Landscaping, roads and tree protection
Roadside trees are in the news more than ever this year, or rather their disappearance is, as some of our prized leafy green giants have been erased clean off the map with worse to come.
Much is made of plantings in afforestation projects but safeguarding trees, with the exception of a few rare examples, has been whittled down since a 2001 legal notice was amended last year.
The recent laying of cement over soil in Mdina ditch, much of which was previously a citrus orchard – now being turned into a concrete platform with holes for trees – has been described by one local observer as an act of “Taliban barbarity”.
Trees are steadily being removed or subjected to severe pruning worthy of a rampant Edward Scissorhands mentality.
The trans-European road network project, which is set to run the entire length of Malta, uprooting a number of protected trees as it goes along, is only part of the problem.
Majestic landmark trees outside the Mellieħa sanctuary have been chopped down because the new legal notice does not offer them any protection, while parking spaces appear to be at a premium. It was claimed that the trees were less than 50 years old, and therefore not protected by the new legal notice.
In other cases uprooted trees have been replaced at great public cost by imported non-native species, as at the new Valletta bus terminus.
The public-private partnership, which has seen the Environmental Landscapes Consortium take over management of the government nurseries and plants along roads and centre strips, began as an experiment in 2002.
In a deal between the Office of the Prime Minister and the unions that represented the workers, ex-dockyard workers were employed by the Department of Agriculture’s Urban Rural Landscape Section that existed at the time.
The second five-year contract between the government and the consortium expires in October. The consortium’s use of frequently replaced non-native species in landscaping calls for constant watering while profits on imported plants explain the high turnover.
Replacing roadside trees that have died with decorative trees is part of the consortium’s brief, with an overall budget of nearly €7 million claimed by the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs as part of its annual landscaping expenses funded by the taxpayer.
The dire situation is reflected in comments on Facebook groups set up to save trees in Malta:
“Trees in streets are systematically being butchered by fools who think they know how to prune trees.” (Save the Trees)
The trend for burning real logs in fireplaces also appears to be fuelling what has been referred to as “state vandalism” on our wayside trees.
One online campaigner (I Care About Trees) alleges that Malta’s main supplier of imported trees keeps people in high authority supplied with free logs for their fireplaces, as reportedly confirmed by the supplier himself.
This brings to mind a news item which appeared in the Hindustan Times in India (‘Trees hacked in the name of pruning’, April 19), although in this case the misdeed was apparently without the blessing of the government or its agencies.
Delhi residents complained that excessive pruning was being done in the wrong season, causing possible damage to the trees. They also claimed that the wood was taken away and sold at a high price to crematoriums.
The new legislation in Malta came into force last year expressly “to simplify the procedure for pruning, felling or uprooting of protected trees”. While rare trees were given even stricter protection on paper, the rest of the trees on the island were made more vulnerable.
The new law toys with direct accountability, removing responsibility from the director of environment (in consultation with the director responsible for agriculture) for the administration and implementation of tree protection regulations, and placing it on the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
Despite this, the authority is not involved or consulted over species used in landscaping of public areas. The political responsibility for the management of trees within the development zone should be under the agriculture ministry (Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs); however this seems to have devolved entirely into the hands of the consortium.
Public horror at the ongoing tree slaughter has not gone unnoticed. Environment Protection Directorate comments on the environment impact assessment for Kennedy Grove TENS-T road works at present include a recommendation to save mature trees in Kennedy Drive by integrating them into the landscaping scheme, even including them in a proposed centre strip.
An additional line of trees is called for by the directorate on the outer flank of the widened road to retain the character of a tree-lined avenue.
A site where mature carob trees were obliterated by a large illegal concrete platform is proposed as a planning obligation to reinstate with planting of carob trees at the same spot once the platform is removed as part of the road permit conditions.
Younger tamarisks planted in the road’s path near Magħtab will have to be transplanted with due attention given to maximising the transplant success rate.