just washing their hands of it. This is another failure of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility belongs to every Ministry and every person on this island whether he is a man off the street, the Minister of aebEnvironment, the Minister of Health or a member of the clergy. Without this delicate ecological balance, life cannot be sustained. Man is part of the eco-system,” Mr Baldacchino concluded.

“Considering the islands are relatively small, Malta has a large amount of species of flora. In the past they were used for traditional medicine and currently there is growing international awareness to the contribution that wild flora can give in medicine. In fact this movement is so great that many are turning back to traditional medicine”.

Everything is intertwined

“Pollution shows that man doesn’t care for tomorrow, that we are just living for today. We exploit what we can today and tomorrow, should the need arise, we would think about solving the problem. The idea that the earth has been loaned to us by future generations has been completely disregarded.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino believes that the lack of appreciation for the Maltese eco-system, resulting in extensive development, is a result of greed for materialistic items.

“On a positive note, we have seen great leaps in sewage treatment in Malta”, he said.

Loss of species

“I was brought up in Birkirkara, and from Valley road up to Farsons not a single house was built back then. What really scares me is the possibility of even more development”. Mentioning Ta Cenc, “It is one of the few areas people like me can go and relax in nature, where it is nice and quite, yet every time I’m there the possibility that this area could be built up creeps into my mind”.

Milky Orchid - Orkida tat-tikki

Milky Orchid – Orkida tat-tikki

Mr Bonett believes that Malta has very much become a consumer-based society and because of this, production continues to grow thus making the situation worse. “40 years ago the word environment did not even exist, so slight improvements have been seen. Over the past few months, however, we have gone backwards”.

“In my opinion, we have never had a single decent Minister for the environment, and none of them have an idea of what they are talking about. To these people, a piece of land filled with rocks and wildflowers is nothing more than an unproductive piece of land,” he said.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Ix-Xagħri

December 20, 2010

It-Tnejn, 20 ta’ Diċembru, 2010

Ix-Xagħri

Alfred  E. Baldacchino

Ix-xagħri huwa wieħed mill-ambjenti naturali li nsibu fil-gżejjer Maltin.  Dan huwa wesgħa ta’ blat tal-qawwi b’numru ta’ ħofor baxxi mimlijin b’ħamrija ħamra.

Dan l-ambjent huwa ddominat minn pjanti baxxi li jgħolew bejn 50 sa 100 cm. Huma kollha adattati għal dan it-tip ta’ ambjent naturali miftuh għall-irjiħat, u għall-qilla tax-xemx fis-sajf. Dawn jistgħu jaħżnu l-ilma taħt l-art biex isibuh matul il-ġranet sħan tas-sajf.  Hekk insibu pjanti li ħafna minnhom għandhom zkuk inniggżu u ħafna drabi jkunu jfuħu wkoll. Il-pjanti jikbru mferrxa fi rqajja ta’ ħamrija qalb il-blat. Ix-xagħri huwa l-ambjent naturali bl-akbar firxa fil-gżejjer Maltin, u huwa sinjur fl-ispeċi ta’ pjanti li jħaddan. Madwar nofs il-pjanti slavaġġ li jikbru fil-gżejjer Maltin, jinstabu jikbru fix-xagħri. Dawn ukoll joffru kenn u ikel għal numru ta’ fawna oħra.

Sfortunatament għad hawn minn jaħseb li dan ix-xagħri huwa blat għeri mingħajr l-ebda użu. Din il-mentalità tinstab f’kull qasam tas-soċjetà, kemm dik kummerċjali, dik reliġjuza kif ukoll anki dik politika.

Minħabba din il-mentalità, li wieħed jinnota b’sodisfazzjon li bil-mod il-mod qed tinbidel  l-aktar qalb il-ġenerazzjoni żgħażugħa, ħafna  minn dan l-ambjent huwa żdingat u  traskurat.  Hekk ġieli naraw borġ wara borġ  ta’ terrapien u skart ieħor mormi f’dan ix –  xagħri u mhux rari li wieħed jara dan it-tip  ta’ ambjent jiġi mgħotti bil-ħamrija biex  jinbidel f’għelieqi. Lanqas hija ħaġa rari li fuq  dan it-tip ta’ ambjent naraw xi bini tiela.

Tant huwa mportanti dan it-tip ta’ ambjent li  l-Unjoni Ewropea tqisu bħala tip ta’ ambjent  naturali speċjali, u kull membru msieħeb li  għandu minn dan it-tip ta’ ambjent irid  jiddikjara numru ta’ inħawi minnu biex ikunu  mħarsa bil-liġi u meqjusa bħala Firxa Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation) li flimkien ma’ nħawi oħra ddikjarati minn kull membru msieħeb fil-UE, jifformaw ix-xibka Natura 2000.

Malta wkoll iddikjarat inħawi tax-xagħri bħala SAC. Fosthom insibu l-Kemmuna, li hija kważi kollha xagħri, Ta’ Ċenċ u l-Qortin tal-Magun f’Għawdex, kif ukoll Pembroke. Fost l-ispeċi ta’ flora u ta’ fawna li nsibu fix-xagħri, mingħajr dubju l-aktar magħruf huwa s-sagħtar li fis-sajf jiksi dan l-ambjent b’tapit roża-ħamrani. Hemm ħafna u ħafna speċi oħra li nsibu fix-xagħri.  Fost il-flora nsibu t-Tengħud tax-Xagħri li huwa endemiku u għalhekk jinsab jikber fil-gżejjer Maltin biss, il-Berwieq, u numru ta’ Orkidej.  Fost il-fawna nsibu l-gremxul, il-bebbux, numru kbir ta’ insetti, kif ukoll għasafar fosthom il-Bilbla li żżurna bejn l-aħħar tar-rebbiegħa u l-bidu tas-sajf biex tbejjet fix-xagħri.

Hekk naraw kemm ix-xagħri huwa sinjur u kif huwa ambjent b’valur kbir ekoloġiku, ekonomiku, edukattiv, xjentifiku, estetiku u soċjali.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com