Inwadar afforestation ‘dream come true’ for park managers

Tree-planting will have to be sensitive to coastal environment and follow meticulous process to respect terrain and ecosystem

A much welcome €20 million afforestation project for the Inwadar National Park will follow a rigorous process enshrined in a management plan to ensure indigenous trees that are planted withstand sea spray and strong north-easterly winds, while existing garigue areas is protected.

The Budget announcement was made weeks after a group of 24 architects and engineers released a proposal for a similar project in the area. The group proposed the planting of 40,000 indigenous trees in the park which stretches from Marsaskala to Xgħajra.

Dr Steve Borg, chairman of the park’s governance board, described the investment as a “dream” for anyone involved in the management of parks and a continuation of the sterling work undertaken since 2016.  “This investment is unprecedented but it can only take place because of the groundwork that is already in place.”

Dr Borg said the afforestation in the area has to be compatible with the marine coastal environment and prevailing north easterly winds.

Nature Trust President Vince Attard also welcomed the “much needed” afforestation project and called for a scientific approach that ensures the trees are resistant to the saline environment and exposure to the gregale winds. “Inwadar is not comparable to Miżieb which is more akin to a valley-type environment… This is a coastal environment affected by sea spray and has a different type of soil,” Attard told MaltaToday.

Borg said salt-tolerant trees like the tamarisk (Tamarix africana) and the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) are usually ideal in this environment and provide protection to other indigenous tress grown further inland.

Borg, who has already met the group of architects who proposed an afforestation project in the park, excludes planting trees directly on garigue areas which harbour protected endemic plants like the Maltese sea chamomille (Antemis urvilleana). Garigue areas in the park also include the largest concentration of iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) in Malta. “These areas are being cleaned manually, thereby enhancing natural regeneration, whereas invasive alien plants are also being removed,” Borg said.

However, the park also includes heavily disturbed and degraded areas where planting trees and shrubs can be proposed in the management plan.  “This involves a meticulous process which ensures sensitive planting which respects the terrain and eco system,” Borg said.

It will be the Environment and Resources Authority to approve which trees, shrubs and plants can be planted or not, on the basis of scientific reports.

One major issue identified by both Borg and Attard is irrigation. Attard pointed out that the trees would need a continuous supply of water for the first three years. But drip-irrigation is not ideal, as this would leave tree roots exposed. This problem can be addressed through the use of ‘new water’ from the nearby sewage treatment plant at Ta’ Barkat.

“Irrigation derived from ‘new water’ from the waste treatment plant in Ta’ Barkat is crucial for the growth of the trees during the initial years, to ensure that their roots are firmly anchored in the soil and can withstand Gregale weather conditions,” Borg said. “Watering of the trees which have already been planted at San Anard and the hundreds of tamarisks planted on the coastal areas is presently made by Parks Malta. The required infrastructure, including laying of pipes and water dispensers is currently being undertaken.”

What has happened in the park in past five years

The park was announced in 2016 after 18,000sq.m of neighbouring land outside development zones that had been designated in the local plan as parkland, was transferred to the American University of Malta.

Since 2019, the park has legally been declared a special area of conservation of national importance, making permitting more rigorous.

In the past five years, 1,000 tones of illegally dumped waste was removed from the park, which includes arable lands on higher grounds, and marine garigue on the coastal areas.

Works undertaken in the past years included the commencement of restoration of garigue areas and the planting of 200 indigenous trees and shrubs in the San Anard woodland, planted in 1971 with indigenous and alien species, but abandoned in subsequent years, from which more than 300 tonnes of dumped waste was removed.

The indigenous trees species already planted are the carob (Ceratonia siliqua), holm oak (Quercus ilex), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus) and Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis).

A designated coastal recreational area fully equipped with BBQ sets will also help in keeping visitors from straying on natural areas. A solar-powered CCTV system with night vision has also been installed in various parts of the park.

Steve Borg explained that afforestation in the park has already commenced and follows meticulous planning procedures, based on a management plan brief issued in 2016, and constant baseline studies and consultation and approval with ERA and other regulatory bodies like the SCH, which guide Parks Malta, the government entity responsible for implementing projects in parks.

A management plan for the park for 2022-2027, based on detailed field studies of the terrain and the input of leading botanists is also being concluded. This will be the guiding tool for major projects and initiatives in the park, replacing the brief issued in 2016 which was based on desktop studies.

Borg underlined the importance of a long-term approach to park management. “Managing a national nature park is not a development project which one can implement over a set timeframe, but something which contains living and organic vegetational communities which require constant attention and curation.”