More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

Some trees of Malta

November 20, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sandro Lanfranco

 A new and updated book about Maltese trees could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Trees have been in the news almost every week and almost always for the wrong reasons. Over-development, upgrading of the road network and accident prevention, to name a few, have all been used as justification for the removal or  mutilation of old, mature trees in recent months. This general regard for trees as expendable ornaments of landscape reminds us we are still a very long way from appreciating them as an integral part of our environment, including our built environment.

This is why Alfred Baldacchino’s new book, Sigar Maltin – taghrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għajdut (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is so timely. It is an educational tool that, one hopes, will go some way towards raising awareness of what we have and of what we stand to lose.

It is not a comprehensive account of Malta’s trees, instead, the author chose 12 species and devoted a chapter to each, telling a story about every one tree, describing its natural history, horticulture, pests and diseases, cultural importance, historical background and conservation status.

The author includes an introductory chapter describing the Maltese environment and the biology of trees, a list of relevant legislation concerning trees, an extensive bibliography and a list of species with Maltese and English vernacular names accompanying the scientific  binomials. There is also a glossary defining both technical and unfamiliar non-technical terms.

The book is well-organised, written in refreshingly fluent Maltese and draws upon the author’s vast experience in this field. Descriptions of species are comprehensive and accompanied by a generous number of functional photographs. The author does not just describe the leaves, flowers and bark of each tree but also provides photos of seeds, fruits and other distinctive features, depending on the species. This is a very welcome addition as it is a feature missing from many  books  about Malta’s plant life.

The scientific aspect of Baldacchino’s writing is correct and updated, with only one or two very minor quibbles.

Appreciation of this book also revolves around an understanding of two key choices made by the author: species and language.

The species included are all native but are by no means all common. This is certainly a positive point as it introduces readers to trees that may have never seen.

Moreover, the author’s definition of a ‘tree’ is also quite inclusive and incorporates plants such as Spanish Broom and Lentisk that are probably better described as shrubs.

There is also no trace of alien trees in Baldacchino’s account. He is very much a ‘purist’ in this regard and these latecomer usurpers have no place in his book, in spite of their important ecological and cultural roles.

The author’s definition  of Maltin (Maltese) extends to species that have been recorded prior to 1500 and any species not present before that point are considered ‘alien’. Baldacchino, nonetheless, recognises that several trees, now considered native, were probably also introduced by humans in antiquity.

Baldacchino chooses the path less-travelled  and  writes  in Maltese. His reasons are twofold.

Firstly, while completely aware he is excluding much of his potential audience, he is reaching out to those who may be more comfortable reading in Maltese than in English, an unquantified cohort neglected by most local authors in this field.

Secondly, by writing in Maltese he is reinforcing and reviving a subset of vocabulary that is not in general use. The Maltese language has its own lexicon for trees but this is often supplanted by more general terms or by inclusion from other languages. Through his choice, the author is not only teaching about trees but is also teaching language.

The book will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of readers on natural history and melitensia in general. It will be appreciated by general readers as well as by students of the Maltese environment and those of the Maltese language.

One looks forward to seeing a version written in English for the benefit of a wider readership.

Sandro Lanfranco – Senior lecturer in biology at the University of Malta.