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Safeguarding biodiversity - José Herrera

Malta is adorned with diverse characteristics when defining our identity, one of which is certainly biodiversity. However, this is often misinterpreted, and many compare Malta’s biodiversity to that of continental Europe, where the habitats, species and climatic regime are different.

One evident concern for Malta is its lack of forests and woodlands, these being limited to legally protected, very old, multi-century oak forest remnants, old olive groves and other areas with rare trees.

At the Ministry for the Environment, we are striving to increase our woodland coverage. The ministry has issued new regulations and management plans promoting the restoration of habitats and afforestation, the control of alien species, the protection of existing trees and woodlands through new Tree Protected Areas and the restoration of illegal dumping areas.

Two important milestones were achieved in 2016 and 2017, when 22 management plans and eight conservation orders were issued for all terrestrial Natura 2000 sites and 30 new Tree Protected Areas (TPAs) were protected under the Environment Protection Act, doubling the protection of existing protected tree and woodland areas. This was a fundamental step towards safeguarding what we have, and in managing our land in an appropriate manner, to ensure our well-being and sustainability for the next generation.

This approach will also be implemented through the new Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations currently available to the public for consultation, which aim to further strengthen the protection of our wooded heritage.

Furthermore, in 2016 we issued new regulations on invasive alien species to complement existing national regulations, to defend our native and endemic biodiversity. A national strategy on invasive alien species is being developed by ERA, together with a set of codes of practice, which will be issued for public consultation in the coming months.

With respect to illegal dumping and land reclamation, new regulations have been issued for consultation to provide additional tools to address long-standing enforcement notices on illegal dumping and promoting the regeneration of land through afforestation and restoration with native trees, shrubs and other plants.

Such tools help increase forest cover in Malta, and judging from the majority of comments received, they have been very positively considered by stakeholders and civil society, with constructive comments currently being taken into consideration.

Such a strategic approach is also being followed up through implementation, with ERA and PARKs being particularly active in this regard.

Funds have been directed towards the implementation of Natura 2000 management plans. New nursery equipment is being purchased by ERA and PARKs to enable increased propagation and availability of native tree species through growing trees from seeds and cuttings obtained from local genetic stock.

Afforestation and restoration projects are ongoing or in the pipeline for this year and up to 2020, all taking into consideration national and international law, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention and EU Nature Directives and Invasive Alien Species Regulations. Monitoring plans are also being implemented through co-funded national and EU projects.

Another important project being undertaken is the Comino afforestation project, wherein over 3,500 trees will be planted over the coming weeks.

Our aim to increase our woodland coverage and introduce other initiatives in relation to afforestation poses new challenges, which the government is committed to taking and implementing.

José Herrera is Minister for the Environment.

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