Valley Road tree-pruning: Plan devised to minimise impact on birds

Pruning of the 145 Valley Road trees will be conducted in three stages to minimise the impact on roosting birds

The pruning of the 145 majestic ficus trees lining Valley Road will be undertaken in three phases to mitigate the impact on roosting birds.

The method statement for the works, which are due to start shortly, was drawn up following extensive consultation with stakeholders undertaken in the past months.

One-third of the trees will be pruned over the next two months, another third will be pruned between July and August, while the final third will be pruned in February 2025.

A report prepared by a qualified arborist recognises the environmental importance of the trees, describing them as “living public resources” with the forest canopy having intrinsic value due to its shade-casting properties, which are an integral part of Birkirkara’s natural heritage.

Moreover, the canopy that has gradually developed at the site serves as a roost for birds while harbouring an ecosystem in a heavily urbanised zone.

Night pruning to minimise traffic disruption

One issue was to avoid major disruption for roosting birds. While Birdlife had recommended pruning should be carried out during daylight hours after the birds have left their roosts and before they return in the evening, Infrastructure Malta insisted that works had to be carried out at night after the evening rush hour as it was not in a position to block a major traffic artery during working hours.

Although a final decision was taken to carry out the works at night, to mitigate the effect on roosting birds, the works will be carried out in stages to ensure that the canopy will always be present. “This will allow birds to move to nearby unpruned trees, whilst the phasing of works will allow already pruned trees to regrow enough foliage to serve as roost alternatives.”

While underlining the ecological importance of the trees, the report also acknowledged that certain trees require hard pruning due to their impact on the structural stability of buildings.

Tree canopy overhangs houses, offices

The report refers to concerns by residents and business owners, noting that the tree canopy has spread wide enough to “overhang people’s houses, apartments, and offices,” and water sprouts are hanging dangerously onto the road, reducing the berth for vehicular and pedestrian access along the kerbs. Moreover, some trees may be subject to windthrow and thus require heavy pruning to avoid dangerous situations. In fact, the first phase of the works will also see the pruning of all branches and foliage which are three metres from properties along the whole length of the road, with the works being carried out over a number of nights to minimise the impact on birds.

The first phase will also see the pruning of all water sprouts along the whole length of the road, with the provision that this work will commence at one end of the avenue to the other in order to allow for free and proper pedestrian access. Intruding branches that interfere with vehicular access will also be pruned to 6 to 6.5 metres above the road level.

Works covered by nature permit

The works are covered by a nature permit issued to Infrastructure Malta by the Environment and Resources Authority last year, following which a tender was awarded to contractor Nicholas Mizzi, who commissioned a professional forester and arborist to oversee the works. Consultation meetings were subsequently held with the Birkirkara local council, residents, and Birdlife Malta to determine the main issues to be taken into consideration in the pruning exercise.

The trees lining this main thoroughfare linking Msida to Birkirkara were planted in the early 1960s and are now close to 60 years old. However, the trees’ canopy has not been pruned for some years, leading to overgrowth and, in some cases, causing problems with residents’ properties.