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Tree protection laws ‘pruned for developers’

List of protected trees cut by half

The remains of the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The remains of the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Robust laws protecting trees were “pruned” years ago and fresh efforts by this government to revive them left a lot to be desired, a veteran environmental expert told the Times of Malta.

“It is obvious trees are seen as an obstacle to development and roadworks. Why else would this administration be taking so long to reverse a decision, made by their predecessors, if not to continue facilitating construction,” the former deputy director at the environment protection directorate, Alfred Baldacchino, said.

Conservationists on Tuesday called for an investigation into the needless “massacre” of trees in various localities, saying the laws had to be bolstered.

A number of trees – some of them landmarks – were removed from urban areas over the past weeks, including 14 mulberry trees in Victoria, a Holm oak tree just outside the Upper Barrakka, in Valletta, and the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija.

Mr Baldacchino said the scaling back of the protective status enjoyed by various tree species had started as a result of pressure on successive administrations by the construction and roadworks lobbies.The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27

He was among the officials responsible for drafting the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations back in 2001. This included a list of about 54 species that could not be removed.

Mr Baldacchino said that although the original law contained loopholes that allowed protected trees to be uprooted or chopped down if special permission was obtained, the authorities still came under pressure from “certain interests” to amend the law.

“Eventually, the government gave in and, in 2011, the law I had drafted was amended. I protested at the decision but, ultimately, this is what happened,” Mr Baldacchino recalled.

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27 and some clauses were reworded. A section of the original law, protecting “all trees older than 50 years” irrespective of whether they were on the protected list or not, was removed entirely.

The government last February announced plans to review the laws protecting trees and woodlands, however, although a public consultation period closed in March, Mr Baldacchino pointed out there was still no word on when the reformed law would be enacted.

“This is what happens in this country, we drag our feet and, in the meantime, old trees are cut down to make way for slightly wider roads or someone else wanting to enlarge a garage,” Mr Baldacchino said.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

New regulations on the protection of trees would be submitted to the Cabinet in the coming weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, sources at the Environment and Resources Authority said complaints on the cutting down of trees had been received in recent weeks and a meeting on the matter was scheduled to be held in the next few days.

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