Lija oak cemetery

July 29, 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lija Oak Cemetery

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The eight majestic, age-old indigenous Maltese oak trees at Lija are dead and buried. Gone at a great social, ecological, financial and political expense, which will get heavier with age. All the new-borns within the next decade will not be able to see any saplings planted today in their majesty as that commanded by the destroyed Lija oak trees.

One can attribute such a loss to lack of serious management of biodiversity, as well as lack of will towards the control of biodiversity loss and no extra efforts made to get them incorporated into the scheme.

No amount of tears will get the age-old oak trees in Lija back. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Unfortunately no amount of tears will get these age-old oak trees back. The best one can do in the circumstances is to pick up the saw dust and plan ahead. A plan of action is urgently needed, not only to ensure that such senseless destruction does not happen again, but also to ensure better professional management of Maltese biodiversity, to meet our national and international obligations in the conservation of indigenous species.

Such an action plan should not be a cosmetic one. Promising 20 saplings to make up for the age-old trees is tantamount to taking a €100 note from a child’s hand, and giving him twenty 50 cent coins, while trying to convince the child that he is now better off because previously he had one piece and now he has 20.

I am sure that the Maltese people are made up of much sterner stuff.

The present trees and woodland protection regulations are worse than the ones they replaced

Such an action plan has to be three pronged: legal, educational and hands on the ground.

The present trees and woodland protection regulations are worse than the ones they replaced. One such loophole even enables age-old indigenous trees to be chopped down with official blessings.

I just cannot understand what is keeping the Ministry for the Environment from publishing the much politically-promised regulations which would save so many indigenous trees and contribute to the local ecosystem, in line with the ministry’s aims for the protection of the environment.

The present trees and woodland protection regulations are worse than the ones they replaced

Is there a Cabinet decision against their publication? Is there any infighting? Are there some kind of fears? What is obvious is that their postponement is not helping in any way the local natural environment, especially trees.

The need for an educational campaign to create more public awareness of the appreciation and understanding of trees is badly needed too. The public cannot be blamed for thinking that there is an official hatred of trees, including indigenous ones, such as carob trees, Aleppo pines and holm oaks, a hatred which seems to have also infiltrated and is controlling official environment decisions, and the political mentality.

Because of this, official decisions are leading to more and more destruction of biodiversity. The benefits of trees are not only not understood, but unfortunately are ridiculed, and such a negative mentality cannot be in any way beneficial to society or to biodiversity, besides contributing to negative financial impacts.

One can neither be blamed for thinking that the Ministry for the Environment and the Environment and Resources Authority need to be seen to be more on the side of those who appreciate and protect trees and biodiversity in the national interest.

The wilful destruction of the Lija oak trees, with official blessing, is a case in point. Other similar instances include the destruction of the 60 mature olive trees at the University campus, and the mismanagement of the Natura 2000 site Buskett.

Finally the ever-increasing demand for indigenous Maltese trees, propagated from local Maltese stock, cannot be met because of the greater short-term financial gain from imported trees, despite the fact that their externalities, that is the hidden costs, are directly or indirectly borne by the local biodiversity and society in the long run.

The red-palm weevil, the geranium bronze butterfly, and the gene pollution of the indigenous sandarac-gum trees by imported specimens are some cases in point.

Such efforts in propagating indigenous Maltese trees from local stock is being left to voluntary, hardworking individuals, with little help, directly or indirectly, from the Ministry of the Environment.

No action plan can be achieved if there is no political will: a strong will based on ecological concepts arising from international obligations regarding biodiversity conservation, such as those of the Bern Convention and the EU policy driven by the biodiversity strategy setting ambitious aims for 2020 (halting the loss of biodiversity).

One can say that presently, with such incredibly uncontrolled destruction of indigenous trees, it is very difficult not to say that such a will is nowhere within sight, despite political commitments and promises.

The present rumours of the passing of landscaping responsibilities to the Ministry of the Environment can be a very positive step, because such ‘landscaping’ will be having a professional regulator from the biodiversity point of view, something which to date it does not have, or on which ERA found it too difficult to intervene.

But considering the present shallow interest and lack of will in the protection of biodiversity, these added responsibilities to the Ministry for the Environment can send shivers down one’s spine.

Till the time of writing, this is the fate of the majority of Maltese indigenous trees.

In the meantime, nature lovers can only keep wishing and hoping and praying, that the man at the helm will see the light of day and join, encourage and help them in their efforts to achieve such a noble, national aim in the protection of the environment in a tangible way.

Wouldn’t dare to say in a concrete way!

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

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