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

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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