Olive oil maker says trees were ‘butchered’
An olive oil producer described the recent tree pruning in Rabat, which led to heavy public criticism, as “butchering”.
Referring to photos of a pruned tree in Rabat, Sam Cremona, who has about 500 olive trees of his own, said the extensive wound caused by the chainsaw cannot be treated.
A landscapist engaged by the Rabat local council to clear up broken branches and cut “sick” ones was recently involved in an incident with conservationist Foppe Seekles. The conservationist was upset at “aggressive” pruning he believed was “killing the trees”.
After the incident, the council’s contract manager immediately stopped the pruning contract and Rabat mayor Sandro Craus said the council was seeking advice on the matter.
While the conservationist insisted that this was not the right time to prune trees, the landscapist said evergreen trees can be pruned all year round and this type of pruning strengthened the trees.
But Mr Cremona believes it is unprofessional to prune olive trees out of season. The only time to prune them was in January and February, when the temperature at night fell to below 10°C for a whole week, he said.
Since this winter was colder than usual, pruning could probably have taken place until March, at the very latest, but June was way out of season because olive trees grew their fruit at this time of year.
“We’re experiencing high temperatures, so trees pruned at this time of year might die. If they don’t, they will deteriorate because they’re now vulnerable to diseases.
“Pruning out of season can trigger dormant viruses because the tree would be at its weakest,” Mr Cremona explained.
One of the most common viruses spreadable among olive trees is the contagious olive knot, which could be spread through contact and contaminated tools.
Chainsaws used to prune olive trees have to be sterilised and the wound protected from diseases with a special coating.
He added that if the branches were cut because they were ill, the tree should still have been pruned in the first three months before it sprouted fruit and all removed material should be “intelligently” disposed of not to spread the disease.
“It seems as if they did not know what they were doing. The tree should have been pruned professionally and only the sick branches should have been cut off.
“From the published photos, it appears even healthy branches were cut off,” he said.
Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino agreed that the pruning was carried out in an unprofessional manner.
“I cannot call this pruning in any way. It seems more like official vandalism on urban trees, without any expertise or professionalism,” he said, adding it was impossible that these “pruned trees” could ever grow into “proper” olive trees and bear fruit.
Mr Baldacchino insisted that lack of appreciation and proper management of trees was common across the island.
“In the past four or five years, Malta has seen the unjustifiable destruction of established urban trees under one excuse or other, but all motivated by commercial motives.”
Mr Baldacchino also believes that importing trees does not help conserve Maltese indigenous species, especially the rare and threatened ones.
Importing living species, including trees, was regulated by regulations emanating from EU obligations and Malta had suffered greatly as a result of the lack of enforcement of such regulations, Mr Baldacchino said.
Invasive alien species such as the red palm weevil, which killed about 500 palm trees; the African long-horned beetle, that devastated the local population of mulberry trees and recently also fig trees; and the geranium bronze butterfly had a negative financial and social impact on the Maltese islands, he added.
The Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC) – of whom conservationist Foppe Seekles holds Maltese membership – distanced itself from the issue he raised.
While it commended the fact that someone wanted to defend the value of the trees, it said a dispute between a person (who accidentally happened to be an EUCC representative) and someone who was cutting branches was not in EUCC’s interest.
“(Foppe) Seekles is within his rights when he wants to defend these trees he thinks are in danger (of which the local authorities will judge whether this is the case or not) but this is and should be as a private person and not as an EUCC representative. EUCC has a neutral position in this and cannot be biased by this kind of turmoil,” it said.
EUCC also pointed out that Mr Seekles was not the organisation’s executive president but the president of its Maltese membership branch.