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