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

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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.


An official water policy!

July 4, 2011

An official water policy!

Alfred E Baldacchino

On Friday, 1 st July, while driving from Rabat toward Valletta at 11.30am, I noticed that the turf at the  roundabout along the Rabat Road (intersecting with Zebbug/Mtarfa bypass) was being watered with sprinklers. Some of the

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sprinklers were simply watering the adjacent road, to the extent that any driver who was so thirsty could simply put his head out of the car’s window and have a sip. Those who wanted to clean one side of the car could also go round twice or thrice and have their car’s right-hand side cleaned.  Naturally the  water spread on the road, cars splashing in it , eventually finding  its way along the Zebbug bypass. The couple of photos I took can give an idea of such a waste of resources, more acute if one adds the energy used to activate this.

Now this is not the first time I have seen this, and not only at this particular roundabout.   Many others have also commented in the media. In a  week in March, on a rainy day, yes in March, and I had the car wipers busy cleaning the rain water from my windscreen, the sprinklers at the Santa Lucia roundabout were busy watering the turf at that roundabout.  As usual a couple of these were sprinkling the road and not the turf, perhaps an ingenious computerised way of diverting water from the turf this  having been saturated with the sprinklers’ water and the rain water.  And this leads me to ask a  number of questions that I find great difficulty in answering:

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  1. Hasn’t water been declared a rare resource in the Maltese Islands and great efforts are being made to properly manage, monitor and prevent waste?
  2. Hasn’t it been made ample clear that in our country with such high temperatures and such a lack of water supply, turf is not the best plant to use for landscaping, as has been pointed time and time again in the various Environment Impact Assessments where the use of turf was  suggested?
  3. Isn’t such “embellishment” (sic) projects – heavily paid by public funds to the tune of  a minimum 7 milliom Euros  (LM3 million of our old money) a year – not sustainable and a great misuse of resources ?
  4. Who is paying for such a waste of resources? Please do not tell me that the people are paying for such waste.  we all know it.
  5. Has the Ministry abdicated all responsibility and is giving  blank cheques as long as business is carried out, irrespective of  negative impacts on society and on the environment?
  6. Isn’t the Ministry responsible for monitoring, enforcing and planning such ‘landscaping’ the same Ministry who is responsible for National Resources, including water?  If it was two different Ministries, say one planning to make Bisazza Street a pedestrian zone, and the other planning new bus routes through it, then perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, each  could point a finger to each other.  But this is the same Ministry!!
  7. Does the Ministry have any qualified personnel in a responsible executive position to check such misuses and mismanagement of resources in such planning initiatives? Or does it have a rubber stamp to endorse all polices and expenses presented to it, as long as it is related to ‘business’?
  8. Is it the Government’s  policy  ” that where the economy stutters, the environment is the first to suffer”, a statement that we have also heard in connection with the Dwejra filming  amateurish handling?
  9. Doesn’t this country, one of the 27 EU member states, deserve much better than all this bullshit in the name of the national interest?

The Adam and Eve guilty feeling

Even the stone statue in the middle of the said roundabout were so denuded of reasons to justify what they were seeing, that they had a look of a guilty feeling.  They looked so ashamed and embarrassed at such greed  that they could not even look each other in the eye.  Reminded me of the guilty feeling Adam and Eve might have had after the biblical apple-affair!  So they preferred to look at the people as if to support them and pity them for the misuse and mismanagement  of their resources!  But I suppose those who are gifted with more wisdom that I  (politically that is)  will tell me that politicians are made of much more precious stuff than stone – they cannot possibly have such guilty feelings!

The closest answer I could possibly  find  to all  my questions is incorporated in an article by Martin Scicluna  in the Malta Independent on Sunday of the 3rd July 2011, as per attached link:

http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=128140

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