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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/xqed-naghmlu-bl-ilma-tax-xita/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/water-harvesting-culture/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/aghmel-xita-aghmel-2/

 

 

 


The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – book review

December 11, 2011

 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Natural History of the Maltese Islands

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Bonett, G. (2011) The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens. 384 pp. Malta, BDL Ltd.

 

 

 

When we were young we used to pursue everything that moved, whether it was a reptile, a butterfly, a bird, a frog or tadpole, a beetle, sometimes even a flower or wild plant. This was perhaps the result of the educational system of our times, when we, as young children, were encouraged to collect such species during our weekend holidays and to bring them to the nature-table in class. I can remember tadpoles in glass jars, looking at their adult stages in adjacent glass jars, a stage they never reached. I can also remember pinned butterflies uselessly giving their last desperate wing beats, before giving up the ghost. Times have changed and such a change has also brought with it a change of mentality.

I remember Guido Bonett in his younger days, following with caution such wildlife with photographic equipment and binoculars. Guido was quick to keep pace with the latest technological changes which provide sophisticated equipment to better enable him to follow such wildlife. Change has enabled Guido to capture, not the living specimen, but photos, even of delicate and split-second moments in the life of species, moments which can only be captured, recorded, and filed through photographic equipment. Guido shot, and shot to his heart’s delight, with professionalism, ethics, and with satisfaction that, in his pursue, not a single specimen was endangered, injured, maimed or disturbed. The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens is an introduction to nature photography in the Maltese Islands. Guido reveals the wonder of nature in the Maltese Islands: whether it is a spider capturing a fly, a bird bringing food to its nestlings, a chameleon hunting insects, two fighting snakes, a hovering dragonfly, mating insects, intricate petals of flowers, close up of a number of flora and fauna showing details which are not easily observed and appreciated with the naked eye, or just a living species in a moment of its daily life. Guido’s book about the wonders and richness of the biodiversity of the Maltese Islands encompasses 59 explanatory photos in the introductory parts, and then a collection of photos which includes flora (92) dragonflies (19) grasshoppers (17) mantids (8) true bugs (17) lacewings (5) butterflies and moths (68) flies (17) bees, wasps and ants (21) beetles (23) spiders and scorpions (22), amphibians and reptiles (44), birds (72) and other wildlife (19) photos.

One of the many photos from Guido's book: The expression of love by two Lesser emperor Dragonflies

This publication has a preface by Dr L.F. Cassar, and Dr E. Conrad, from the Institute of Earth Systems of the University of Malta, a foreword by Louis Agius, the President of the Malta Photographic Society, and an Appreciation by Nick Camilleri, Managing Director of Avantech Ltd one of the main sponsors, followed by Guido’s appreciation note. All the species mentioned in the book are listed in an alphabetical English and Scientific index, and a list of further reading is also included.

As the author emphasises in the introductory part of the book: “The man in the street and even other photographers will be overlooking, stepping on and trampling without a second thought” on this rich natural heritage, while “The nature photographer sees beauty in subjects which others might find revolting, and this is one of the factors that make macrophotogrphy so fascinating.” But even in his pursuits of photographic natural living subjects, the author emphises the ethics to “take photos not lives, and leave nothing behind but footprints.”

Many may know Guido as a naturalist and a conservationist at heart. Guido has built on this reputation: he is today one of the leading professional nature photographers, for which, in 2005, he has been awarded an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (ARPS), and in 2008 an Associateship of the Malta Photographic Society (AMPS). His knowledge and experience in the field, where, as a youngster he studied and met a number of species face to face, has enabled him to utilise this vast experience to produce professional natural history photographs, not just from a photographic point of view, but most important from a scientific aspect. His latest work, full of passion, besides the high photographic level, without any doubt contributes to the scientific, educational, and appreciation of the rich biodiversity of the Maltese Islands.

In the preamble of the book, Guido briefly explains the habitats of the Maltese Islands, where many of his subjects can be found. He gives advice on how to take better nature photographs, explains the photographic equipment necessary for such work, such as camera body, lenses, macro lenses, telephoto lenses, flash units, tripods, and monopods, tripod heads, cables releases and camera bags. Explanations are also included on how and when, or when not, to use a macro and/or a telephoto. Besides in the main part of the book, which is a collection of his nature photographs, he also gives the English and Scientific names of the subject, the status and some information on the species, indicating also whether it is an invasive species or indigenous one. Included under each photo, is a tip re its taking, a code number, information on shutter speed, aperture value, ISO value, focal length, and shooting mode used, such as aperture priority mode, shutter speed priority mode or manual mode used.

The great effort, dedication and sacrifice which went into the production of this book, both by Guido, the publisher, the sponsors, and the printer have all contributed to such a professional publication on the natural history of theMalteseIslands. This publication can definitely help to create a better positive appreciation of our unique natural heritage. It can help to further create and strengthen the national pride of our borrowed natural treasures. It can contribute to the better relationship between man and the ecosystem on which we are so much dependent. This book can also be useful to those who know all the species referred to in Guido’s book, because it shows the minute details which cannot be seen by the naked eye. Naturally, it is also a must for all those who are aware of the beauty and importance of biodiversity, because they can also get familiar with a number of species which can be appreciated with the naked eye and which most of the time, many go past without even realising it. One has to know what to expect to see before being able to look for it.

This book is a treasure in the hands of every citizen who loves theMalteseIslands. It shows the delicate, fragile, daily natural miracles of which we all form part, all of which have been lent to us by future generations. If only the educational entities of these islands understand the potential of this book, and direct that it is made use of, even by being used during the various prize giving ceremonies in schools, it will be a great service in the education of the young generation with regards to the better understanding and appreciation of our natural heritage.