Course: Getting to know indigenous trees

September 2, 2020

Getting to know indigenous trees

A course on Getting to know indigenous trees, as outlined below, is being offered by the Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Malta.

This course consists of weekly Monday evening lectures between 18.00 and 20.00, starting from 12th October 2020 to February 2020.

Interested persons can apply online by the 22nd September 2020.  Limited number of places. See you there.

For information and application fees visit um.edu.mt/clas

facebook /um.atyourownpace

Telephone2340 3772/3

email: clas@um.edu.mt

 


No future for Maltese trees

June 23, 2020

Monday, 22nd June, 2020

No future for Maltese trees

Alfred E Baldacchino

The feeling that indigenous Maltese trees and biodiversity have no future is increasing from day to day, despite national and international obligations.

There are four ministers who are involved with trees and biodiversity: Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg; Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, and Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia.

A 100 year old indigenous Holm Oak chopped by the Ministry. Could easily have been saved, but it is not an electricity pole.

The minister under whose watch biodiversity loss is increasing by leaps and bounds is without doubt Borg. To add insult to injury the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is importing a number of ‘indigenous’ trees, only for political numerical reasons: planted, some in pots, or distributed to local councils.

No biodiversity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases and the contamination of the local gene pool; just a waste of resources which could be used for the benefit of a new local industry propagating indigenous trees.

The tarmacking and concreting of valley paths, the cosmetic rubble walls, built with EU funds, further add to biodiversity loss.

If there was a reward for a politician who contributed so much to biodiversity loss, the transport minister would win it hands down. History will surely document this.

Ian Borg’s rubble walls: more concrete, iron netting and no ecological niches, so diametric opposite to Legal Notice 169 of 2004. And they are still not covered by a top concrete layering.

The 15-year-old notorious ELC, pocketing €8 million per year, introducing invasive species all over, ignoring the EU Environment Acquis, mutilating a number of street trees, is now under the auspices of the Minister for Tourism. This ministry’s vision on biodiversity is also based on the importation of more trees.

Agriculture Minister Refalo is responsible for the phytosanitary of trees and other flora. There is never a word to protect indigenous trees from risks by importation of so many foreign imports.

No biodivesity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases

Environment Minister Farrugia has the utmost responsibility regarding protection and management of trees and biodiversity.

The protected Elderberry tree left for dying at the Central Link Project, Attard, by Ian Borg’s Ministry, irrispective of ERA conditions or not.

His Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) is the focal point and competent authority of the European Union with regard to biodiversity.

On paper, ERA is very professional and publishes regulations and guidelines on biodiversity to honour EU obligations, and declares Natura 2000 sites, though left unmanaged, such as Buskett. In practice it is almost non-existent. Nobody takes any notice of these. The tree protection regulations and guidelines, and the way trees are being decimated all over the islands, by ERA’s permits or not, are there for one and all to see..

The Environment Ministry dishes out €30,000 to local councils to plant trees. Not a bad idea, but not when lists of imported exotics, some invasive trees are given to choose from, and conditions imposed to plant some in pots, as if to accommodate somebody.

During summer months these can be seen either parched dry, or on the verge of kissing their roots goodbye. In Attard the potted trees have been changed once or more.  The roots and soil in the pots become so hot that it would be a miracle if trees survive.

Ambjent Malta, once in the portfolio of the Environment Ministry, was short-lived.  These had the foresight to start a nursery to propagate Maltese biodiversity. But the change of hands at Castille saw that this was disbanded. The only remnant is the livery on vehicles they used. Ambjent Malta was also supposed to manage Natura 2000 sites.

If the government has the will to honour its electoral manifesto and the European Union Environment Acquis, it would not have fragmented such responsibilities in a way to make nobody accountable.

There is no will, no intention, no desire, no vision, no plan, no sensitivity to rise to such a national socioecological responsibility. Only the dictatorial urge to destroy, for political commercial purposes, some with EU funds.

Financial resources, managed by the environment minister, can contribute to a professional set up to see to the conservation of local biodiversity.

We need to do away with the present scenario where ministers compete with one another on who imports most trees, destroying Maltese indigenous ones in the process.

What future does all this offer to Maltese indigenous trees? No wonder that many are concluding that the government has a road map to make Malta the Easter Island in the Mediterranean!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino, former MEPA Assistant director

 

related articles: 

A tree, a Minister and the EU

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment hit by EU funds

The environmental destruction of Malta

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 


The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.

The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.

In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.

The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.

The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.

Planting invasive species

“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.

RELATED STORIES

In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.

Using water-guzzling turf

Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.

Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used

Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”

Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.

Removing local ‘weeds’

Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.

Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.

“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.

What should a new contract stipulate?

Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.

“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.

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This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.

Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.

“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.

Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.

“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, ELC declined to comment.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 


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)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

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.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

March 4, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Monday, 4th March, 2019

Having received a number of photos from many environmental friends, I paid a visit to Wied l-Isqof, yesterday, Sunday 3rd March 2019 to see for myself what is being done.

The photos taken shows the great irresponsibility in the work being supported, and financed by the Ministry for Transport. To the extent that now I regard biodiversity destruction in the Maltese Islands as synonymous with the works undertaken by this Ministry (also keeping in mind that the Planning Authority is also in the portfolio of this Minsiter)

Following a lengthy exchange of emails with officials of the Ministry for Transport, all I could get from them is an apologetic reply:

Grazzi hafna tal-email tieghek u kif ghidtlek f’korrospondenza precedenti u anki meta ltqajna fil-passat, it-tnejn li ahna nixtiequ l-gid tal-bdiewa taghna li b’tant dedikazzjoni jiehdu hsieb l-ucuh tal-ghelieqi fil-pajjiz, xi haga li hija mportanti ghal biodiversità. 

Fuq sigar, sfortunatament dawn tqacctu bil-maltemp imma ser inkunu qed inhawlu sigar indigeni kid tajjeb irtakomandajtilna int f’rapporti li kkumissjonajnik biex taghmel ghalina.

 Meaning: Many thanks for your email and as I told you before in previous correspondence, even when we met in the past, both of us have the interest of  our farmers, who with so much dedication cultivate their fields in the country, something, which is important for biodiversity.

With regards to trees, unfortunately these were damaged by the storm, but we are going to plant indigenous trees as you so rightly recommended in your reports which we have commissioned you to compile for us.

NO,  definitely not, this is not in the interest of the farmers. They will have to pay a heavy price because of such works. And there were other suggestions in the reports mention. Works being undertaken are diametrically opposite to the recommendations made.

 Furthermore information forwarded by me to the Ministry for Transport, and others, have all been ignored, , which leads me to conclude that they are reluctant to stop the destruction being done:

  • the country paths in valleys are being turned into highways ;
  • some areas in the valleys seem more like urban squares – big enough to hold political or public meetings.
  • the complete destruction of vegetation and other fauna in the pathways have all been destroyed;
  • the concrete paths made are, in some places, lower than the foundation of the rubble walls. These will eventually all collapse;
  • The valley bed has been reduced to a gutter, with a four-lane concrete road taking its place;
  • European Union money is being used for this destruction of biodiversity. Something which the EU is, not only against, but has a program to conserve biodiversity by 2020.
  • It is not true that the trees at Wied l-Isqof were damaged by the latest strong winds, but by the irresistible chainsaws paid for by the Ministry for Transport.

All these are, according to the Ministry for Transport, in ‘the interest of our farmers’. NO this is not in the interest of our farmers as far as I am concerned. They will have to pay dearly for such mismanagement of the environment.  Most of the works can be done with more thought, more professionalism, and more attention to local and international obligations. But it seems this is not in the interest of the Ministry for Transport. It seems that they are having more fun in such destruction, and how they are spending the EU money, despite the public outcry and criticism of such destruction so loud on social media.

I believe that this follows the complete failure in managing transport by the Ministry for Transport who are now turning to exploit every country path, in ’the name of farmers’ to widen and give it a fresh covering of concrete so that it can be used as a by-pass for traffic. Naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

This is being done in a number of valleys both in Malta and in Gozo.

Hope I won’t be disturbing the Environment and Resources Authority, but can they intervene please to stop such destruction of our biodiversity?

Some of the photos taken yesterday, of the works blessed, authorised and paid for by the Ministry of Transport, from public and EU funds, naturally for the ‘benefit of farmers’

rubble wall foundation exposed – naturally in the farmers’ interests

Valley bed filled in. No problem it is only destroying biodiversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More effects of the strong winds? Why not tell this to the marines?

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the benefit of our farmers: a four-lane concrete road in the valley bottom!

 

The valley bed reduced to a gutter to make way for a four-lanes concrete road.

More destruction of the valley bed, naturally ‘for the benefit of farmers’ too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice farmers, rejoice. This is all being done in your name. You can now also race your pickup trucks without any fear of having them scratched. Rejoice.

Future Ministers will have to apply for EU funds to restore collapsed rubble walls which collapsed through the help of EU funds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A country path for the benefit of our farmers! It has to be the Ministry for Transport to come up with such a vision, naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

 

Will we be having horse racing in this country path built for the benefit of farmers, and also to accommodate the former too?

Ministry officials ‘experts’ say that this tree was damaged by the strong winds. The winds must have been carrying chainsaws to achieve this. And the winds must have been God sent to eliminate the tree which was obstructing the country path!


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/

 

 

 


Trees hit headlines

May 4, 2018

Trees hit headlines

Friday May 4, 2018

Alfred E  Baldacchino

The last couple of months saw trees in the news.

Following the collapse, on February 10, of a mismanaged, unprofessionally pruned alien tree on the Mrieħel road, which led to the death of a foreigner, a spokesman for an entity paid out of public funds, was interviewed on a local TV station. He did not deny that the management of the trees in that particular road was their responsibility.

Photo: (Times of Malta) Jonathan Borg

April 9 saw another fatal accident in Żurrieq where a double-decker tourist bus “hit low-lying tree branches resulting in two dead tourists, 50 injured and some ending in intensive care, one needing a  major operation” (Times of Malta, April 10).

“Transport watchdog has long recognised trees as road hazards” read a heading in this newspaper (April 15). It referred to an “EU directive regarding road safety audits, impact assessments, inspections and high-frequency collision investigations”. The guidelines drawn in the light of this EU directive, outlined the fact that trees and landscaping are a “potential roadside hazard” and “need to be taken into account”.

In all honesty, the transport watchdog does not have the necessary acumen, adequate paraphernalia or professional personnel to plan, monitor, and professionally manage roadside trees. They rely on contractors.

Trees do not grow on their own in urban areas. They are planted, monitored and managed by contractors paid from public funds. So it is not the trees that are road hazards. It is the contractors who are responsible for their upkeep, ensuring that trees are managed aesthetically, professionally, and not posing a road hazard.

Trees do not move from the place where they are planted. If a tree has a 15- year-old branch protruding onto the road, it is not the fault of the tree, but that of unprofessional management. Even schoolchildren are today conscious and aware of proper tree management.

Following the ever-increasing negative impacts of such mismanagement and lack of awareness of international biodiversity obligations, a copy of the agreement for landscaping was requested on June 23, 2015. An agreement which the government and a private-public partner signed on October 31, 2012.

This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (under Joe Mizzi) on  July 23, 2015, as was the subsequent appeal, on August 13, 2015.

On August 19, 2015, the matter was referred to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner. The commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 “considers that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “the commissioner has resolved that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.

“Hence in the spirit of transparency and accountability as contemplated by the Act, the MTI [Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure] is instructed to acceed to Mr Baldacchino’s request by not later than twenty-five (25) working days from the receipt of this decision”.

One would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But it seems, not in Malta

Subsequently a letter from the commissioner informed me that an appeal by the ministry (still under Mizzi) had been lodged to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

Almost two years from the initial request, the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal decided, refusing the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the decision reached by the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection, ordering that a copy of such agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2001 should be given to applicant.

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure in 2017 said that legal proceedings were instituted by the ELC (Environment Landscaping Consortium) before the first hall of the Civil Court, “arguing that the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Data should be declared null and void”. Judgement had to be reached in December 2017, but the sitting has already been postponed twice.

As a member of the European Union, and also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention (Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), one would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But it seems, not in Malta.

What is the reason for such objections? The National Audit Office (NAO) published a ‘Performance Audit: Landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership’, dated September 2017. This throws a lot of light on possible reasons.

Topics covered in such report deal with: the non-availability of management accounts; no details regarding questions asked; contractor’s evident non-compliance on a number of issues; the government’s limited enforcement actions; arising questions regarding the financial and economic considerations revolving around the agreement; the non-submission of management accounts constituting a contractual breach; government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input not conducive to a balanced partnership;

Contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities; operational and financial information gaps not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement; contractual deficiencies that incorporated two subsequent addenda, as well as a number of elements of contractual non-compliance, generally, having their roots within the 2002 contract, beside others.

One of the conclusion the NAO report came to is that: “The contractor’s non-compliance remains evident on a number of issues. In some cases, deviations from contractual clauses that date back to 2002 impact negatively on government’s direct and broader interests.

One of the invasive species, Penisetum or Fountain grass, planted and paid by public funds, which is today spreading uncontrolled along roadsides, valleys, and other natural habitats. The social, ecological and financial negative impacts have to be paid by the man in the street.

“Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, government’s position shifted from one where action could be initiated to dissolve this PPP Agreement, to one where prolonged weak enforcement implied tacit consent” (page 55).

To these financial observations, the immediate and long-term negative impacts on the Maltese ecosystem must also be taken in consideration.

What is the next immediate step? The Minister for Finance has to decide: either the dissolution of the agreement in the national interest, or the dishing out of an additional €8 million for the continuation of the implied tacit consent of such non-compliance.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further readings:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/our-landscaping-needs-professional-updating/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 

 

 

 

 

 


Question time

October 22, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 22nd October, 1946

cleaner-and-greener-header

Alfred E Baldacchino

Afforestation is beneficial to society, to the ecosystem and also economically if this is undertaken in a professional way. The economic, ecological, and social benefits are priceless. It contributes to better health conditions, reduces stress, contributes to storage of water, and reduces erosion. In some countries afforestation is included in their gross national product.

buskett-h-004-16-05-14

What everybody is wishing, and hoping and waiting for, but…

Afforestation contributes to the control of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres and gives back the indispensable life bearing oxygen, thus also addressing Climate Change which is having such a tremendous social, economic and ecological negative impacts on life on this planet.

But to be able to plan with determination and achieve such noble aims these benefits have got to be appreciated and understood.

The fact that a report on afforestation has remained on the shelf for two long years clearly shows that there is no political will, no political desire or determination, no political appreciation, no political understanding, no political awareness of the responsibility in taking any action towards the achievement of such benefits.

Not only so but the decimation of trees and the planting of exotics and invasive species going on unchecked, with political blessings also leads one to conclude that there is an official hate for indigenous trees in Malta.

No public consultation has been held on such a report. The only thing that has been done is the usual ‘animated cartoons’ showing where such afforestation projects can take place.

Furthermore, the much promised tree protection regulations, which go hand in hand with such afforestation projects, and which have been drafted three years ago under the previous Minister Leo Brincat, are still ‘being studied’ after being initially shot down by some technocrats. The new Minister during the House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Environment and Development Planning, some months ago promised that they will soon be out for public consultation.

What is holding the implementation of such an afforestation report and the accompanying regulations for the protection of trees and afforestation?

Without doubt the highest hurdle towards achieving such benefits in the national interest is the lack of political will. This is further extended to the many political advisers who are not au courant on related national and international obligations, if they are even aware of the government’s electoral manifesto.

From past experience, one can see how MEPA handled such biodiversity obligations, before it shed its “Malta and Environment” responsibilities and changed its clothing to a PA. One can also see the decisions being hurriedly taken by this PA, blindfoldedly approving developmental permits without any concerns for anyone or anything, except developers.

It also seems that ERA, after three years in limbo, has been so blinded by the light of day that it cannot even find its own two feet and seems to be still under the beck and call of its past bedfellow. Could the implementation of such an afforestation report be seen as a stumbling block to the PA?

Sometimes I honestly hope that such an afforestation report is kept on the shelf and postponed sine die by the Minister for the Environment.  I believe that if it were to be implement with the political expertise he is dependent on, it would be another brick in the wall towards the further massacre of the environment, both with regards to the choice of species, and also with the now institutionalised pro-business vision, leading to the importation of indigenous trees used for such project because of pressure from ‘landscapers’. All contrary to international obligations such as the EU Environment Acquis, the Berne Convention, its recommendations and decisions, and also the Biodiversity Convention.

sleeping-dog-cartoon

… unfortunately

Where there is a will there is a way. Naturally where there is NO will there is NO way, afforestation or not. So the best step forward is to let sleeping dogs lie.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

For the views of the Dr Josè Herrera, Minister for sustainable development, the Environment and Climate Change see the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161022/opinion/Cleaner-and-greener.628708#.WAtVEVbhyoc.email

See also the following articles on my blog:

Another buskett onslaught

Trees butchered at university

Yet another toothless dog

Trees and invasive species

There is no respite for trees

The national wonders of tree pruning in Malta

Alien invasive species animation film

 


There is no respite for trees

June 18, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, June 18, 2016,

There is no respite for trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino
tree at Ta' Xbiex

The Ta’ Xbiex tree posted on facebook

The proposed uprooting of trees at the Ta’ Xbiex yacht marina provoked a flow of comments and criticism on the social media. This followed a decision to “condemn to death by Transport Malta with the blessing of Ta’ Xbiex local council and the hidden hand of the Gżira local council”. Incidentally, the Gżira local council also had a hidden hand in the butchering of the indigenous olive trees at the University campus.

It is now becoming more clear that one of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory. They certainly do not show any appreciation for such an important natural heritage, nor any respect for political commitments and (inter)national obligations.

The trees at Ta’ Xbiex intended for uprooting fall under the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and Landscaping. This ministry is becoming more and more notorious for the decimation of trees in the Maltese islands, both directly and indirectly. In fact, it would not be surprising to say that the Minister for Transport and Landscaping seems to be completely unaware of his party’s electoral manifesto.

manifest 2013Article 56 of the Labour electoral manifesto promises that the government will “continuously protect the existing trees in Maltese cities and villages and incentivise the planting of more trees, particularly indigenous trees”.

Section 9 commits the government, which “believes that Malta should be in the forefront in environmental standards. Not because there are obligations from the European directives but because this is what our children deserve.”

Despite such commitments, the devastation of urban trees has been going on even under the present administration.

To add insult to injury, the Minister for Transport and Landscaping is responsible for a public-private partnership agreement for which the Maltese public is now paying €8 million a year.

Penisetum - Vittoriosa - 2014.10 (5)What has one to show for all this public money spent in the last 14 years, that is €112 million? Invasive species spreading all over the islands, such as fountain grass, hottentot fig and siris tree, expanses of turf gulping scarce resources of water, most of which ends Penisetum - St. paul's Bay - 18.05.16up running down the adjacent streets, herbicides preventing Maltese wildflowers from propagating and offering an adequate habitat for pollinators such as bees and for insect larvae, mutilated and uprooted trees, annuals which are planted for a couple of weeks and then ploughed to be replaced by other annuals. All are endorsed and paid for by the said ministry.

Penisetum - Siri Tree - Vittoriosa - 20.10.13Considering the above promises, national and international obligations and subsequent damage to the local biodiversity, I asked for a copy of the agreement. Following a number of refusals by the Ministry for Transport and Landscaping, last January Penisetum - qormi 29.09.1119, the Commissioner for Data Protection “instructed the minister to forward a copy of such agreement”. But Joe Mizzi’s ministry is still objecting to handing it over.

One of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory

Penisetum - Mater Dei - 28.02.2014What is so scandalous in this agreement? What is the reason for objection when the Data Protection Commissioner “concluded that it does not contain any information having a commercial value”? It is an open secret that the original agreement was the result of a direct order and not made through a call for interest from various stakeholders. Why is the minister so keen to keep such an official public agreement Penisetum - Dingli - 07.12.14so close to his heart? Is there anything embarrassing in it? Is it possible that what is being paid from public funds is not exactly in line with what is stipulated in the agreement?

The protection of trees and the natural habitat is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, who is obliged to ensure that the number of national and international biodiversity obligations, including those of the Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18EU are honoured. Perhaps the new Environment Minister can give a helping hand to Mizzi and put his foot down on such destruction as he courageously and boldly did regarding the vote at the EU against the extended use of the herbicide glyphosate?

The introduction to the 2013 electoral manifesto, signed by Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, clearly states that: “For us Malta does not belong to this one or that one. It does not belong to any clique. Malta belongs neither to some politician nor to some political party. Those times are past.”

balzan 02,10,08Judging by the way trees are handled, it seems the ministry is still anchored to past times. One has only to look at all the disfigured urban trees, the spread of invasive species, the waste of resources, the spread of exotic species at the expense of indigenous trees to reach such a conclusion.

Besides, the Ministry for the Environment seems to think and believe that the public agreement that provides public funds for the above-mentioned environmental damage is its property.

zebbug entrance 09,08,13

€8 million are spent yearly from public funds for what is referred to as ‘landscaping’ purposes. It seems that it does not matter how these are spent, as long as they are spent. The above photos are some of the obscenities paid from such a vote, despite national, international and EU obligations. No wonder the Ministry responsible for Landscaping is constantly refusing to publish the official public agreement.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading on trees:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/l-%c2%adispeci-invazivi-u-l%c2%ad-mepa/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/


Butchered olive trees

June 4, 2016

The butchering of trees on the campus of the University of Malta was quite a shock, which not only questions professional, technical and administrative management, but also the void there is in the offering of opportunities in the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values – silviculture.

Following the justified uproar by organisations and individuals, the University issued a statement, which, if anything, rubs more salt into the wound.

The undated and unsigned statement, anything but professional, tries to absolve everybody from responsibility for this butchering job. There is, of course, at least one obvious accountable person.

The University statement outlined the fact that it “had received complaints from the Gżira local council, which raised residents’ concern about safety and security issues following burglaries in the area.

The residents suspected that the dense overgrowth of the trees could provide cover for unwelcomed prying. There were also complaints about falling twigs, olives and leaves on cars parked below.

The University succumbed to the local councils’ mentality which has, and still is, seeing trees butchered around the island because of selfish complaints such as: shedding of leaves, bird droppings, obstruction to seeing a patron saint statue going in and out of a church, and hindering residents from watching firework displays.

Who would have thought that the University would also join in blessing the chopping of trees on its campus for similar puerile, amateurish, selfish reasons, at the expense of society and the environment.

The local mentality, which is showing great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University

The mentality in this country, which is demonstrating great hatred for trees, has completely taken over even at the University, to the extent that, because of lack of monitoring of work in progress, not only those trees which attributedly were contributing to “unwelcome prying and dropping leaves and olives” were chopped down but even all the 51 indigenous mature olive trees on the campus.

Even those not contributing to these alleged inconveniences were chopped down too, including those on the sides of the track on campus, which in no way could have been involved.

Less than half were contributing to peeping toms, or raining leaves and olives, if at all. Interestingly, the 10 invasive Australian she-oaks (casuarina) growing over the parked cars beneath were not touched at all.

Their wood is not worth anything.

The University statement also reveals that “the olive trees had grown inordinately high, and the upper branches had dried up the result of unprofessional pruning. In Malta there are no professional tree pruners, but only self-appointed ones.

 Trees are pruned using cherry pickers, and these reach a limited height. So the trees become top-heavy when pruned by cherry pickers. And when they become top-heavy and dangerous, these are chopped from deep down the trunk.

However, according to the University, the Precincts Office had decided to go for the most favourable offer because “the contractor had previously done satisfactory pruning on campus”.

And this is the result of the professionalism accepted by the University.

The Insiter, the “only student centric newsletter” of the Student Media Organisation of the University, on May 11 released information on this tree butchering.

The statement, which also emphasised that the University expressed its regret over the outcome of the olive tree pruning, quoted the landscaper from the Times of Malta that the trees had a fungal infection, which is commonly referred to as a Peacock spot.

There are biological ways how to control this fungus. But the cherry on the cake, oozing out of the professionalism at the University, was the statement on this newsletter, and I quote: “And which we can’t be sure that the trees were indeed infected or that such drastic pruning was necessary, it should be easy to check on the tree’s health next year.”

A clear indication that there was no certainty that the trees had such a fungal infection, and even if they did, this was not the way to manage them.

A number of measures the University has completely ignored are:

  • the precautionary principle, which means that “if the effects of a product or action are unknown, then the product should not be used or the action should not be taken”;
  • the Plant Health Directorate had not been consulted;
  • the Environment and Resource Authority was not consulted either;
  • the operator seems to have also acted as the regulator and given a free hand to do and decide on his own;
  • professionals on biodiversity management within the University itself were, likewise, not consulted;
  • measures were not taken to ensure that the ‘infected trees’ were monitored to ensure that they did not infect other trees during transportation;
  • there was no control on the disposal of infected trees;
  • no control on the disposal of logs taken from the trees;
  • no data on the qualifications of the Precincts Office that took such decisions on behalf of University.

The conclusion seems to be that even the University falls short of environmental professional management, both from the technical as well as the administrative point of view.

Such butchering should never have taken place at University. And no amount of regrets can rectify the amateurish environmental damage done, professionally endorsed and officially paid.

Not even the planting of 30 new trees, the more so if these are imported, as I am sure the professionals at the University know about the national and international obligations Malta has.

There seems to be a flicker of light at the end of the long and deep tunnel of mismanagement in the field of natural environment. The statement issued by the University says that: “This serious matter is being looked into in detail by the University authority to determine whether further action should be taken.”

The butchered trees are indeed a wake-up call for the University; a very expensive wake-up call paid by the general public and the environment.

The University of Malta needs to take immediate steps to offer professional training so that those self-appointed landscapers and tree-pruners can become qualified professionals and would not be able to wield a chain saw unless they have at least a diploma from University on how to professionally appreciate and manage the Maltese biodiversity, in the interest of society and the environment.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/missing-the-wood-for-the-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/1028/

 

 

 


National hobby of butchering trees

May 11, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 11th June 2016

National hobby of butchering trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Since the first day when the tree protection regulations of 2001 were amended in 2011, the future of trees in Malta was open to the whims and fancies of developers and so called ‘landscapers’ who butcher them to their hearts’ content.

butchered tree 3

A common sight of the trail left behind by Maltese landscapers, who now seem to have also been accepted by the University, unless one hears to the contrary.

Through these years, the environmental NGOs, or some of them, have protested and protested against such butchering of trees paid out of public funds. And the conscientious and intelligent general public also kept on protesting ad nauseam. But nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to hear and nobody seems to listen. Nobody is conscious about the environmental and social damage. And the butchering goes on and on and on.

It would do no harm if one is reminded of the Government’s ‘Malta Tagħna lkoll’ electoral manifesto with regards to trees and woodland:

We will constantly protect existing trees in the Maltese towns and villages, and we will encourage the planting of more trees, especially indigenous trees. page 101, article 56.

butchered tree 7

seems that this is the official accepted professional  protection and encouragement of trees in Malta

The government has been involved in a Private Public Partnership for the last 14 years. The total amount paid for this so called landscaping, for which there is no official regulator from the biodiversity and social aspects, is approximately €112 million, or €8 million each year. And what has the country got to show for it. Invasive species and exotic trees, imported species for such landscaping, even imported indigenous specimens, to the detriment of Maltese biodiversity and to society, and planting of annual flowers which are ploughed and uprooted after a couple of weeks.

Despite the number of national and international obligations including EU obligations, with regards to the control of invasive species, such ‘landscaping’ goes on without any consideration for them.

Furthermore, the use of expanses of turf gulping the scare resource of water with the use of added herbicides seems to be the cherry on the commercial cake of this private public agreement. To the extent that the Minister responsible for landscaping still persists in keeping this public agreement confidential, and endorses €8 million annually.

Why? What is there to be ashamed of, unless of course this mismanagement is not in line with the public contract?

In the meantime the Minster for Environment looks as if environment is not his responsibility.

butchered tree 5

One of the many olive trees which have been ‘professionally pruned’ on the University of Malta campus. If this ecological vandalism is accepted by the University of Malta, then I am sorry to say that the University has been taken for a ride. Twice. The University deserves much much better than this.

Such gross mismanagement and waste of public resources lacking any scientific and professional basis, ignoring international and EU obligations, to the detriment of society and the environment, now seems to have also infected, penetrated and hijacked the University of Malta.

The Times of Malta (May 7) produced photos of butchered trees in the precincts of the University of Malta –  66 mature olive trees. The institution, one would presume, is aware of the public outcry regarding the mismanagement of trees in the Maltese Islands for the last decade or so.

Who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees?

There are qualified professional staff at University who, I am sure, if they had been consulted would have strongly objected to such nonsensical, unprofessional butchering of trees.

The more so since during this time of the year the trees are in flower and are beneficial to pollinators, including bees. So who has given the green light for such butchering? And what has happened to the timber from the chopped trees, especially when olive tree wood is so much in demand? Who is paying whom for such mismanagement? Who is going to pay for the damages done?

One wonders why such butchering was allowed on the University campus. Has it been an internal decision or was it an imposed decision from outside?

Civil society looks at University as the source from where trained professionals find their place in society and be involved in the professional running of the country. Civil society also pays to achieve this too. But the butchering of trees on the campus does not reflect any success of trained professionals in the field.

On the contrary such mismanagement officially approved on the campus, look more like a failure on the part of the University. One can add that lack of qualifications of self-proclaimed landscapers in the management of trees, has completely taken over any professional management one would expect from a University.

uom poster

picture says it all

Could this be the result that the educational system where each and every faculty is just concerned only in its narrow specialties, not caring a finger on the externalities or responsibilities that the decisions taken by their eventually qualified students on the wider social and environmental fabric of the island?

One can only hope and wait that one day, possibly yesterday, Malta too would have qualified professionals having a wider vision of social and environmental responsibilities, who are also accepted and involved in the governance of the country. The butchering of mature trees on the campus if anything, has severely dented the professionalism at University in this field. And everyone expects a strong reaction to address this mediocrity which now has been going on for far too long without anybody taking any responsibility for it.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further reading on this national hobby of butchering trrees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/maltese-trees-conserving-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/is-sigra-nazzjonali-u-l%c2%ad-politikanti-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/2-%c2%ad-is-%c2%adsigar-barranin-l%c2%ad-impatt-dirett-taghhom/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/sigar-maltin-u-sigar-mhux-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-sigar-fil-bliet-u-fl-irhula-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/massakru-minn-sigar-fis-saqqajja/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/trees-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/hello-world/

 

 


Trees butchered at University

May 9, 2016

Trees butchered at University

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Monday, 9th May, 2016

(article to follow soon)

uom poster

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

June 16, 2015
Maltese trees 
conserving and landscaping
Tuesday, 16th June 2015
 
postter-
Trees are an important for our daily life. Some species of trees are more common than others. Trees depend on their natural habitat and also on our appreciation and protection for their existence.This talk will cover an introduction to Maltese trees and the negative impacts which alien species have on our ecosystem including our indigenous trees – not like the green men from Mars! This has a lot to do with landscaping.

Alfred E. Baldacchino has made plenty of contributions to the environment in the Maltese Islands and has presented and is still helping with various programs in the mass media. He has also published a number of popular works on protecting nature, having served as Editor of the magazine In-Natura from 1982 to 2003. Alfred has also composed lyrics for various songs mostly with an environmental theme that have been performed locally during song festivals.

Come and listen to Alfred’s talk on Sunday the 28th of June at 7.30pm (doors open at 7.15pm) at the University Quad in Msida.The event will be followed by an open discussion with some nibbles from Sammy’s Culinary Forward. Thanks go to the Malta Chamber of scientists for their support and the University of Malta for providing the space.

Malta Café Scientifique can be found on Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/Malta.Cafe.Scientifique and online:http://bit.ly/MCSCIweb . You can now view events and subscribe to our mailing list from the website.

Danielle and Francesca
bit.ly/MCSJune2015
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

God and landscaping

January 9, 2015

God and landscaping

Friday, 9th January 2015.

with addenda by Alfred E. Baldacchino

Among the many exchanges of jokes and comments over the net, I received one such ‘joke’ from a friend of mine. Seems that Maltese environmentalists and their blogging have also managed to reach the Patron Saint of biodiversity, St. Francis. I thought it would be useful if I shared this with readers of my blog, always thanks to my friend Victor. And it was a bit too much of a temptation not to include some more details for the information of our Patron Saint.

GOD to ST. FRANCIS:    Frank,   …  You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS:    It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:    Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colourful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:    The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. FRANCIS:    Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:    They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay

St. FRANCIS:    Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:    They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. FRANCIS:    No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:    Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. FRANCIS:    Yes, Sir.

GOD:    These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. FRANCIS:    You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:    What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

St. FRANCIS:    You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:    No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. FRANCIS:    After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:    And where do they get this mulch?

St. FRANCIS:    They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:    Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. CATHERINE:    ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about… ………………….. .

GOD:    Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

For the attention of St. Francis for his next meeting with the Lord.

In Malta, a barren rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, a member of the European Union, the elected representatives of the natives, have set up a Public Private Partnership (PPP) responsible for landscaping in the Malta, with a motto Making Malta and Gozo Greener. This has been done through a contract between the Minister of Finance representing the natives and five eminent businessmen. 8 million euros are made available per year, for seven years, to undertake, amongst others, all that you have listed above. There are no limits to the destruction and elimination of wild flora and trees, to green the island.

No further details are available because this contract, despite being made on behalf of the natives, is kept secret and guarded under lock and key. Whether this secrecy is kept because it embarrasses the signatories, or because there are other obligations which are not in the interest of the natives, one cannot say as yet.

2011.07.01 - wasting water resources - 1

Although the Lord can see their work wonders from up there, the attached photo would not do any harm as evidence and to confirm what you said.  If only I could send you their publications to see the rectangles, squares and circles of green!

Furthermore, if you can perhaps speak to the Lord to illuminate the intelligence of the leaders of this Country to help them appreciate the wonders of His creation, and the better use of resources be they natural or financial, it would be of great help.

PS. I thought you would also be interested to know that besides regarding wild flora NO,-NO,-NO,-NO-this-is-not-Seville.-It-is-the-professional-expert-pruning-and-lanscaping-in-Malta-approved-by-governmentas weeds, they do not appreciate your ‘stroke of genius’ in creating trees either. Look at the way they manage them. They say that trees attract birds (the few that are not shot that is), and the birds dirty the benches beneath. Trees shed their leaves and these dirty the pavements. Trees also damage the pavements and houses, they say. Lately I have heard that the swaying of leaves outsides schools distract the students inside. And most of the trees  finish as logs and mulch, as you said. Please ask the Lord to illuminate them with urgency. My impression is that they all believe in Him, or so they say.

 

 


Fallen trees and lost water

October 27, 2014

times of malta

Fallen trees and lost water

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the weekend thunderstorm, Monday 7th October dawned with broken trees, overflowing sewers and rivulets taking hold of sensitive traffic areas. This is just a harbinger of things to come every time it rains, let alone when it rains cats and dogs.

one-stemtree

Heavy crown on one single thin stalk

I drove by a tree which had succumbed to bouts of wind. Half of a fully mature 50 year old three-storey high ficus tree, on the periphery of a small grove, lay on its side. Unprofessional pruning contributed to its downfall. The size of its crown was too heavy for its long thin bare stalk. The remaining half of the tree displayed a top-heavy crown on a similar long thin stalk, possibly saved by the support of surrounding trees. If only the country had a Minister responsible for landscaping who had a vision backed up by professional experts to advise him on professional pruning and landscaping, such loss of trees would not occur. But there is not, and there never was any such Minister, except on paper.

I was hindered from approaching the tree by two rivulets, one on each side of the road, running towards Valley Road, Birkirkara. A couple of meters up the road, a manhole silently tried to outdo the dancing fountains at St. George’s square Valletta. Except that the water was coloured and it did not rely on electricity. I craved for a clothes peg to withstand the stench.

If only the country had a minister with a vision of how to manage and store the scarce natural resource that is water. But there is not, and there never was any such minister. Indeed, there was a day in the political life of this counlry when one incumbent found it difficult to distinguish between a water culvert and a sewer.

The damage done by the storm is the price of the lack of political vision, verging on laissez faire, and short-tenn decisions and mismanagement. Structures which allow the harvesting of rain water are not made use of. Age-old legislation is hardly ever enforced to the extent that following amendments to the law, it became the rule of thumb to channel collected rain water into the street. Compliance certificates are still being issued for buildings that allow rainwater to pour into the sewers.

If only the country had a minister with a vision of how to manage and store the scarce natural resource that is water.

But political ‘wisdom’ has come to the rescue. In a €52 million project, subsidised by EU funds, an underground tunnel has been excavated to channel ‘flood water’ from tha streets to the sea – sewage and all.

eu-bill-board

High and dry – the bill board advertising the EU sponsorship of the National Flood Relief Project

This ‘flood’ relief tunnel, that is, if it works as planned, will take away the pure rainwater and prevent It from replenishing the water table. This is not harvested either, but with politcal blessing is channelled to the streets, or to the sewers, from where it will burst out in fountains.

Mingled with the sewage, it will than flow again and run through the streets, hopefully directed to this ‘flood’ relief tunnel to be eventually channelled to the sea. Problem solved? Not exactly. It will be pumped up again by energy-consuming distillers to be channelled back to our taps.

Afer taking a photo or two of the broken tree and the spontaneous manhole-fountain, I returned home. I still needed the clothes peg.

 

sewer-rivulets.

Hours after it stopped raining, some manholes were still emptying their contents adding to rivulets running  along the streets.

Driving through such rivulets was Hobson’s choice, as other drivers wera constrained to do, washed and sprayed with sewage water in the process. Back home I had to wash the wheels and mudguards of the car to take away the stench. If only we had a minister responsible for health. We do not. We never did, because up to a decade or so ago, there was no need to see to such street health hazards.

The lack of political will, vision and professional management of natural resources, all with consequences paid for by society and biodiversity, are being passed from one political incumbent to his successor. The present vision is like one expounded by a blindfold poliltician walking through a tunnel in pitch darkness accompanied by his tall-wagging environmental watchdog trusted with planning and management. And during this long walk in the dark, in their efforts to manage natural resources, man and watchdog are happily engulfed by a concoction of rain water and sewage.

dogsilhouette

The indigenous political vison of managing natural resources, such as water.

This picture will get worse before it dawns. In the meantime, children are sponsored to catch a drop, while the EU provides politicians with millions to throw gallons into the sea!

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Other related articles:

X’qed nagħmluy bl-ilma tax-xita   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-IG   

An official water policy!   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-ag

Water harvesting culture   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-FB

When valuable rain sets in   http://wp.me/pL6Mk-FB

A vision buried at Nadur Cemetery  http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb

 

 

 

 


Rabat Road Rubble Walls

December 21, 2013

times

The rubble wall approach

Saturday, 21st December, 2013.

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Summer of 2011 saw Transport Malta working on the Rabat road in connection with the arrival of the Arriva public transport. An interchange with two bus stops was planned adjacent to the road leading to Ta’ Qali.

How the rubble wall protection regulations was brought to disrepute for one and all to see

2011 – the brick wall replacing the rubble wall along Rabat road.

Two stretches of protected rural rubble walls, one on each side of the road were illegally brought down and replaced by a brick wall. The plans also included tree mutilations, at that time so reminescent of Transport Malta: a number of protected Aleppo Trees more than 50 years old in this Outside Development Zone felt the brunt and the chainsaw, one with a substantial limb cut off, some had nails driven in them, and others engulfed in concrete (‘Trees, rubble walls and BSS’, August 26, 2011).  

2011-08-24-chopped-aleppo-pine

2011 – The brutal pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, carried out by MEPA’s approval.

Mepa, the environmental watchdog, watched from a distance in its Floriana ravelin. When public criticism escalated, and the brick walls were completed, Mepa, through a letter in the Times (06.09.11) informed the public that it had given “Transport Malta up to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action.” 15 day passed, followed by 15 weeks and the brick walls were still standing. After the lapse of about another 15 months – during which Mepa, was still ruminating on its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets, presumably still contemplating its original 15 days deadline – the brick walls were pulled down. And lo and behold, they were replaced by iron railings ­ as illegal as the brick walls they replaced in the rubble wall breach!

According to the Rubble Wall and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance Regulations, 1997, a “rubble wall” means a dry stone wall, built-in loose, unhewn stones which stands by gravity and friction without the use of mortar. Furthermore, it is unlawful to demolish or to endanger by any means whatsoever, the stability or integrity of any rubble wall, or to prevent free percolation of rainwater through the structure of a rubble wall, or to undermine the foundations of such rubble wall.

Rumours had it that a roundabout was planned at the cross-section to Ta’ Qali, including more tree mutilations and uprooting of some of the old protected Aleppo Pines. But before such plans were put into action the date for the general election was announced.

2013.12.02 - new rubble wall

November 2013 – the new rubble wall replacing the iron railing which replaced the brick wall built-in 2011

Last month, heavy machinery descended on the area. The iron railings disappeared. Instead two rubble walls rose from beneath the street level, incorporating also two bus stops. Not only the old Aleppo Pines were not touched, but the suffocating concrete around their trunks was broken up to allow for a water trench. Even the nails which were driven in the tree

2013.12.02 - new water trench for trees

November 2013 – new water trenches replacing concrete around old protected trees

trunks during 2011 were removed. From the works on site, it seems that there are no plans for any roundabout. Pity that the new rubble walls surface were covered with cement which will prevent free percolation of rainwater through the structure, contrary to the above mentioned regulations. Rubble walls are protected amongst others, because they afford a habitat for flora and fauna.

2013.12.02 - cement covered rubble wall

November 2013 – the unfortunate decision of covering the newly built rubble walls with concrete

It seems though that there is a little flicker of light (and of hope) at the end of the tunnel and that, at least in this case, the planning and adjustment of roads is not at the whims and fancies of an uncontrolled bulldozer, but subject to professional planning and environmental management, although this can be bettered. One hopes that this approach, a bit more refined, is extended and taken in consideration in other development projects, whether on land or at sea.  If this becomes the rule of thumb, then one can hopefully look at the day when environment and development ­ not excluding landscaping ­ can walk hand in hand with mutual economical, social and ecological benefits. In the meantime one can only keep one’s fingers crossed and hope that Mepa’s unprofessional interpretation of its vision will be something of the past, for the good of the country and this and future generations.

fingerscrossed


The greener it can get

November 29, 2013

times

The greener it can get

Friday, November 29, 2013, 

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which will eventually be submitted to the European Commission for funding, was discussed at a public consultation earlier this month.

Consulttion Document cover

The synopsis presented contains positive ideas. The full report was not available being ‘a long and detailed document’ and ‘not easy to use for public consultation’. This greatly hindered more indepth suggestions and comments. Could it not have been uploaded on the department’s website?

The synopsis is based on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of rural development based on five themes, with objectives and activities for funding.

Theme 1 deals with water, wastes and energy.
Can water be managed in the absence of a national water policy? The present fragmented ‘management’ reveals a ministry digging a tunnel to channel rain water directly to the sea. Another purifying sewage water and dumping it in the sea. A corporation managing and distributing potable water while a secretariat is trying to plug holes and mend cracks in water reservoirs and cisterns.

Such lack of coordination and waste of financial resources, most of which are coming from the EU, does not augur well. This was also pointed out by the representative of the Malta Water Association during the public consultation, adding that lack of access to the original draft report restricts discussions.

Activities suggest investment “in water management, abstraction…” Does this mean that abstraction will be funded when this is being tackled by another ministry trying to control and regulate it?

Theme 2 deals with Maltese quality produce, highlighting the need for quality assurance, poor enforcement of regulations and support for adding value as the major opportunities. The GMOs Pandora’s Box that farmers and consumers are being offered and possibly swallowing and the ever-increasing public rejection of GMOs can be capitalised upon by the farming community. Not only was this not even referred to but a farmer’s representative was heard saying that farmers cannot do without GMOs!

Theme 3 refers to sustainable livestock.
A positive item under activities to be funded is the support “for activities that reduce livestock farms’ impact on the climate and environment”. This can perhaps address the issue of past EU funds used to build such livestock farms on sensitive water table areas, rendering the water so nutrient rich and unusable.

Theme 4 deals with landscape and the environment.
The objectives are great and the wording is even nicer. But this is another subject where fragmentation reigns supreme.

Landscaping is under the responsibility of the Ministry for Transport where the main driving force is devoid of any ecological input. Mepa is the competent authority (on paper) under the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office. It is no secret that Mepa has rarely raised a finger to protect any tree and often turns a blind eye to all mutilation, uprooting, chemically-killed trees and introduction of alien species.

Local councils, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, go on a rampage ‘pruning’ trees with no questions asked.

The reply to my question as to who will be the regulator in such landscaping was no reply at all, sending shivers down my spine. The sanest political, technical, administrative, ecological, economical, legal way forward is that the regulator has to be the Minister for the Environment. This will ensure that there will not be any cow itch trees, fountain grass, flame trees et al. or turf growing in rural areas. And EU funds will be used in line with EU obligations, not as has happened in the past.

The economic bias of such a
report completely dwarfs the
sensitive ecological obligations

The funding of “new skills and knowledge (that) will be required in terms of landscape management, ecological understanding, conservation and practical skills” is a good idea if well managed and executed professionally.

The maintenance and restoration of rubble walls brought a rumble of disappointments by many who have been waiting for five and more years to restore the breach in their rubble walls. Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea. Cannot photos and videos record such breaches to allow their immediate restoration and then farmers be reimbursed by the RDP?

rubble wall builder - The Times

Breaches in rubble walls contribute to soil erosion, which fills valleys, and eventually is carried out to sea (Photo: The Times)

A one day’s wait, especially during the rainy season, is too long for this fragile environment, resulting in ecological and additional expenses.

The wider rural economy and quality of life are addressed under theme 5
Among the objectives listed is the development of bed-and-breakfast business, which is also a good objective. However, if its implementation does not encompass the ecological impact it can be bizarre in such a small island State, the more so when experts and representatives involved in such activity omit biodiversity experts and the Ministry for the Environment, whether by conviction or for convenience.

The unnumbered delivery section outlines other actions, including ‘valley management/landscape management partnerships’ and a ‘rural resource hub’.

The first is urgently necessary even from an ecological point of view but, God forbid, if this is executed on the lines of past years without any holistic professional input but just by bulldozing earth to temporarily please the eye and inflict ecological damage.

The ‘rural resource hub’ is also welcome and can fill the void and neglect so conspicuous during the last decade. The once beneficial government experimental farm has, during the last years, been used more by domestic cats, dogs and pets. The once experimental farm can help educate, train, give technical knowledge advice and hands-on experience to all stakeholders in rural development.

These are but a few reflections and suggestions on the abridged consultation document, without having access to the original draft and keeping in mind that “precise details may well change over the next year, as discussions and agreement are still being developed in Brussels”.

Unfortunately, the economic bias of such a report completely dwarfs the sensitive ecological obligations. The outline nonetheless contains important and useful points that can contribute to rural development and Maltese biodiversity with some dotting of the i’s and crossing of thet t’s.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com
Alfred E. Baldacchino is a former assistant director at Mepa’s environment directorate.


Need of an urban tree management plan

March 28, 2013

 Urgent need of an urban tree management plan

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the return to the mismanagement of urban trees, resulting in a waste of resources,  and negative social and ecological impacts, the Tree Group of the FAA (Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar) has called a press conference at Naxxar where three 50 year-old protected Ficus nitida trees have been killed by toxic chemicals.  This method seems to be on the increase in eliminating established urban trees which the Department of Agriculture was responsible for under Legal Notice 12 of 2011, the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations, 2001, but which the Department of Agriculture shed all such responsibilites following the new Legal Notice 200 of 2011, the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, 2011.

Such a method of eliminating trees seems to be accepted and used also on Governemnt projects, such as the one at the Mdina Ditch, were an established Cypress Tree was also subjected to such methods  (see photo).

WARA – L-unika siġra taċ-Cipress li baqa' - MEJTA.  L-oħrajn kollha nqalgħu u nqerdu. Ikun interessanti li l-esperti tal-Ministru jgħidulna kif mietet din is-siġra. Ma naħsebx issa li sejjer ikun hemm xi ħadd li tniggżu l-kuxjenza biex tinqala' siġra mejta, meta nqalgħu tant u tant siġar ħajjin minn dan il-post fejn sejjer isir ġnien ta' kwalità u spazju miftuħ għall-familji..

The killed Cypress Tree at Mdina Ditch, the last one of 12 such specimens which were killed and uprooted to make way for a ‘garden’.

QABEL – Ringiela ta' siġar taċ-Cipress li kienu jiffurmaw parti mill-biodiversità

Thew row of Cypress trees beofre they were kiled and uprootred by Government.

The present scenario is that there is no public entity accountable and responsible for the management of urban trees, unless these are listed in the L.N. 200 of 2011.

The aim of the FAA Tree Group was to highlight such a fact and to draw the attention of the  Government for the crying need of a professional management plan, and a Regulator to ensure the monitoring, enforcement and CEPA (Communication, Eduction and Public Awareness) on trees which have such an important social, ecological and economic value.

The  following is the Press Release issued by the FAA Tree Gourp during such a press conference.

FAA TREES

 TREE BUTCHERING CONTINUES

 Unfortunately despite constructive criticism, from individuals, NGOs and the media, the butchering of trees goes on and on. The FAA Tree Group would like to draw the new Government’s attention to this waste of resources which is having negative impacts on communities and the environment at large and is only benefiting a handful of individuals.

The FAA Tree Group would like to suggest that to control such vandalism and increase the appreciation of trees, Government considers implementing the following:

a)      The drawing up of a management plan for all urban trees to be drawn up by all interested stake- holders whether voluntary or commercial;

b)      The reinstatement of the protection of urban trees which was revoked by the previous Minister responsible for the sector;

c)       The appointment of a regulator to formulate the policy and see that it is adhered to, and to monitor and check irregularities;

d)      The registration of all qualified landscapers/tree pruners who can then be regarded as the competent operators to implement the  policy;

e)      Ensuring that urban trees are no longer regarded as street furniture, and that their social and ecological importance is taken in consideration when it comes to management.

f)       Maximisation of public funds by setting up local nurseries to supply indigenous trees for local consumption for such landscaping.

g)      The setting up of an ad hoc committee under the responsibility of the regulator to conduct a Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) campaign on trees and their social, ecological and economic benefits.

FAA Tree Group will be willing to form part of this set-up and to contribute to an educational campaign in the national interest for the benefit of biodiversity, in this case trees.

27 March, 2013.

FAA Tree Group.

Email: sigar@faa.org.mt

2013.03.27 - naxxar dead tree

Trees poisoned with toxic chemicals at Naxxar

2013.03.27 - dead tree naxxar

Unfortunately the negative mentality and lack of appreciation of trees in Malta is shwon by such a vandalistic act


Concrete path choking trees

March 3, 2013

times

Sunday, 3rd March, 2013

Concrete path choking trees

 Juan Ameen

A set of old Aleppo trees on the pavement in Burmar­rad Road have been choked with cement as a con­tractor filled up the square soil bases, leaving the trunks sticking out.

The cementing of the tree bases, done a few weeks ago, has been slammed by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which said it was “appalled”.

The authority “is appalled that such methods of work are still carried out in this day and age,” a spokesman said.

The complete surfacing around tree trunks in cement “is not only insensitive to our environment but constitutes bad practice since it may adversely affect the tree growth,” the spokesman added. The planning authority said it was investigating the mat­ter to find those responsible for these works “so as to reinstate the site to the authority’s satisfaction”.

When contacted, Transport Malta, responsible for the arterial road, said the contractor had been instructed to rectify the situation. “The Contractor proceeded with works before receiv­ing detailed instructions. These works are not acceptable and the contractor has already been instructed to rectify,” a Transport Malta spokesman said.

The cementing of the tree bases was also slammed by biodiversity expert Alfred Baldacchino who said that it would damage and possibly endanger the trees. The trees absorb rainwater, which falls into the soil, and their roots need air. Once the roots grow out­ wards, then the cement would be damaged and peo­ple would complain that the trees were damaging the pavement, Mr Baldacchino said.

Mr Baldacchino had received photographs of the cemented bases and immediately reported it to the authorities and the planning authority, which informed him it would investigate the matter.  “The authorities’ appreciation of trees is nil- irre­spective of national and international obligations,” Instead of saying it was going to look into the mat­ter, the planning authority should hire a Contractor with the right machinery to break up the cement and send the bill to Transport Malta, he argued. “There is nothing to investigate – it’s dangerous to the tree and procrastinating doesn’t help”.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ­ – Alfred E. Baldacchino

According to the L.N. 200 of 2011 -­ Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, 2011 -­  MEPA, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is the Competent Authority responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

Provision 12: No person shall fell … or in any way destroy or attempt to destroy, damage or attempt to damage, any tree or part thereof listed in Schedule I or Schedule II … except by permission of the Competent Authority:

Gmail - FW: trees on Burmarrad-T'Alla w Ommu road

The soil was covered by concrete engulfing the tree trunk in the process. This needed a development permit from MEPA.

Provision 14: (1) No person shall dump or attempt to dump… chemical or any other substance near any tree listed in Schedule I or Schedule II … which may harm any such tree…

Provision 29: (1) Any person who: —

(a) fails to comply with any provision of these regulations,

(b) contravenes any restriction, prohibition or requirement imposed by or under these regulations, or

(c) acts in contravention of any provisions of these regulations, or

(d) conspires or attempts to conspire, aids or attempts to aid, abets or attempts to abet, counsels or attempts to counsel, procures or attempts to procure any other person to contravene the provisions of these regulations, or to fail to comply with any such provision, including any order lawfully given in terms of any provision of these regulations, or to contravene any restrictions, prohibitions or requirement imposed by or under the said regulations, shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.

Gmail - FW: trees on Burmarrad-T'Alla w Ommu road

The Ministry of Transport does not see any difference between a tree and  an electricity pole, while MEPA is looking at and investigating the matter.

The trees in question are listed in Schedule II of the Tree Protection Regulations:

Pinus halepensis ­ Żnuber; Siġar tal-Prinjol; Siġar tal-Arżnu; ­ Aleppo Pine; Jerusalem Pine

MEPA  has all the necessary legal tools, and also obligations, to protect Malta’s biodiversity, including trees. Unfortunately it cannot be said that it is on the side of the people who want to protect Malta’s natural heritage, when it comes to taking action.  This is so evident when MEPA is faced with great and irreparable damages to trees done by Government Ministries, mainly that responsible for transport and that responsible for landscaping. In such cases MEPA is completely impotent  (see mutilated trees on Rabat Road) 

This is just another strong justification that the protection of the Environment should never be merged or under the remote responsibility of any Planning Authority. 

 


Seminar on the benefits and use of trees

February 22, 2013

Introduction to Maltese native trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On Tuesday 10th February 2013, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group in collabortion with the Attard Local Coucil organised a seminar on The benefits and use of tree. 

The FAA Tree Group was established following the outcry against the wanton and  widespread destruction of urban trees both in Malta and Gozo by Government Ministries,  paid from public funds. The response for such a first activity of the FAA Tree Group was immediate:

  • there were more than 100 participants who not only followed the presentations with great interests, but also took notes;
  • asked a number of pertinent questions, and
  • also demanded more information and similar meetings on the better use and appreciation of Maltese indigenous trees.

The seminar covered information on Maltese indigenous trees and the need for more appreciation especially by those who are entrusted to protect them; the benefits that trees give to society and the environment, and also their contribution to the economical aspect. The need to prevent the introduction of invasive species which can devastate the Maltese ecosystem, was also highlighted.

The partecipants were also addressed with regards to the use and benefits of trees in the urban environment and how this can be undertaken in a professional way.

A short presentation on tree protection regulations was also given.

Following the seminar, the demand for copies of the presentations were more than expected

As a first additional step towards the aim of more appreciation and protection of trees, the slides (used as the basis but without any animation, used during the presentaiton) can be viewed on the following link

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/presentation-seminar-on-the-benefits-and-use-of-trees/


The garden at Salina park

February 9, 2013

times

Friday, February 8, 2013

by Alfred E. Baldacchino

A report was carried in The Times on the extension of the “landscaped gardens in Salina park” (January 14).
Such projects can be very beneficial if they are accomplished with in-depth planning and management. I have gone through the project description statement (PDS) submitted for the extension. Unfortunately, the document lacks important data to enable support for such a project.
Nonetheless, with some suggestions and comments, such a ‘garden’ can achieve its aims without any negative social and ecological impacts.
Let’s start with water. Although the use of water can contribute to the natural environment of the park in a number of ways, be they aesthetical, ecological or social, one has to keep in mind and emphasise that water is a scarce resource.
The PDS refers to “water features” without any indication of what these actually   are. Keeping in mind the recent obsession with ‘water fountains’, one cannot be  blamed for thinking that these are some of the features referred to, which, in some cases, are completely unsustainable.
The PDS also refers to a new dug ‘water cistern’, which is slightly larger than half the size of the proposed underground space for a “pump room and services”. The water storage for use in watering trees and for the ‘water features’ is definitely not adequate, as indicated by the need of a ‘water
tanker for filling in the water reservoir’.
There is also no indication of why the water cistern in question is so small when there is so much flood water being channelled to the sea and the sewer system. The pull-quote in The Times report – “A long stretch of stream will refresh the atmosphere” – is quite inappropriate, considering the local precarious water situation because this can also hole a number of public pockets. How sustainable is the use of such a scarce resource as suggested in the PDS?
There is then the issue of trees. The PDS indicates areas where new trees are to be planted but there is no data whatsoever on such trees. To better enable more comments, suggestions and support for the project, additional information is needed, such as: the species of trees to be used; whether the trees are indigenous or exotic; whether the supply of trees is to be obtained from local stock or imported; whether there are plans to implement the Government’s obligations in contributing to the European Union loss of biodiversity campaign by utilising endangered or rare indigenous trees propagated from local stock and adequate to such a habitat; whether the
new ‘garden’ will be according to the guidelines of the National Environment Policy, the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations, 2006, the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, 2011 and other related national and EU obligations with regard to the protection of biodiversity.
There is absolutely no reference to this at all in the PDS and, considering the way that ‘landscaping’ is mentioned in the proposal, it makes it a bit more difficult to support such a project given such lack of important data.
Another consideration is use of electricity. The PDS refers to the need of electricity for ‘pedestrian lighting’ but, again, there is no indication or line drawings of how this lighting will be used and controlled. This ‘park’ or ‘garden’ will, no doubt, become a natural habitat for nocturnal fauna but there is no mention of mitigation measures of how these would not be disturbed. More data is also needed to enable both the public and environmental groups to comment on the use of the planned ‘pedestrian lighting’.

With regard to the management of the site, annex 1 (reference to figure 2: aerial view – photographic survey) attached to the PDS, shows that, in certain areas, some of the trees are planted too close to each other, thus preventing the proper growth of a tree canopy. This can lead one to conclude that either the site is not properly managed or else that the number of trees planted is more important than the final grove itself.
Such crowded trees will necessitate future thinning and this is a waste of resources (financial, human, and ecological), especially where the trees involved cannot be replanted, such as the Pinus species.

Such a ‘garden’ in the ‘park’ (I cannot understand the need for such a distinction in this context) has to have a management plan but none is mentioned in the PDS. One has to see what conditions the Malta Environment and Planning Authority comes up with in connection with the permit, such as use and management of a managed natural habitat. Not that I am very optimistic because where government projects are involved, Mepa unfortunately uses the same rubber stamp.
No one would like to be led up a garden path for a walk in the park.
aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


The benefits and use of Trees – Seminar

January 29, 2013

Attard Local Council

together with

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar 

invite you to a talk on

The benefits and uses of TREES
 
On 19th February 2013 at 6pm – Attard Primary School
Join us at this seminar and find out how
TREES CAN IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH, WEALTH AND HAPPINESS!
TREE Seminar poster - aeb
To book a place email: sigar@faa.org.mt or phone on
A donation of €5 is requested.
Participants are requested to be seated by 5.45pm
  • Did you know that there are about 60 species of indigenous trees in the Maltese Islands which can be used in private gardens and urban landscaping?
  • Did you know that trees reduce air and noise pollution, release oxygen and reduce the summer’s heat?
  • Did you know that some Maltese trees are very rare and may be close to extinction?
  • Did you now that indigenous trees can contribute to Malta’s economy and create green jobs?
All this and other information will be given during this seminar which will be of interets to the public, teachers, landscapers, nature lovers and local councils.
Speakers:

Alfred E. Baldacchino,
DPA, Dip. Env. Sc., PG Dip. Env. Mangt, MSc Env Plan and Mangt. 
General Secretary of the MOS (now BirdLife) between 1974 and 1988 and editor of the popular magazine In-Natura from 1982 to 2003, Alfred Baldacchino coordinates educational TV and radio nature programmes. Has published a number of popular and scientific works on biodiversity and the need for its appreciation and conservation. Assistant Director responsible for the protection of biodiversity at the Environment Protection Directorate (within MEPA) from 2002 till he retired in 2007.
Antoine Gatt
BA(L’scape Arch), MA(L’scape Arch) Landscape Architect
A landscape architect with over 12 years of experience in urban and environmental design, Antoine Gatt runs AGL Design, which tackles landscaping projects from private gardens to the design of parks, and from urban regeneration to rural restoration, including EU projects related to agriculture and environment.  Antoine Gatt is also a part-time lecturer at MCAST.  He is an advocate of green roofs and sustainable urban design and has written various articles on local newspapers and magazines on the subject.
Please do your bit to save trees in Malta, by signing the petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-killing-trees-in-malta

Qerda tal-biodiversità fil-foss tal-Imdina… biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità!

September 28, 2012

Dan l-aħħar qrajna u smajna stqarrijiet minn Ministru tal-Gvern dwar ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji.

Meta wieħed jaqra u jisma’ l-kummenti ta’ dan il-Ministru tal-Gvern li huwa responsabbli minn dawn il-proġetti, wieħed mill-ewwel jifhem għaliex illum il-qerda tal-ambjent naturali hija daqstant kbira. U wieħed ma jistax ma jistaqsiex numru ta’ misoqsijiet, bħal ngħidu aħna:

  1. Bliema immaġinazzjoni jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jaqla’ u jeqred ammont kbir ta’ sigar b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità tal post?  (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel).
  2. Kif jista’ wieħed jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jiksi l-post b’medda wiesgħa ta’ konkos; konkos aktar milli hemm u aktar milli kien hemm siġar qabel ma beda x-xogħol? (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel)
  3. Liema raġuni xjentifika tiġġustifika li biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità titqaxxar u tinqered il-liedna kollha li kien hemm fil-post u li kienet tħaddar u tiksi metri kwadri kbar tal-ħajt tal-ġnien Howard Gardens (mhux mal-ħajt tas-sur) u li kienet toffri ambjent naturali għall-numru ta’ fawna indiġena? Din kienet ukoll issebbaħ u tgħati l-ħajja lill-kull ġnien anki jekk mhux ta’ kwalità. U dan minkejja li l-Gvern ta’ Malta huwa obbligat u marbut mill-Unjoni Ewropea biex jara li jieħu miżuri biex ma tkomplix tinqered il-biodiversità tal-Unjoni Ewropea li aħna parti minnha. Il-Ministri tal-Ambjent (anki dawk li jgħidu li xi darba kienu Ministri tal-Ambjent) din kollha jafuha, kemm mid-dokumenti tal-UE li jirċevu, kif ukoll mill-laqgħat tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri li jattendu.

Fid-diskors tiegħu fil-video li deher fil-ġurnal The Times

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

dan il-Ministru qal li ma nqerdux siġar.  Jekk wieħed iħares lejn ir-ritratti hawn mehmuża, waħdu jasal f’konklużjoni waħda.

  1. Kif jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li dan ix-xogħol qed jerġa jieħu dan il-post għall-ġranet passati tal-glorja tiegħu?  Sa fejn naf jien fi żmien l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri ma kienux jużaw konkos (sakemm xi perit ma jikkoreġinix!) li llum huwa l-aktar ħaġa li tispikka f’dan il-ġnien (u ġonna oħra simili) ta’ kwalità. Lanqas kienu jiżirgħu turf  għax l-ilma għalihom kien jiswa mitqlu deheb, u lanqas kienu jagħmlu ilma ħiereġ jiżfen mill-art!  U lanqas ma kienu jużaw lift biex jinżlu mis-swar għall-foss. Jidher li l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri li ħakmu pajjiżna tant għexieren ta’ snin ilu, kellhom viżjoni ferm u ferm aktar professjonali, ekonomika, soċjali, ambjentali u sostenibbli milli għandhom il-mexxejja politiċi Maltin tal-lum, minkejja li dak iż-żmien ma kienx hemm obbligi ambjentali internazzjonali bħal ma għandna llum u lanqas kellhom Ministri tal- Ambjent.
  2. Ir-Rabtin u l-ġirien tagħhom  ma għandhomx bżonn xi politku li ma għandu l-ebda idea ta’ xi tfisser biodiversità biex jgħamillhom ġnien ta’ kwalità! U lanqas għandhom bżonn spazji miftuħa għall-familji għax għandhom biżżejjed spazji miftuha. Żgur li ma għandhomx bżonn ta’ spazju miftuħ ġo foss. U jekk kien hemm il-ħsieb li dan il-foss jinfetaħ għal kulħadd, kull ma kien hemm bżonn kien  li jitneħħew il-katnazzi li kienu jsakkru l-bibien li jgħalqu l-aċċess għal kulħadd. Li kieku dan id-diskors jintqal lill-kostitwenti ta’ min qalhom, li llum huma ferm u ferm konxji mill-ambjent naturali u l-qerda li l-konkos qed jagħmel lil dan l-ambjent, żgur li kienu jibgħatuh jistgħad biex forsi jaqbad xi mazzun!
  3. Imma veru li biex tagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità illum l-ingredjenti huma: a) konkos; b) turf; c) ilma jiżfen; d)  issa anki lift; u e) l-qerda tal-biodiversità tal-post kollha, kif sar fil-foss tal-Imdina u f’kull hekk imsejjaħ ġnien ieħor li qed isir mill-istess ministeru?
  4. Ħarsa lejn il-kummenti li kien hemm fil-gazzetti f’dawn il-links

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

u fir-ritratti li ħadt jien stess u li wħud minnhom jidhru hawn taħt, kollha jitkellmu u juru  d-disastru li sar bi flus pubbliċi u b’dawk tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

  1. Forsi hawnhekk ta’ minn jistaqsi minn qed jamministra l-fondi tal-UE, f’dan il-kas il-European Regional Development Fund?  Min qiegħed jawditjahom? Fejn jista’ l-pubbliku jara rendikont tal-infiq?
  2. Barra minhekk, minn qiegħed jara li jkun hemm diskussjoni pubblika fuq il-proġetti biex b’hekk ikun involut iċ-ċittadin fid-deċiżjoni, qabel jintefqu dawn il-flus? Dan ukoll huwa fost l-obbligi li titlob l-UE.
  3. Jiddispjaċini ngħid li l-ħsara li qed issir lill-biodiversità Maltija bi proġetti bħal dawn, bi skuża ta’ ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji, trid aktar minn ġenerazzjoni biex titranġa.
  4. Dan il-ġnien sejjer ikollu kwalità waħda …. dik ta’  mafkar ta’ kif l-ambjent naturali qed jiġi sfruttat u mżeblaħ f’dawn l-aħħar snin, mingħajr ebda mistħija u ebda mgħodrija.
  5. Fl-aħħarnett min huma l-konsulenti tal-Ministru li huwa responsabbli biex jaraw li dan ix-xogħol ikun wieħed sostenibbli, jiġifieri li ma ssirx ħsara ekonomika, ħsara soċjali u ħsara ekoloġika kif qed issir?
  6. Nismagħhom jgħidu li hawn Malta kollox possibli, imma ma naħsebx li hawn xi ħadd li sab kif jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel, għalkemm hawm min qed jipprova u qed jagħmel ħiltu kollha.

ARA WKOLL

http://www.orizzont.com.mt/Issues/19092012/social/article95864.html

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

http://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentali…ent-over-trees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-md…eally-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/government-policy-on-trees/

iL-BIODIVERSITA’   SINJURA TA’ QABEL BEDA X-XOGĦOL FIL-FOSS TAL-IMDINA U L-KWALITA’ TA’ QERDA LI SARET MINN META BEDA X-XOGĦOL FUQ IL-ĠNIEN TA’ KWALITA’

QABEL – Ringiela ta’ siġar taċ-Cipress li kienu jiffurmaw parti mill-biodiversità

WARA – L-unika siġra taċ-Cipress li baqa’ – MEJTA. L-oħrajn kollha nqalgħu u nqerdu. Ikun interessanti kieku l-esperti tal-Ministru jgħidulna kif mietet din is-siġra, jew aħjar jekk inqatletx b’xi kumbinazzjoni!  Ma naħsebx li issa sejjer ikun hemm xi ħadd li tniggżu l-kuxjenza biex jaqla’ siġra mejta, meta nqalgħu tant u tant siġar ħajjin minn dan il-post .

QABEL – ambjent naturali sinjur

WARA – parti mill- ġnien ta’ kwalità – anqas biodiversità, aktar konkos!

WARA – liedna  meqruda fil-ġnien ta’ kwalità

WARA – siġar taċ-Ċipress maqlugħa, meqruda  u mitfuha fl-art biex jagħmlu wisa għall-ġnien ta’ kwalità.

WARA – fdalijiet tas-siġar mejta taċ-Ċipress taħt it-tabella tal-Ministeru li qed jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità

QABEL U WARA – id-dehra tal-foss ftit wara li beda x-xogħol fuq il-ġnien ta’ kwalità.  Is-siġar immarkata b’salib isfar kollha ġew meqruda, jew maqlugħa.

WARA – post għeri mill-biodiversità fi ġnien ta’ kwalità fejn jispikka l-konkos u l-għibien tas-sigar li qabel kienu jżejnu dan il-post.

It-tabella imwarrba u mitluqa fl-art li madankollu turi l-għajuna finanzjarja li qed tgħati l-EU mill-European Regional Development Fund, għar-restawr tal-post, li qed isir fost oħrajn bit-tneħħija tal-biodiversità u kisi bil-konkos.


Green dream and black nightmare

August 10, 2012

Friday,  August 10, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Green dream and black nightmare

During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.

Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.

The above are some of the Government’s publications: all official administrative and legislative tools which can definitely make any green dream a reality. But why are they ignored by Government itself? I cannot image that these have been published just for the attention of  the EU and its Member States. Or that these publications are meant to take the public for a ride? Then why are these ignored and not enforced?

Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.

The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.

All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.

An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.

Definitely not according to the guidelines and regulations referred to above!

Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.

Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.

But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.

The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.

The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!

Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.

Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.

BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.

What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.

The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

PS  – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times

See also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/


Once there were green leaves

July 31, 2012

maltastar

Tuesday, 31st July 2012

Once there were green leaves

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It is indeed of great satisfaction to see such a strong public awareness towards the appreciation of nature, also expressed towards the need for more protection and appreciation of trees. Such tree-appreciation includes the trees’ aesthetic, social, ecological, educational and intrinsic values. Unfortunately and regrettably, the greatest hurdle towards the achievement of such noble aims is the present policy being implemented by government.

With regret one sees and reads of hundreds of established trees being heavily pruned and deprived of any form of a tree and its majesty. The pruning and uprooting of trees, irrespective of the appropriate season, is being undertaken for a number of childish, amateurish reasons, such as that they are harmful to buildings, they attract birds which poo on the benches beneath, they are obscuring the view from people’s houses, they are dropping their leaves in front of people’s doors, and they are a pest. In most cases these are replaced with new exotic imported trees.  One must however, admit that there are instances where some trees need to be transplanted because of justifiable reasons, though not including any of the above.

Nobody responsible for landscaping in the islands, whether political or private, seems to officially appreciate the fact that trees contribute to control carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. They are also barriers to noise, and to the many obnoxious fumes and emissions with which our life is daily and increasingly exposed to. But a Lilliputian mentality unfortunately prevails, dominated by commercial gains. And what is more alarming and worrying, is that the destructive mentality is officially endorsed and publicly financed, sometimes even by European funds.

One of the projects which today tops the list of this poor, destructive mentality is the works going on at the Mdina ditch. It only tops the list because a similar project, about six years ago which was initiated at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, was stopped in time by MEPA and Buskett was saved by the skin of its teeth, though some wounds still show.

Those who hail from Rabat and Mdina, and those who frequent this historical area have over the years benefited from the past professional landscapers with real love and understanding of the natural environment. Howard Gardens is a perfect example of a garden with short winding paths among the surrounding greenery, and also open spaces. The ditch was later planted with around 400 citrus trees, about a dozen Cyprus trees, adding to a dozen of old olive trees, and a majestic old Holm Oak. The latter guarded the left hand side entrance to Mdina, while and old Olive Tree stood on the right

Following such a government approved project paid by public and European funds, more than half the citrus trees, were uprooted when in bloom, and carted away. Only two Cyprus trees and two olive trees are now left. Even the old majestic Olive tree guarding Mdina Gate, was first fiercely pruned, and then uprooted and also carted away.  Such pruning and uprooting needed the endorsement of MEPA considering the age of the Olive tree. I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree. Yet the Lilliputian mentality backed by official authority had the last say.

(left) the remains of the once majestic, protected, old Olive Tree, waiting to be uprooted and carted away. (right) the moribund citrus tree, uprooted from a few meters away, which replaced the majestic protected old Olive Tree.

Initially it was said that the place was going to be transformed into a garden. The general public asked how one can plan to make a garden and in the process uproot scores of trees. Now it is being said that the place is going to be transformed into an open space for the family, as an advertisement board at the entrance of HowardGardens depicts. Most of the ditch area has already been covered in concrete, more concrete than tree-cover. And more and more areas, some previously covered with trees, will be used. Some of the citrus trees, all in bloom, were uprooted to be planted again a couple of metres away, in a regimental line-up.  It was also officially said that most of the area would be planted with turf, and there would also be water fountains! Considering the local climate, the eventual rise in temperature because of climate change, the heavy demand expected for water both by the general public and also by agriculture, one indeed shudders to think how government failed to foresee this and how such maintenance would negatively impact the island, both from a social, economical and ecological point of view.

One of the destructive actions which hurt me beyond any healing was the scraping and removing of Ivy (Liedna – an indigenous, Maltese wild species). This covered a substantial part of the boundary concrete wall along Howard Gardens, and the garden wall opposite the bastions. It was such a site to see, aesthetically pleasing, an adequate habitat for local rare fauna, especially some rare indigenous moths. Hailing from Rabat, I have seen this beautiful, majestic free nature’s gift, grow over the last 15 years or so. And yet, in about 15 hours or so it was gone, completely gone. The regulator (Government) and the operator (ELC) in their wisdom, which is neither accepted nor understood at all by nature lovers and biodiversity conservationists, decided to eliminate it completely. It would without any doubt have been an added asset to any project in the ditch, both if the area beneath is going to be turned into a garden, or if the area is going to become an open space for the family. What a pity, what a shame, what lack of ecological appreciation and awareness. It reminds me of 1970 when the ivy at Buskett was similarly and systematically removed and eliminated. The same mind is behind both destructions. No wonder that people have started to believe that government hates trees.

The indigenous Ivy adorning the boundary wall overlooking the Mdina ditch

Howard Gardens boundary wall cleared from Ivy

The accompanying photos shows nature’s gifts with all their beauty, which the private landscapers, paid by government were authorised to destroy. It also shows the greedy hands and the lack of biodiversity

The Mdina Ditch covered in rich greenery offering a natural habitat to both flora and fauna

Ivy and the natural habitat completely destroyed

appreciation.  The questions being asked are: When is the natural ecological beauty of these islands going to be positively appreciated? When shall environmental projects also take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect, and not be assessed just from the commercial point of view? When shall the people be heard and be able to contribute to the positive national development of our country?  When is government going to show real appreciation of trees. When shall we grow up? Unfortunately the destructive public-financed works at Mdina Ditch, besides others, show that despite EU membership, EU obligations and EU financial help, we still have a long, long way to go.

see also 

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino has a M.Sc. in Environmental Planning and Management


Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

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MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

April 30, 2012

29th April, 2012

MASSACRE OF MDINA TREES –

IS THE EU REALLY INVOVLED?

Alfred E. Baldacchino 

A very interesting debate has developed on the site Save the Trees which can be accessed on: http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/267876579975675/?notif_t=group_activity

An outstanding feature on the above blog is that 99% of the bloggers who love trees and biodiversity are criticising the official persecution and  massacre of trees in the Maltese Islands.  But those who express such concern are taken to task by one particular blogger who clams that he works at ELC.

2012.04.26 - Up till a few days ago, these orange trees where in full bloom

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I read on this blog in defence of the mutilation of trees and biodiversity by ELC. It is to the tune of the official Government  policy on projects relating to biodiversity, despite the electoral promise of an environmental column. Such a blogger says they he is  writing in his own personal capacity, a right which he has and which he can exercise to create such a discussion. Yet details are given which the public is not aware of. This makes one think that ELC is finding it very convenient to let their alleged workers speak for them, and these cannot do otherwise but  laud all ELC’s works of wonder.  They would certainly be shown the back door if they were to write something which the ELC, or their Ministry, does not approve of. They would be charged with conflict of interest  if   they  criticise, even constructively,  the works of their Ministry. And they will surely get the axe if they make a faux pas, even if what they say  might have been suggested to them.

In criticising Ministerial projects, although the EU obliges public consultations on public projects, blogers are called names, accused of not knowing anything about trees and their ‘pruning’ and also accused of belittiling the ELC workers. This still happens, despite the fact that time and time again, all blogers have made it clear  that workers have to do what they are ordered to do and cannot be held accountable for executing the decisions taken by their employers or their Minister.  But this calling of names is something which is now very synonymous  with such quarters.

2012.04.26 - orange trees in full bloom awaiting the chainsaw and the bulldozer!

The ELC is responsible to the Minister of Resource, whom it shields.  The mania about creating gardens in such fashion, is something well known within this Ministry. A few years ago there was an attempt to transform Buskett into a garden!!

A wild Laurel tree at Buskett - an EU Natura 2000 site - mutilated by ELC with Ministerial approval, in the attempt to transform Buskett into a garden, before MEPA intervened and stopped the works.

Everyone knows of the massacre executed at Buskett by ELC with the blessing of their Minister. Now we have the transformation of the Mdina Ditch into a garden, with TURF and fountains as the Save the Tree site  have been informed by  an ELC alleged spokesman.

Uprooting trees to create  a garden….. very hard to believe. Substituting them with  TURF which takes gallons and gallons of water, such a rare resource in the Maltese Islands, especially in the hot summer months.  The paving of straight-line paths furthermore contributed  to the uprooting of  even more trees. This Ministry seems to have a mania with expanses of turf and dancing-water and fountains, like the dancing-water at St. George’s Square in Valletta. And believe it or not, all this  has been approved by a Ministry responsible for the local scarce resource of WATER, and also for Climate change!!  Unbelievable! I am sure that a  spokesman for this Ministry will come up with some crude explanation and possibly with  more calling of names. But one has to accept that some Ministries  are very good at this type of dialogue! It is their forte.

2012.04.06 - The beauty of the Mdina Ditch - a biodiversity haven. Is this going to be cleared away to make room for a garden? And is this going to be undertaken by EU funds as an insider from ELC has indicated?

The reference to EU funds by the ELC alleged-worker in the Save the Trees blog is interesting because it is coming from this semi-official  bloger in favour of this project leading the public to understand that this project is funded by the EU, saying that 85% of the total cost of the €6.2m project is being funded by the EU! This creates and incongruency with the press release issued by the Minister which  said that it was being done by the Minster’s (public) funds “The works are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.” No mention of EU funds; and “The project, costing  €1,200,000, is due to be completed by the end of this year.”  See the attached link for the official press release: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120406/local/works-start-on-recreation-area-in-mdina-ditch.414277

When I visited the site, I failed to notice any reference to any EU involvement on the site. Now if there are any funds from the EU, one of the obligations is that the EU logo has to appear on all the publicity for the project. There are now two version with reference to the financial input to this project: the Ministerial publicity which refrains from mentioning any EU involvement; and EU funding according to a bloger with ELC connections.  Which is the correct version?  I am sure that the EU would be very interested in knowing  how its funds, if it has funded this project, are being ‘used’ and ‘managed’, what the public opinion vis-a-vis this project is, and how such project is impacting on biodiversity!

According to EU obligations, whether it has financed the project or not, the  public is entitled to a breakdown of the money which is going into this project, such as  how much the turf will cost, the quantity of water it will consume per annun and at what cost; how much will be the upkeep, how much did the planners and designers charge, and how much will the launching of the  project cost.

The lack of any biodiversity and social concept are evidently lacking to any informed visitor. This view is sustained by the comments supporting this project on the Save the Trees  blog: Orange trees are being uprooted because they interfere with the vision of the bastions, but fountains do not! And insects and birds aren’t going to commit suicide, if they do not find a tree, they go on another one, the  Rabat environs are full of trees. ( L-insetti u l-ghasafar mhux ser jaghmlu suwwicidju, jekk ma jsibux sigra, imorru fuq ohra, inhawi tar-Rabat huma mimlija sigar min daqsekk). Not surprising at all since this is the recurring approach used by the Ministry under whose responsibility this project falls!  No wonder that when the same Ministry was responsible for the EU measure to tackle biodiversity loss, it made a complete mess and failure out of it.

The official Ministerial publicity material attached to the bastins, (shown above) states that this project is a Rehabillitation of the ditch. In contrast, the bloger with ELC inside informations states that “The ditch outside Mdina’s bastions from Greek’s gate to Xara Palace including the area below the main gate, is being turned into a recreational space which will be open to the public”. There is a great difference between ‘rehabilitation of the ditch’ and changing its use to a recreational area, especially when the tennis court, the basketball pitch, and the football pitch, which formed part of the ditch to be rehabilitated have been removed.

Somebody is surely trying to take the people for a ride despite the fact that the Prime Minister has promised that he will come closer to the people to listen to what they  have to say…………    I understand that heeding it is another matter!


On pruning trees in Malta

April 12, 2012

12 April, 2012

On pruning trees in Malta

Alfred E Baldacchino

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining great momentum among the general public, though unfortunatley the official side has still a lot of ground to cover to be in line with modern thinking, despite national and international  legal obligations and much publicised colourful plans and projects.

This has led to the creation of a blog on saving our trees which are so much under official pressure and being decimated by the dozen without any proper management and without any official regulator, making the political responsibility so much greater. Congratulations to all those who have given birth to such a blog and to all those, without exception, who are contributing to it. It is a healthy dialogue which one hopes one day will lead to a proper professional management of trees in Malta.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

A reference was made in the blog to a  tree at Balzan which was damaged by the strong wind (Photo 2).   It grew  on a small traffic island at the end of a one way street reached from Balzan square. Because of the way it was pruned, it was so top-heavy, with a heavy crown on thin main branches,  that with a relatively  strong wind it cracked. This photo (2) was taken on 10th February 2008.

Today I passed from the site to see how the trees there were faring. They did recieve quite an extensive ‘haircut’ as photo 3 shows. To my asthonisment, the tree in photo 2 was not there. Wonder of wonders: it had either gone to heaven, or gone up in smoke. The traffic island though is still there but covered in concrete.

Scandalous management of street trees in Malta.
(photo taken by AEB on 10.02.08)

I walked further up the line of “hair-cut” trees to see how the tree in photo 1, the phallus shaped tree, had fared. It looks more like a lolipop than a tree, or  like an upside down phallus, hiding its head in shame  while exposing its pubic hair.

On this save the tree blog above mentioned, there is a very interesting, educational video regarding the pruning of ficus trees, and one should thank the person responsible for putting it there. But unfortuntely  many of the various suggestions and advice given in this video were not taken in consideration in pruning these trees? I sometimes believe that street trees in Malta have never seen any secutors (imqass taż-żabra) in their lives. Chainsaws are more quick in the job, and thus they do not drain any of the proifts, irrispective of the negative aesthetic value they leave behind (photo 3).

Trees crying in agony after chainsaw treatment, and possibly the one who gave such an order was having an orgasm. (photo taken by AEB,on 10th February 2008)

I remember, as I am sure many of the readers do, when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping,  before the present Governemnt Contractor took over. Such trees used to be pruned with more dedication and with more feeling.  I remember the ficus trees at Saqajja Rabat, which, in those days, were professionally pruned in a  seemingly sculptured way, with a crown that extended from one end of the line to the other, and with small branches seemingly like a trellis, which were so adequate against the historic builidngs behind. At that time the Department of Agriculture did not have any of the resources that today’s  ‘landscapers’ have, but in the past they used to do miracles, with as little public expenses as possible.

If one looks at the way that street trees are being pruned today, one immediately asks how  professional this  is. True that one has to keep in mind that we live in Malta, where everything is possible, and where amateurism is called professinalism and professinalism is called fundamentalism!

While following the line of the trees pruned in 2008, still showing their wounds, I came across the cherry on the cake in present Maltese landscaping approved by the political masters. When I went  past the Lija Cemetery on the road to Mosta, an employee with a tank on his back, probably paid out of public funds, was spraying herbicide around all the trees lining the pavement! Now those who know something about ecology and nature conservation know that at this time of the year the undergrowth is full of life with the various stages of a number of fauna and flora, such as butterflies and moths which are becoming scarcer by the hour.  Those in official positions know that the Governemnt on behalf of Malta is obliged to take measures to control biodiversity loss, an obligation arising out of our EU Membership. Those who chose not to know anything about the subject, endorse invoices for the payment of such activities paid out of public funds.  The poltiical responsiblity is greater than one thinks. It is a permanent dent on the ecological set up of these islands, as much as tampering with Hagar Qim or Imnajdra is a permanent dent on the archaeological heritage of the islands. No wonder a person I met told me that the Maltese people hate trees!

Never in the history of ecological conservation in Malta,  (or its exploitation) have so few benefited at the expense of so many.


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man


Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

September 13, 2011

Following my contribution to The Times on the 26th August 2011,  MEPA has officially replied on 6th September 2011, confirming all the illegalities mentioned in my contribution.  My initial reply is also attached. May be interesting to readers.  I am attaching both the link to the MEPA’s letter, which is self explanatory,  and also a copy of the letter itself and the subsequent comments by readers.

I am attaching some photos  as a reminder of the illegalities which had to be corrected by the 7th September 2011, according to MEPA’s  enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) to Transport Malta.  Besides, according to MEPA, this would also show that my assertion that MEPA “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets” is wrong.

Blatant infringement of the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations published on 24 ta’ May, 2011, over the signature of the Prime Minister, the Minster responsible for the Environment.

The brutal pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, which could only have been carried out by approval from the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Minster for the Environmnet.

How the rubble wall protection regulations was brought to disrepute for one and all to see

When protected national heritage meets financial considerations and political decisions - despite the 'high level' of responsibility given to 'sustainable development'

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110906/letters/Illegal-brick-wall-on-the-Rabat-road.383498

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 

Peter Gingell, communications manager,

Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Floriana

Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

I refer to the article Trees, Rubble Walls And BSS (Alfred E. Baldacchino, August 26). Mr Baldacchino highlights the incident whereby works carried out during the construction of a new bus interchange facility, along the Rabat road near Ta’ Qali, resulted in a rural rubble wall being demolished and replaced by a brick wall, while concrete was shoddily laid around a number of Aleppo trees. Mr Baldacchino uses this incident to assert that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

Contrary to the negative impression Mr Baldacchino tries to create for readers, the authority can confirm that on August 23, a few days before Mr Baldacchino’s article was published, Mepa had already issued an enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) against Transport Malta for having illegally demolished a protected rural rubble wall and replaced it with a brick wall. The authority also requested Transport Malta to remove the concrete from around the circumference of the affected tree trunks and under supervision, construct a “konka” to allow for better water percolation.

The authority has given Transport Malta up to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action. The Enforcement Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate are monitoring closely the situation and inspected the site again last week. If, for Mr Baldacchino, the authority has been caught sitting “retired” and “staring”, then he is mistaken.

While the authority continues to do its utmost to ensure the implementation and enforcement of planning and environment regulations, it reminds the public and all government entities that we all bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage.

5 Comments

Mr Tony Camilleri

Today, 12:13

Would anyone blame the people who think rightly or wrongly that corruption is rampant in MEPA?

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Today, 10:35

Indeed I am greatly obliged to MEPA for proving me right all along. MEPA has finally found its voice, 11 days after my article (26th August) saying it acted on the 23rd August, but found it only convenient to inform the public today.  15 days from August 23rd is September 7th: in two days time. MEPA will be hearing from me again, no doubt about it.

MEPA also felt offended when I said that it “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.  Such works should not have taken place in the first place, and not accomplished before MEPA acted and gave 15 days to the Transport Authority to correct illegalities, after which MEPA MAY consider taking action.

Thanks also to MEP for stressing that “all governemnt entities ..bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage” This has been my contention all along.  Now MEPA is under the portfolio of the Prime Minister who was the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development.” If MEPA does ‘not sit retired’ it could easily have whispered in the PM’s ears about the utiliy of such commission, before it was idle since 2006, and disbanded in 2008.

Let us wait for 7th Sepotember, 15 days given in the enforcement notice (ECF 434/11). to see if MEPA is “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

PS – with reference to the ‘konka’ in MEPA’s letter, in Englsih this is referred to as a watering trench or watering well. A good Maltese dictionary can tell you this.

Bernard Storace

Today, 09:34

“The authority has given TransportMaltaup to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action”. MEPA ‘may’ take direct action, How? by turning the clock back. It’s never been done before and I believe will not be done now too.

What, no guts to stick up to the minister in charge. Action should be taken BEFORE and not after the crime against nature has taken place. Will the rubble wall be rebuilt? I doubt it very much and as usual the illegal stone wall will be sanctioned and more trees will die too. Another joke or what?

Alfred E. Zahra

Today, 16:08

If you or I want to get rid of a rubble wall or a tree, how can MEPA stop us? Not unless we are stupid enough to inform it of our plans beforehand. Mepa unfortunately is not like Joseph Muscat. It does not have Godly powers.

Mr Peter Murray

Today, 09:12

What hope do we have when governmental entity fail to obey the law or take the appropriate action when found out and ordered to take remedial action.Yet again we have Mr.Gingell only responding to complaints/concerns expressed via newspaper publications, yet seldom, if ever, to complaints lodged individually with his


Trees, rubble walls and BSS

August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011

Trees, rubble walls and BSS

Alfred E. Baldacchino

A few weeks ago, workmen were laying out a pavement on either side of the Rabat road near the Ta’ Qali intersection. A layby for the new buses, I thought! And so it was.

Little thought, if any, was given either to the Aleppo pine trees and the rubble walls along the stretches of the new pavement. The Aleppo pines, which characterise this stretch of road leading to Rabat, show a number of scars, now including fresh ones, resulting from mismanagement. Some of the trees are completely engulfed in concrete, some with nails hammered in them, further sealing their miserable fate at the hands of unsustainable mismanagement of the living natural heritage.

Blatant infringement of the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations published on 24 ta’ May, 2011, over the signature of the Prime Minister, the Minster responsible for the Environment.

In the same stretch, part of the rubble walls were also heavily damaged! In an ingeneous, indigenous way, a brick wall was built on the rubble wall. As I slowed in the traffic to clear the roundabout intersecting the Żebbuġ, Mtarfa and Rabat roads – the one where sprinklers usually water much of the road as much as they water the turf – I could not help think and ask myself how the lack of coordination between ministries reigns supreme in this land.

A 'newly restored rubble wall' . What about the regulations for the protection of rubble walls? Well that is the responsibility of the Minster for the Environment and not of the Minister responsible for such works!

A couple of weeks ago, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority declared new tree protection areas. In the same legal notice (200 of 2011), signed by the Prime Minister himself, there are two schedules of protected trees. The Aleppo pine trees along Rabat road are listed in schedule II. They are more than 50 years old and are growing in an outside development zone area.

The brutal fresh pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, which could only have been carried out by approval from the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Minster for the Environmnet.

Schedule II trees are protected to the extent that no person shall bury in the ground, dump, or deposit, any soil, manure, waste, rubbish, stones, rubble, scrap metal or any refuse near them; not even attempt to. Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

How the rubble wall protection regulations were brought to disrepute for one and all to see

Legal Notice 160 of 1997 protects rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures in view of their historical and architectural importance, their exceptional beauty, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna and their vital importance in the conservation of the soil and of water. It is unlawful to demolish them or to prevent free percolation of rainwater through rubble walls or to undermine the foundations of a rural construction.
The regulations add that no permit is required for sensitively executed repairs, provided that repairs are carried out using exclusively the same type of drystone rubble walling that composed the existing wall and that they do not significantly modify the overall profile or character of the wall. Again, Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.
Now, somebody in the corridors of power in this EU member state must be responsible for such works, unless, of course, someone convinces me that there is only a virtual government. The minister responsible for the environment cannot be held directly responsible for the works done but is directly responsible to ensure that environmental policies, laws and regulations are adhered to. He has a very expensive watchdog to see to this but it seems this watchdog is all bark and no bite.
The minister has the authority to direct in no uncertain way that the duty to protect the environment is not just his but is a collective political responsibility. As chairman of the National Sustainable Development Commission he has all the tools to do so. Unfortunately, as I finalised this article, I read in The Times that “Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who is responsible for environment matters, confirmed that the National Sustainable Development Commission was disbanded in 2008 after the government approved the sustainable development strategy”. And this despite national and EU obligations! Yet, we are also told that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”.

When protected national heritage meets financial consideration and political decisions - despite the 'high level' or responsibility given to 'sustainable development'

What is the use of drafting regulations and national environment policies when some Cabinet colleagues and their staff are immune to the laws of the land? In the meantime, the watchdog, Mepa, like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets.
I would not be surprised if I am taken to task by some colour-blinkered pen pusher on grounds that this is a trivial matter. Admittedly, I am not writing on the building of a new power station but the same concept, the same perception and the same vision (or lack of it) apply to both examples. First, go ahead with the development and, then, consider the regulations and see if there are any necessary permits to acquire. In the meantime, tell the gullible this is highest level of sustainable development at its best.

The long and winding road for protected trees in the Maltese Islands.

The Bisazza Street Syndrome (BSS) is rearing its ugly head – one legislates, another ignores. If BSS is not taken by the horns and immediately put in check, it will soon become the national environmental policy without any need for public consultations and without any need for backup legislation.
I can image that the picture of sustainable development to be submitted at the next UN Rio +20 conference in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio earth summit will be all nice and rosy: Malta puts responsibilty for sustianable development at the highest level while disbanding the commission to ensure that sustainable development is achieved.
Other photos taken on 24th Augut 2011, showing the complete desregard for protected trees, and protected rubble walls, despite the fresh declaration that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”

According to Maltese politicians and their advisors, this is a tree - a protected tree!

Politically, to the applause of the gullible, it was the tree's fault moving in the bulldozer's path!

The dead branches of a mauled potected Aleppo Pine tree. Only possible with a permit from the Minster for the Environment and the Minster for Resources and Rural Affairs!

NO COMMENT - readers may wish to comment themselves.

One of the ARRIVA bus stops in the stretch of the new works. With the arrival of the new bus service, social, environmental and financial negative impacts have also arrived, though as I understand, some are still waiting for the buses.


E is for Environment

August 8, 2011

Maltatoday, Sunday 7th August, 2011

E is for Environment ___________________________________________________________________________________ Despite occasional improvements, Malta’s environmental standards remain below expectations raised by EU accession. ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, the man who was involved in the transposition of the acquis communautaire into Maltese law, offers an insight into why. ___________________________________________________________________________________

As environmentalists go, few can lay claim to the epithet ‘tree-hugger’ quite as convincingly as Alfred E. Baldacchino. An author of numerous books on Malta’s indigenous wildlife (and biodiversity in general), his very name is now practically synonymous with all matters arboreal. More significantly still, he is often heard on the radio, where he discusses the regular ‘massacre’ of roadside trees in the name of ‘pruning’ and ‘landscaping’… as well as what appears to be our national predilection for choosing the species most unsuited to our islands’ particular ecosystem.

I meet Baldacchino at his Attard home, and I am soon introduced to his private collection of indigenous Maltese saplings – all taken from seeds and cuttings, and grown in pots on a small and crowded verandah. As he talks me through the different species, it quickly becomes apparent that behind his regular complaints about our national treatment of trees and plants, there lies a deeper and altogether more pressing concern with the lack of comprehensive planning and co-ordination: a state of affairs affecting our country’s entire attitude towards all aspects of the environment, with results that can be seen all around us.

Back on the terrace, he points to a specimen of Fraxinus angustifolia (Fraxxnu in Maltese) on his terrace. “If I can grow this from a seed here in my own home – and believe me, I am no expert in cultivation – why can’t we do the same elsewhere? Why do we have to import harmful and invasive species, sometimes spreading diseases and unwanted alien pests like the red palm weevil, when we can invest the same energy into preserving our own natural biodiversity?”

He promptly answers his own question: because commercial interests have meanwhile overtaken all other considerations… including our country’s legal and moral obligations to manage and protect the environment. As an example he turns to his hobbyhorse: environmental landscaping.

“Just this morning I talked about this on the radio, and I was surprised by the reaction: some 12 phone-calls throughout the programme… of which only one was critical, accusing me of being ‘too negative’.” Baldacchino’s point on that programme (of which I had caught snatches while driving) was that pruning of trees – which used to be carried out under the auspices of the Agriculture Department, but has now been farmed out to the private sector – is now being done at the wrong time of the year, and in a slapdash way that reduces many of the trees concerned to mere stumps.

“Just a few moths ago, the trees outside my own home were being ‘pruned’ (or rather, ‘hewn’) and when I popped my head out of the balcony and asked the landscapers why they were doing this now – and more to the point why they were chopping them down to the trunk – they replied ‘because cars pass from here’. What sort of answer is that? Did cars suddenly start passing this way only now…?”

Baldacchino suspects the reason is another: that the job of environmental landscaping has since been taken over by a ‘public private partnership’, or ‘PPP’. “If you ask me, it more like ‘Pee Pee Pee’,” he says… spelling out the ‘double-E’ each time. “The problem is that private concerns like these are driven by commercial interests, and commercial interests that simply do not mix with environmental protection.” For instance, Baldacchino argues that landscapers have taken to using herbicides on roundabouts and pathways. “Not a good idea,” he intones. “These herbicides will be washed away by the rain, only to find their way into valleys and possible reach the watertable. Why is this being allowed to happen? Why isn’t MEPA coming down like a tonne of bricks?”

Even the choice of plants and flowers for these roundabout displays is at best questionable. “Recently, the Prime Minister was on TV talking about government investment in embellishment projects. He was saying things like: ‘when did we ever see so many flowers blooming in August, when it is normally dry as dust?’ Personally I don’t blame the PM himself for saying things like that, but somebody should really tell him that this sort of landscaping goes against his own environmental credentials. These take substantial amount of precious water, especially those laid out with turf. Their temporary aesthetic impact carries hidden costs carried by society.…” Baldacchino explains that ‘alien’ flowers like (for instance) petunias tend to guzzle enormous amounts of water – itself a precious resource that the country can ill-afford to waste – and some species also have the potential to ‘escape’ and take root elsewhere in the wild. “Some of the plants used have microscopic seeds that get easily blown about by the currents as cars drive past, or carried by the wind, washed away by the rain, and so on. It is easy for them to end up germinating in a valley somewhere. What happens if they start to spread? They will become an invasive species, competing with other indigenous plants and ultimately become a threat toMalta’s natural biodiversity.” Some established invasives include the south and Central American Nasturtium, and the south African Hottentot Fig, the latter also used in landscaping.

Baldacchino points towards the profit margins of the private companies involved in the partnership as the main reason for both the use of herbicides, and the inauspicious choice of flowers. The reasoning is one we have all heard before, perhaps in relation to other issues and scenarios: ‘someone’ will be importing a certain type of herbicide, or a certain type of plant… “None of this is necessary,” Baldacchino asserts. “This is the result of having lost our way when it comes to environmental issues.”

But we have raced ahead of ourselves. Part of the reason I came here was to talk about these issues, true; but I also wanted to ask for a historical perspective on what exactly went awry. Baldacchino has after all been involved in the country’s environmental sector…  having kick-started the government’s environmental department in the early 1980s. At that time, the environment fell loosely under the portfolio of Health Minister Vincent Moran… though Baldacchino doesn’t count Moran as one of Malta’s environment ministers, for the simple reason that the word ‘environment’ had yet to achieve practical relevance back then. It was only later – and very gradually – that the concept began to take root in Malta’s subconscious, slowly rising to become a major concern. “Since the 1980s I have worked under six ministers and one parliamentary secretary,” Baldacchino recalls: adding the curious detail that three of them (apart from Moran) were doctors –Daniel Micallef, Stanley Zammit and George Vella. “Doctors make good environment ministers,” he asserts. “I think it’s partly to do with their scientific academic background, and also their charisma with people as doctors. In fact it was with Daniel Micallef that environmental awareness began to take off; and things reached a peak with Stanley Zammit, who had by far the longest time to deliver.”

Baldacchino also acknowledges the input of lawyers who took over the portfolio – namely Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Francis Zammit Dimech – considering that by their time Malta had to face the voluminous legal international obligations including those of the EU. He was less enthusiastic about role of architect ministers who came in their wake. “Doctors immediately grasped the scientific concept of environmental conservation, while the legal aspect was also quickly picked up by lawyers… But something that took maybe five minutes to explain to the doctors, would take up to five hours with the lawyers…” As for the architects, Baldacchino makes an exception for Michael Falzon, who had the benefit of being helped by Stanley Zammit as his parliamentary secretary. I point out that this leaves us with only one architect who was also environment minister – George Pullicino, with whom Baldacchino had a very public and very acrimonious fall-out. However, he had no intention of being drawn into a discussion about that difference – which erupted after his retirement from the Environment Protection Directorate.

Instead we talked about what he defines as the two ‘fatal errors’ that have undermined previous efforts to create a functional environmental protection regime. “Initially, all the people involved in the department were chosen on the strength of their scientific background. Despite the paucity of human resources, we had the best available people. We needed them, too. Back then we were screening Maltese legislation with a view to transposing the EU’s acquis communautaire: a massive job and we had problems – big problems – at the beginning. But we also had a wealth of highly scientifically qualified and motivated people, enabling the department to be professionally run at the time.”

And then, out of the blue… the catastrophe. Baldacchino explains how the government suddenly decided to strip the environment of its own ministry, and instead transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the Planning Authority. “I think I was as surprised as Minister Zammit Dimech at the time,” Baldacchino recalls, referring to the decision as an environmental disaster from which the country has never fully recovered. “We were like a round peg in a square hole. Suddenly, decisions started being taken without any consideration or even idea of the country’s legal international obligations. Scientific and technical expertise was put aside in favour of other, more commercial considerations. From that point on, we started heading downhill.”

Baldacchino observes that – with the exception of occasional improvements – the trajectory has remained downhill ever since, in part thanks to a second and equally damning mishap. “The second major mistake was to allow the National Sustainable Development Commission (NSDC) to fizzle out. Whether intentionally, or through ignorance, or out of our national tendency to simply ‘postpone’ problems for future generations, the commission was never set in motion …” Originally set up in 2002 – significantly, before the decision to rob the environment of a ministry of its own – the NSDC initially aimed to provide an umbrella organization to integrate and amalgamate all economic, social and environmental considerations. “It has been years since the Commission last met,” Baldacchino says in regretful tones. “Today, decisions which have huge impact on the environment are taken in the absence of any framework organization. Development planning has hijacked all other considerations.”

Baldacchino argues that we are literally paying a high price due to the lack of any clear planning strategy… as an example, he singles out Malta’s policy regarding water. “The Knights of St John handed everything to us on a silver platter. They left us an entire aqueduct and water storing system, and more importantly they had drawn up laws whereby all houses had to have their own wells.” He points out that technically, these laws are still in the statue books. “But are they being implemented? No. Today, MEPA merely issues compliance certificates in cases where houses are illegally built without wells. And just look at the homes we are building: any space for reservoirs is today taken up by garages instead.” Ironically, then, it seems that Maltawas more conscious of water conservation 500 years ago … despite the fact that population pressures, coupled with the demands of a thirsty tourism industry, have resulted in skyrocketing water demands.

From this perspective, environmentalists like Baldacchino were ‘scandalised’ to hear Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt cavalierly announcing that excess water produced by sewage treatment would be pumped into the sea because it “had no economic value”. “No economic value? That’s blasphemy. What economic value is there is throwing away 50% pure water, when only a few metres away we have Reverse Osmosis plants pumping up 100% concentrated water from the sea? Considering how much we are paying for water produced in this way, can we afford to throw away water that would actually cost us less? So much for economic value…”

Baldacchino argues that the whole system was geared up from the outset with a view to pumping the water into the sea. No thought was given to the possibility of re-utilising that precious resource, “How else do you explain that all the country’s sewage treatment plants were sited near the sea to begin with?”

All this is symptomatic of a system which has fallen apart at the seams – almost an inevitability, Baldacchino suggests, when one considers how the environment itself was divorced from its original ministry, and instead spread among different entities, all of which work independently of one another without any cohesive framework policy. Again, water provides a good example; being a resource which falls under no fewer than three separate ministries. “MEPA is responsible for Malta’s surface water policy, and this falls under the office of the Prime Minister. But the Water Services Corporation – which handles distribution of water – falls under the Finance Ministry, whereas groundwater extraction, among others, falls under the MRRA.” So who takes ultimate responsibility for water-related problems when they arise? Baldacchino suggests the answer, as things stand, is ‘nobody’… coming back to his earlier point that the current set-up encourages government to put off existing problems, leaving future generations to cope with them as best they can.

“It’s a little like what happened with Bisazza Street, but on a national scale,” he remarks. “In the case of Bisazza Street, we had one ministry planning for pedestrianisation, and another ministry planning for traffic, and they only realized there was a problem when the two came together. Why? How is this possible? But at least,” he adds with a twinkle in his eye, “in the case of Bisazza street, a few ‘heads’ did actually roll…”


Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

December 14, 2010

Tuesday, 14th December 2010

Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I  must admit that Eco-Gozo was a brilliant idea. The launching of this bright idea, however, lacked adequate communication, education and public awareness and cannot be said to be that brilliant.  Stakeholders did not have enough chance to meet to discuss, to suggest and to feel part of this concept. Public consultations lacked any brilliancy. All subsequent development, in its widest sense, does not necessarily dovetail in this concept and is indeed bizarre, to say the least.

Gozo is a small island, endowed with a topography and a geology that make it a unique ecological gem. But, because of its smallness, every mismanaged and short-sighted development has drastic effects on its ecosystem, defying the whole Eco-Gozo concept.

Just a few examples would suffice to show how this concept is unfortunately being torpedoed, with the official blessing of the same authority that should be in the forefront to stop them.

Wied il-Qasab, meandering from Nadur to Ramla l-Ħamra, is fed by natural springs, originating from the upper garigue. The water percolates down through the strata to the valley bed, sustaining both the valley ecosystem and cultivated fields. A short-sighted permit issued against all technical advice saw the excavation of the water source, devastating historical planning techniques dating back to the times of the Knights, shattering bell-shaped wells that stored precious water resources, eventually cutting off one of the valley springs, while negatively impacting the others. All for the sake of a cemetery, where the dead, directly and indirectly, will now contribute to the destruction of this part of Eco- Gozo.

Dwejra is one of the landmarks of Eco-Gozo.  Looking through the azure window reveals the Mediterranean culture, biodiversity and history. Dwejra is a special area of conservation, part of the EU Natura 2000 network, also proposed as an International Heritage Site. A few weeks ago, Dwejra was made to play prostitute in exchange for economic gain. Tom, Dick and Harry were officially assured that there was no ecosystem in this part of the SAC. They were also lectured on the fact that if the economy does well, the environment usually does better. A couple of horses were eventually filmed trotting on the quarry-sand covering the fossil-rich rocks, with the azure window in the background. The covering of sand sent the eco-sensitive public in a rage, seeing the authority who should have ensured that this did not happen, giving its official blessings. Another under-the-belt blow for Eco-Gozo.

This is the International Year of Biodiversity. Someone, a few weeks back, had another “brilliant” idea for this eco-island – to clean the valleys. With myopic ingenuity, devoid of any ecological sensitivity, and of any environmental management, the Marsalforn Valley was bulldozed.  By all means, let the valleys be cleaned to be in a better position to hold more water, as they used to do in the distant past. But for heaven’s sake this is not the way: descending on valleys and destroying all ecosystems in the bulldozers’ path. The end does not justify the means. The valleys have been neglected, abused and mismanaged for so long.

The bottom line again was the economic gain – time-wise at the expense of social and ecological expense. Who would think of using a bulldozer in St John’s Co-Cathedral to clean the accumulated dust in every nook and cranny and so save on time and expense?

eco-scars and eco-wounds

The extant indigenous protected mature trees in the said valley show the scars and wounds left behind, some with exposed and mutilated roots, in a bed now devoid of species that once flourished in the valley ecosystem. The saplings are all gone. Once, there was an authority that used to protect the environment and would have issued permits with conditions regarding such work in delicate ecosystems.  It also used to monitor the works to ensure no damage was done.

It would not be surprising if Tom, Dick and Harry are again informed that, if the economy does well, the environment will do better and there was no ecosystem in the path of bulldozers.  From the economic short-term point of view, the aim might have been achieved but the social and environmental accounts now show an alarming deficit. Another Eco-Gozo concept sunk beneath the waves. Another case of missing the wood for the trees.

The next step towards the concept of Eco-Gozo now seems to be the proposed development of that idyllic place Ħondoq ir-Rummien. Will the authority that used to protect the environment be taken in by the great financial glitter and dismiss the fragile, little understood and uncared for social and environmental unique values?  Will Tom Dick and Harry be told again such a financial economic weight will raise the social and environmental (deficit) sky-high, which will definitely contribute to the Eco-Gozo myth?

The brilliant idea of an ecological island seems to be slowly but surely fading away into extinction, like so many indigenous species. Eco-Gozo can only bear fruit if the entities that cannot and do not want to take into consideration the social and environmental wealth keep their hands off Gozo.

One is now bound to ask:  Is it Eco-Gozo … or Ecce Gozo?

aebaldacchino@gmail.

 


X’nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent

October 20, 2010

X’nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Illum il-kelma ambjent hija fuq fomm kulħadd. Dan huwa pass il-quddiem. Iżda mhux kulħadd jifhem l-istess ħaġa bil-kelma ambjent. Hemm min jaħseb li jekk inżżommu nadif huwa biżżejjed. Hemm imbgħad dawk li jaħsbu li jekk tħawwel siġra jew tnejn ukoll huwa biżżejjed. Ngħiduha kif inhi, mhux għax dawn ma jgħinux, imma l-kelma ambjent hija aktar wiesgħa minn hekk. Ejja nieħdu eżempju biex naraw x’għandna nifhmu bil-kelma ambjent.

 

In-nisġa tan-Natura li tiġbor fiha wkoll il-bniedem

 

Kulħadd jaf xhini siġra. Siġra hija ħolqien ħajja, li tikber, tiekol, tixjieħ, tipproduċi, u anki tmut. Ħarsa lejn siġra turina li din hija ankrata fl-art, fejn l-għeruq tagħha jinżlu fil-fond kemm biex jgħinu lis-siġra tkun soda fl-art, kif ukoll biex jgħinuha ttella’ l-ilma biex tagħmel l-ikel. Fl-istess ħin, din is-siġra qed iżżomm il-ħamrija f’postha u ma tħallihiex tinġarr bir-riħ u bix-xita. Barra minn hekk il-weraq li twaqqa’ is-sigra fl-art jgħinu biex il-ħamrija ssir aktar sinjura. U s-siġra qed toffri wkoll ambjent għan-numru ta’ ħlejjaq oħra.

M’għandniex xi ngħidu li s-siġra trid ukoll id-dawl tax-xemx biex tkun tista’ tikber. Permezz tad-dawl tax-xemx u l-ilma li ttella mill-għeruq, il-weraq ħodor tas-sigra jagħmlu l-ikel tagħha li jgħinha tikber, tipproduċi, u tkompli tgħix. Kif jafu dawk li fi żmien il-Milied jiżirgħu l-ġurbiena u jpoġġuha fid-dlam, din titla’ bajdanija, mingħajr kulur ħadrani, u tkun anki dgħajjfa għaliex ma jkolliex id-dawl biex tkun tista’ tagħmel l-ikel. Barra minn hekk it-temperatura minn dan id-dawl tax-xemx ma tridx tkun la sħuna ħafna u lanqas kiesħa ħafna li s-sigra ma tkunx adattata għaliha. Hekk jekk nieħdu siġra mill-Mediterran u nħawluha fl-Iżlanda, din ma tgħix għaliex it-temperatura hija kiesha wisq għaliha. Hekk ukoll jekk inġibu siġra mill-Iżlanda hawn Malta, din tbgħati għaliex il-klima hija sħuna wisq għaliha. Hekk kull bdil fit-temperatura jkollu impatt fuq il-ħlejjaq li ma jkunux imdorrijin b’dik it-temperatura, kemm jekk tkun għolja, kif ukoll jekk tkun baxxa aktar milli jkunu mdorrijin biha.

Is-siġra wkoll trid l-arja biex tieħu n-nifs. Jekk ngħalqu siġra f’post mingħajr arja, għalkemm ikollha d-dawl u l-ilma, din ma tgħix u bil-mod il-mod tmut. Filwaqt li s-siġra tieħu d-diossidu tal-karbonju (carbon dioxide) mill-arja, hija tgħati wkoll lura l-ossiġenu (oxygen). U hekk naraw li s-siġra tgħin biex iżżomm bilanċ tal-gassijiet fl-atmosphera, għaliex jekk dan il-bilanċ ma jiżammx, allura jista’ jkun kemm ta’ ħsara għas-siġra nnifisha kif ukoll għall-ħlejjaq l-oħra li jgħixu fuq din l-art. U dan il-bilanċ huwa meħtieġ li jinżamm minkejja t-tibdiliet kontinwi li hemm.

Mela naraw li s-siġra li hija ħajja għandha bżonn ukoll partijiet fiżiċi, bħall-ilma, id-dawl, l-arja, u l-art. Mingħajr dawn din ma tistax tgħix, u dawn il-partijiet fiżiċi ma jkunux sħaħ mingħajr il-ħajja tas-siġra minħabba n-nisġa li għandhom magħha. Imma jekk l-ilma jkun imniġġeż jew ikkontaminat bil-kimika, jekk l-arja tkun imniġġża b’kimiċi li wħud minnhom jistgħu ukoll jifformaw xi aċtu meta jitħallatu ma’ l-ilma, jekk it-temperatura tkun aktar sħuna jew kiesha minn dak li siġra tkun adattata għaliha, dawn kollu jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-sigra li jistgħu wkoll iwasslu biex joqtlu lis-siġra.

 

 

Iż-Żnuber - siġa tal-Mediterran

 

Issa npoġġu l-bniedem minflokk is-siġra u naraw li dan bħas-siġra għandu bżonn ukoll l-art, l-ilma mhux imniġġeż, l-arja safja, kif ukoll id-dawl tax-xemx biex ikun jista’ jgħix, jikber, jiekol u jirriproduċi. U bħal ma dawn jistgħu jeqirdu siġra, hekk ukoll jistgħu jeqirdu mhux biss is-siġar l-oħra kollha, imma anki l-annimali inkluż il-bniedem.

Għalhekk meta wieħed jitkellem fuq l-ambjent irid iħares kemm lejn il-parti fiżika li tkun tajba għall-ħajja, kif ukoll għall-ħlejjaq kollha li jiddependu minn din il-parti fiżika. Din hija n-nisġa naturali li minna jiddependi wkoll il-bniedem. U ma nistgħux ngħatu każ lill-parti waħda biss u ninjoraw lill-oħra. Din hija t-tifsira wiesgħa tal-kelma ambjent li wieħed għandu jżopmm f’moħħu meta jitkellem fuq l-ambjent.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Mepa and EU obligations

July 30, 2010

Friday, 30th July 2010

Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino

It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.

It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!

Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo.  And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.

Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.

Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.

A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the  imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is  deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.

If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.

Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100721/letters/malta-living-up-to-the-eu-habitats-directive

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The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority


The Red Palm Weevil – another alien species

July 25, 2010

 

Sunday, 2nd December 2007

 The Red Palm Weevil – another alien species –  Alfred E Baldacchino

The Red Palm Weevil – il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm – is a relatively large species of beetle about 3cm long. Its common English name is derived from its rusty red colour. Scientifically known as Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, the Red Weevil originates from tropical Asia, but has now spread to Africa and Europe. It reached Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in 1985. And by 2006 it was recorded in France and in Cyprus.

The rapid spread of this pest is due to the transportation of infested young or adult date palm trees and offshoots from contaminated to uninfected areas. Egypt supplied, directly or indirectly, thousands of such palm trees each year to Spain and other European countries. There is ample evidence to conclude that the first Red Palm Weevils were introduced into Spain from adult palm trees imported from Egypt. And despite the fact that palm trees, like all other imported plants, must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, adult palm trees can still conceal large quantity of hidden insects and diseases, such as Red Palm Weevil eggs and larvae. Red Palm Weevil larvae can eventually kill the tree host. In fact, it is a most destructive pest of date palms in the Middle East.

The Red Weevil spends all its stages (egg, larva, pupa and adult) inside the palm tree itself. The female weevil deposits 300 eggs in separate holes or in injuries on the palm tree. The eggs hatch after two to five days into legless grubs which bore into the interior of the palms and feed on the soft succulent tissues of palm trees.

The larval period varies from one to three months, after which the grub pupate in an elongated oval, cylindrical cocoon made out of fibrous strands. The pupation period lasts 14 to 21 days, after which the adult weevil emerges – a life cycle of about four months.

The adult is a reddish brown cylinder with a long prominent curved snout, varying considerably in size. It is about 35 mm in length and 12 mm in width. Its leathery forewings are dark red, strongly ribbed longitudinally, covering the hind wings which are brown in colour. The weevils can fly a distance of up to one kilometre.

In a press release issued on 24 October 2007, the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment warned the public of the Red Palm Weevil’s presence in Malta. The question is, how did it get to Malta? The expanse of sea surrounding the Maltese islands is a strong enough natural barrier. But following the importation of hundreds of palm trees to Malta, the Red Palm Weevil took a free ride and established itself as an alien species.

In a previous article, I had drawn attention to the great number of palm trees that are being imported. Some, similar to those in the midst of Mikiel Anton Vassalli regional road, are up to two storeys high. They are easily 60 or more years old and once must have graced some natural oasis in north Africa. Considering the infested trees in Egypt which have contributed to the introduction of the Red Palm Weevil to Spain and Europe, the indications are that this is where it came from. And with such an abundance of food available, who can stop it from dispersing all over the island.

Malta does have indigenous species of palm trees, the Dwarf European Fan Palm – Chamaerops humilis il-Ġummara, whose wild population is critically endangered.

Furthermore there are a number of important Date Palms – Phoenix dactyliferail-Palma, and Canary Island Palms – Phoenix canariensis il-Palma tal-Kannizzati. There are also a number of historical specimens of palm trees growing in a number of private gardens and also in the Argotti Botanic Gardens, San Anton Gardens, among others, most of these planted from seed by the renowned Maltese botanist John Borg. However, all these important indigenous and historical palm trees are now in danger of kissing their roots goodbye.

Dead palm trees – the result of the introduced invasive alien species, the Red Palm Weevil

 

The control of such an alien species is indeed a hard nut to crack. It came fairly easily. But eliminating and controlling it is almost impossible. When the laboratories of the Plant Protection Section of the Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Institute in Cyprus discovered the Red Weevil on its territory, all infested plants were removed and burned. In addition measures were taken to train all plant health inspectors in the identification and handling of infested palm trees.

The ecological, economic, and historical damage will become more evident with time. The damage caused by the Red Palm Weevil’s larva is not immediately visible, and by the time symptoms of such infestation appear, the damage is so advanced that it is difficult to save the tree from death. The population of the Red Weevil cannot but increase with such a large food supply available, and with no official national biodiversity strategy in place.

Measures necessary to control this introduced alien species are expensive, as with all other invasive alien species. One wonders if the entrepreneurs who have been directly involved in importing palm trees to the Maltese Islands are going to finance such measures to control this species – though perhaps the ecological and economical damage is not so much of a concern to them as much as cashing in on the profits. From experience it is almost impossible to convince decision-makers and garden centres to use locally grown specimens for landscaping. Dealers in palm trees and other plants find it more profitable economically to import, and let society carry the hidden costs.

As M. Ferry and S. Gomez (2002) conclude in their paper The Red Palm Weevil in the Mediterranean Area, “… there is a need for phytosanitary regulations at a European and North African country level to forbid totally the importation of date palms.” Will the minister responsible for the Environment and Agriculture eventually stop the importation of palm trees to contain such damage? Who is going to be accountable for any potential additional importation of this alien species and more of its food supply? What action will be taken to prevent the introduction into and the spread within the community of the Red Palm Weevil?

It is more realistic than pessimistic to conclude that at the end of the day, it will be common people Read the rest of this entry »


The Nadur cemetery – where the dead will haunt and curse the living

June 21, 2010

Sunday 08 February 2009

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On 6 November 2006, Mepa approved the development of the Nadur cemetery (PA 2407/04) despite the repeated advice of its own technical and professional officials that such a project was objectionable in principle. Some wrongly believe that it was the technical and professional staff who recommended such a project. Mepa also waived the study of an environment impact assessment (EIA), despite the fact that this is an ODZ (Outside Development Zone) development, and based its decision on a hydrology report by a geologist, on the grounds that the project is unlikely to have any adverse impact on these resources. In so doing, Mepa thus completely ignored the precautionary principle adopted by the Environment Protection Act 2001 as a guiding principle.

The Malta Resources Authority, through its Water Directorate, did not object to this development either. Work started in summer 2007. An appeal was lodged according to the provision of the Development Planning Act. The sittings for the hearing of such an appeal were convened on 9 January 2008, on 12 March 2008, 2 April 2008, 18 June 2008, 24 September 2008, 29 October 2008, 3 December 2008 and lately postponed to 4 March 2009. Despite the deliberations that were made and the documents presented, no decision was ever taken.

In the meantime, work on the site continued unhindered, the footprint was excavated, foundations laid and building progressed. Protected carob trees were uprooted this year and “planted” elsewhere (see photo). One would have thought that this would never have been possible considering that the environment is one of the pillars of the government of the day, and considering the negative impact that this project is having on the economic, social and ecological environment. Could this possibly be a subtle strategy to enable the finalisation of the development before the appeal is decided? And can anyone be blamed for concluding that this is an insult to the intelligence of the people.

No public consultation was ever made on this ODZ development. Yet a number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister, who is also responsible for the environment. A number of social entities, and members of the general public have expressed their disapproval, both on this development and on the way it is being handled. Maltese farmers have also publicly supported the Gozitan farmers in their efforts to save their livelihood. The national authorities, whether political, administrative or religious are completely numb, which can also make one conclude that these are four square behind such an unsustainable project with all the resulting negative impacts also pointed out publicly. Such an absurd situation has to be urgently addressed in Mepa’s promised reform, not only with regard to this particular issue, but also to other issues where an appeal is lodged. It must be assured that when an appeal is made against a development where the damage would be irreversible, work on the project has to be immediately frozen until the appeal is decided. This would benefit the social, economic and ecological environment in toto.

When the dust settles and the Nadur cemetery opens its door to its permanent residents (I am convinced that the appeal would still not have been decided – irreparable damage has already been done), the damage would not only be irreversible but also persistent. Who will then stand up and publicly say that he is accountable for such a scenario? Will it be the Diocese for Gozo, one of whose officials is the applicant? Will it be the minister responsible for MRA who has not lifted a finger to protect and save the irreplaceable priceless aquifer and the lives and ecosystem it sustains? Will it be the minister responsible for agriculture who is responsible for the well being of agriculture and the community dependent on it, which is already being affected by what has been partially done so far? Will it be the minister responsible for Mepa who has ignored inside technical and professional advice and issued the permit?

The bending over backwards to accommodate the dead at the expense of the living is indeed unbelievable! “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter. And in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King). That is why the Nadur cemetery will deliver financially to the very, very few, in the name of the dead at the expense of the social, economic, and ecological environment. And those who will be laid to rest at the Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.


Missing the wood for the trees

June 21, 2010

 

Wednesday, 20th February 2008

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I can fully empathise with Louis Schembri’s feelings expressed in his letter Tree Murder in Balzan (February 1).  But Mr Schembri should not expect too much. The lack of a national biodiversity strategy leads to a lack of direction, and a lack of policy, amongst others for the proper planning, management and conservation of trees. In the absence of such strategy one cannot expect any better. The prevailing blinkered vision seems to be in planting more trees. This is not a bad idea at all, and can contribute not only to a better landscaping but also to a better afforestation. But the lack of such a national biodiversity strategy leads to an artificial implementation. As one can see the emphasis is just on numbers – quantity at the expense of quality. This leads to a false perception that it is not important whether these trees are locally grown or imported, as long as there are more and more and more, and one can then boast of numbers – the numbers’ mentality which should not form part of any biodiversity strategy. In the meantime, established urban trees are butchered or as Mr Schembri aptly put it, “murdered”. This would be quite explainable if the post of the minister responsible for the environment was vacant! The ever increasing impacts of climate change, and the need for measures, no matter how small, to address it, both in the context of national and also of international obligations, includes the control of the loss and the mutilation of trees. In their own unique natural way, trees remove carbon dioxide from the surroundings, besides enriching the urban environment where they flourish. The picture accompanying Mr Schembri’s letter clearly shows that the Balzan trees can no longer contribute to this. Unfortunately, this seems to be the order of the day considering the ever increasing numbers of such mutilated trees one can see, and the amount of public criticism resulting from a fast growing public awareness and a stronger environmental conscience.

Some such denuded trees that immediately come to mind are those at Saqqajja Square, Rabat, those along Ħal Warda Street, Attard, those in front of the Lyceum in Ħamrun, and those at Bir Bal Balzan. Incidentally the latter three sites are all adjacent to educational institutions – schools. I am sure readers can point out more of such mutilated trees in their locality. One can easily conclude that the Maltese official contribution to control and to limit the effects of climate change (apart from asking for higher quota for carbon emissions) seems to be the giving of a carte blanche to a contractor to chop and denude trees, paying him out of public funds for doing so. But alas not a word from the minister responsible for the environment, also responsible for landscaping, as well as being responsible for climate change and for formulating the policy for landscaping. When one sows the wind one cannot but expect to reap a whirlwind. What a waste of resources! I can hear echoes in the corridors of some Ministry saying that we, yes we, are paying millions of pounds to landscape the countryside with beautiful coloured pansies, marigolds and geraniums (for a maximum of a score of weeks, before they are ploughed up, to be planted anew) not forgetting the number of imported trees species, such as, for example, palm trees. I would not be surprised in the least if some other introduced species will make its presence felt considering the ever increasing amount of imported flora without any biodiversity strategy at all. As one drives around the island one cannot but see a number of such “hat stands” such as those at Balzan, Rabat, Attard, and others, sculptured out of established living trees and paid for out of public funds. The latest additional visual results in landscaping efforts are the number of dead palm trees: the result of short-sightedness in importing trees for landscaping purposes. Living monuments to crass incompetence, again the result of the lack a national biodiversity strategy.

Is there somebody who still believes that money does not grow on trees?


BUSKETT – a Special Area of Conservation in the EU

June 21, 2010

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alfred E Baldacchino

Buskett is of great importance to the Maltese islands from a historical, ecological, economical, educational, and a scientific point of view. The name Buskett is derived from the Italian word Boschetto, which means a small wood.  A part of Buskett is called il-Bosk – the wood.  Buskett is the only locality for Aleppo Pine woodlands, besides having a variety of habitats ranging from maquis, forest remnants, different levels of garigue, and woods typical of watercourses. The English reference to Boschetto, Buskett Gardens, have misled many, not least some politicians lacking ecological background, to conclude that this a garden, as much a garden as San Anton Gardens.

One of Malta’s past colonisers who without doubt were the best that had environmental vision, were the Knights of St John. Without the rich heritage they left us, we would definitely be so much the poorer. Unfortunately, much of this historical heritage is abandoned, neglected and/or vandalised. Buskett is one of the heritage site left to us by the Knights of St John, and was further enhanced by the next colonisers – the British. Today Buskett is protected with a number of regulations. The first legal protection for Buskett was for avifauna and was published as far back as 1932. This was strengthened throughout the years and today Buskett is still protected under the current Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations.

In 1933 a number of trees in Buskett were protected by GN 269, as historical trees of antiquarian importance. In 1996 Buskett was scheduled under the Development Planning Act as an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, an area of high landscape value and a scheduled woodland, by Government Notice 403 of 25 June 1996.  A site plan attached to this Government Notice showed the different levels of protection (level 1, 2, or 3) of Buskett and its surroundings.

During 2001 Buskett was also protected by the regulations for the protection of trees as a tree protected area. Buskett is also an Important Bird Area endorsed by BirdLife International.  Because of such endorsement the government declared as a Special Protection Area, in accordance with the Birds Directive. In 2003 the government proposed Buskett as a Site of Community Interest through Legal Notice 23 of 2003, with the main aim that Buskett be declared a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive to eventually form part of the EU Natura 2000. The Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Regulations 1997, also apply to Buskett. Now this is all very laudable, no doubt about it, but if these regulations are to be worth the paper they are written on, they have to be observed, they have to be implemented and they have to be enforced. There are a number of obligations arising out of European Union legislation, all transposed to local regulations, which have to be taken in consideration with regard to a number of activities.

From an ecological point of view, this means that one cannot bulldoze into Buskett, chainsaw in hand, “pruning” trees, clearing undergrowth, “tidying” walls from creepers, and sweeping dead leaves from beneath wild growing trees. All these activities need to have “prior” clearance from the Competent Authority, and in some cases submit an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site, in view of the site’s conservation. Consent can be given to the operation or activity only after it has been ascertained that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and if appropriate, after having obtained and taken into account the opinion of the general public and representations made within such reasonable time as the Competent Authority may specify. I remember going to Buskett in my younger days to enjoy the natural  environment surrounded by healthy trees, birds, myriads of butterflies and moths and other invertebrates enriching this unique natural environment we have, and the background sound of water trickling as it flowed through  Buskett, watering Wied il-Luq. This despite the fact that in those days there were no strict regulations for the protection of species and their habitats. When I visit Buskett today, I leave heartbroken: no butterflies, no insects, dead or dying or sawn off trees, dried up springs, and a dying woodland, despite the fact that today there are regulations drafted on international standards, which we, as Maltese, are obliged to honour, not only for our own sake and sanity, but also because of our obligations to the European Union, of which Malta is a Member State. In a statement issued by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment, (TMIS, 24 February 2008) it was stated that the “work the ministry intended to do was blocked by MEPA, which claimed the projected work could damage the ecosystem.” It is not very often that MEPA official are praised by this Ministry, especially those in the Environment Protection Directorate, or what is left of it. I would also like to extend my congratulations to such dedicated MEPA officials for their efforts because I can fully understand the difficulties they faced to achieve this.  If it weren’t for such efforts to stop such mismanagement of this EU Special Area of Conservation, today Buskett would probably be competing with San Anton Gardens.  It would be a very good idea if the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment were to invite the Prime Minster for a walk around this  sensitive unique ecological gem we have in our country, and the beauty nature has bestowed our tiny island. They could see for themselves the Maltese flora and fauna and what a rich heritage we are responsible for. They would also be able to see first hand what has been done and what has not be done to manage such a Special Area of Conservation, which Malta has proposed to the European Union for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network; this small wood called Buskett can contribute in many different ways for the benefit of the Maltese. It would then be easier for them to understand the need and the importance of a National Biodiversity Strategy, with its action plans and management plans – an obligation arising out of international treaties to which Malta is party. Without such a National Biodiversity Strategy, Buskett, together with other natural important habitats, would be lost forever.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com