Back
Register for SMS Alerts
or enter your details manually below...
First Name:
Last Name:
Email:
Password:
Hometown:
Birthday:
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.
Existing users
Email
Password
Sorry, we couldn't find those details.
Enter Email
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.

Environmental expert bemoans ‘tree-hating Malta’

The environment ministry published a report on afforestation and ecological restoration in Malta and opened it up for public consultation. PAUL COCKS spoke to Prof. Louis F. Cassar and Dr Elisabeth Conrad, the report’s co-authors, to get a clearer picture of Malta’s pastures green

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks
1 September 2016, 1:00pm
'The rate of urban development over 7,000 years of more or less permanent human habitation on the Maltese islands has increased more than threefold in the last three decades or so.' - Louis F. Cassar (Photo: Raphael Vassallo)
'The rate of urban development over 7,000 years of more or less permanent human habitation on the Maltese islands has increased more than threefold in the last three decades or so.' - Louis F. Cassar (Photo: Raphael Vassallo)
“It would have been unwise for me not to action this report, which will complement other developments aimed to increase Malta’s natural capital and which will be announced in the coming weeks.”

So stated environment minister Jose Herrera on Tuesday, when he published the report drawn up by Cassar and Conrad, entitled ‘An Outline Strategy For Implementation of a National Restoration and Afforestation Project in the Maltese Islands’.

The minister said he believed the report – which also gives detailed information on the present situation of tree planting in various sites and localities in Malta – could definitely serve as an overarching vision and philosophy for actual and effective implementation of an afforestation strategy. 

Which begets the question: why did the ministry wait 22 months to publish the report? 

MaltaToday learned that Cassar and Conrad submitted their report to then minister Leo Brincat in the first week of November 2014, just weeks after being entrusted with drawing up the report.

The minister advised them that he would be discussing the report with experts within the ministry and with his colleagues in Cabinet.

Cassar and Conrad were tasked with providing an overall strategy for afforestation efforts in Malta, taking in the extent and effectiveness of previous afforestation initiatives implemented in Malta, the long-term actions necessary to safeguard and manage existing sites; and the potential for woodland creation and management in new and suitable locations. 

And it does that.

The report includes a number of both afforestation and restoration actions within rural and urban areas, aimed at maximising both social and ecological benefits to the greatest degree possible.

Cassar explained that the strategy proposed seeks to provide increased recreational space, to enhance exposure to nature in urban areas, to extend and buffer existing areas of natural habitat, and to increase the provision of associated ecosystem services wherever possible. 

“We lack trees,” he said, as if that explained everything. And, surprisingly, it does.

He then highlighted one cause for this: “We are a tree-hating nation.”

Not enough care and attention was paid to enhancing the environment, such as in what trees to plant in which location, together with which shrubs, he explained.

Ecosystem services

Tree planting in Malta has to date been guided by specific policies and laws issued under relevant frameworks for environmental protection and spatial planning. 

The seven local plans provide detailed guidelines concerning a variety of relevant aspects, but do not provide for long-term maintenance and management of afforested sites.

Cassar said they would like a more pro-active approach to afforestation and ecological restoration projects, particularly since we have so few such projects.

Conrad added that the country also needed a long-term strategy.

“Projects like Foresta 2000 and Tree 4 U were very good initiatives,” she said. “But we also need to provide for efficient and ongoing monitoring of these sites.”

Conrad explained that green and forested areas also provided services that are of benefit to mankind and which are widely acknowledged to underpin many fundamental economic activities, such as agriculture and fishing, and human development. 

“Trees provide a variety of services, including air pollution reduction, heat mitigation, aesthetic benefits, human engagement with nature, and carbon sequestration.”

The latter is of particular relevance to the project in question, particularly given current concern over mitigation of – and adaptation to – climate change. 

Tree planting in Malta has to date been guided by specific policies and laws issued under relevant frameworks for environmental protection and spatial planning. Photo: Raphael Vassallo
Tree planting in Malta has to date been guided by specific policies and laws issued under relevant frameworks for environmental protection and spatial planning. Photo: Raphael Vassallo
Influence of humans

Cassar said there were some sites in Malta that were not protected or maintained.

“Everything has been influenced by humans,” he said. “And we have a duty to maintain these habitats because, as climate changes happen, the high pressure belt will widen and these habitats will become scarcer.”

Ecological restoration is not only about planting trees, but also about providing a protected environment for other species like birds and insects, Cassar explained.

He said that history had shown that piecemeal solutions would not work, and while there had been an increase in tree cover in the Maltese islands through various afforestation efforts, returns had not equalled investment in many cases, with reasons including vandalism and theft of trees. 

Cassar said that afforestation efforts should also include non-indigenous species for more widespread use in appropriate environments, such as urban areas and public gardens.

“Planting non-indigenous trees allows for more diversity from an aesthetic point of view, but these also provide useful ecosystem services notwithstanding the fact that they may not be native.” 

Ecological restoration is particularly relevant in Malta, especially since pressures on natural areas in the country have continued to increase, with consequent pressures on species and habitats. 

The rate of urban development over 7,000 years of more or less permanent human habitation on the Maltese islands has increased more than threefold in the last three decades or so. 

In their report, Cassar and Conrad concluded that the core aims of the afforestation and restoration initiative should include extending the coverage of wooded areas across the Maltese islands, and buffering existing natural and semi-natural habitat areas to increase their resilience and decrease their vulnerability.

A system of inter-linked habitats (greenways, wildlife corridors and/or biotope networks), should be created, while increasing the availability of wooded areas for countryside recreation and leisure.

Cassar and Conrad insisted it was imperative to seek and ensure the collaboration of all relevant stakeholders to ensure their active participation in the project.

“Any future afforestation initiatives must seek to create a sense of ownership of the project among the public, with this category including those already interested in conservation, those interested in outdoor activities that may not always be seen to be compatible with conservation – such as hunting – as well as those who hold no strong positions relating to conservation.”

It will also be important to introduce concepts of ‘greening’ into areas beyond the countryside, notably in urban environments; the role of local councils and citizens’ groups may be particularly important for this purpose. 

The two experts put forward an outline plan for implementation over six phases: initial strategy, team establishment, site selection and evaluation, identification of goals/objectives and formulation of detailed site plans, project implementation, and monitoring.

They also concluded the project could take up to a year to get going, although project implementation, monitoring and maintenance would be on-going.

Louis F. Cassar Ph.D. is Director of the Institute of Earth Systems at the University of Malta, and also holds adjunct status within the Faculty of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University, in Virginia, USA, where he was based as Fulbright Scholar on a curriculum development assignment. His research interests include several aspects of environmental management and conservation (including landscape ecology, integrated coastal management, participatory methods for stakeholder involvement, and the valuation of ecological resources at landscape scale), as well as specific areas of entomology.

Louis Cassar
Louis Cassar
Elisabeth Conrad Ph.D. is a lecturer with the Division of Environmental Management and Planning of the Institute of Earth Systems, University of Malta and an adjunct faculty member of the Faculty of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University, Virginia. She is an environmental management specialist by training, with her main research and teaching areas including social-ecological systems, protected area management, and landscape conservation. She has also been actively involved in various international research and outreach initiatives, particularly in areas of landscape conservation and management, conservation and ecosystem management, and sustainability.

Elisabeth Conrad
Elisabeth Conrad
paul_cocks
Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...
Latest Environment News
08:40
Veganism is on the rise with more and more people making the move to a plant-based diet. Most traditional Christmas recipes include at least...
08:35
With so many restaurants opening all the time, it takes a special kind of place that encourages repeat vistis. This one hits the spot.
08:30
Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible as is the rest of your stay. Bekki Gaff...
08:25
GMO Internet will pay their employees up to 100,000 yen (€756) monthly in Bitcoin
08:14
At least four have died and another 20 injured, all between the ages of 13 and 17, as a 'serious rail accident' occurred in southern...