Towering trees along Valley Road to get a shaving

No trees will be uprooted but canopies will be reduced by six metres in project aimed at safeguarding trees’ health and addressing potential hazards

(Photo: James Bianchi / MaltaToday)
(Photo: James Bianchi / MaltaToday)

Infrastructure Malta is at the final stages of awarding a tender for a substantial pruning of 145 ficus trees lining Valley Road in Birkirkara and Msida.

The exercise will reduce the tree canopy by a maximum of six metres and is sanctioned by a permit issued by the Environment and Resources Authority in July.

In its request for a permit, Infrastructure Malta claimed the trees had overgrown, with some branches protruding onto the carriageway. IM also pointed out that “the trees have grown way too tall, and hence risk collapse”.

A case officer report by an ERA official recommending the approval of the pruning acknowledged that such pruning could be “perceived as drastic” but concluded that it will not significantly affect the trees and their health.

Apart from removing alien creepers growing on the trees, the work will involve the lowering of the tree canopies “by around five to six metres” with the aim of reducing road hazards and minimise the risk of tree collapse.

The report states most of the trees have outgrown the existing buildings along the road and in times of heavy wind, these are considered a hazard.

Moreover, the pruning is aimed to consolidate the canopy to avoid the collapse of the trunks supporting the shoots.

Contacted by MaltaToday Infrastructure Malta chief executive officer Ivan Falzon confirmed that a contract is expected to be signed shortly for the works to start.

Falzon explained that the decision to undertake the tree pruning stems from a collaborative effort involving Transport Malta and the Local Council, following complaints by residents who have “consistently raised issues related to the overgrown trees along Valley Road”.

To ensure a well-informed approach, IM has commissioned an arborist report and the decision to pursue the pruning was based on the recommendations outlined in the report. Subsequently a permit was secured from the ERA to ensure the pruning is carried out responsibly as outlined in a method statement.

“We would like to underscore that the primary objective of this undertaking is to mitigate safety concerns, enhance the longevity of the existing trees, and preserve the integrity of the surrounding infrastructure,” Falzon said.

A spokesperson for ERA confirmed that no trees will be uprooted or removed, and the permit is meant to prevent further damage to the same trees and their surroundings, especially during strong winds.

Moreover, the request for pruning was approved with several applicable conditions including by a technically competent person.

The permit states that pruning shall be limited to reduce the canopy by a maximum of 6m from the top of the canopy; prune branches within the canopy to minimise wind sailing effect; and eliminate water sprouts and alien species. The pruning shall take place in stages over an entire year with intervals between batches of trees which are intervened upon and will be completed in 18 months.

Contacted by MaltaToday biologist and Bird Life’s Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara acknowledged that there can be circumstances where pruning is needed but he also reiterated calls for more rigorous guidelines and permit conditions to ensure that such works are done sensitively to minimise the impact on both the trees and the fauna which live in their canopies.

For example, permits should include more rigorous conditions to ensure that pruning is conducted in the winter months when the trees are dormant, thus minimising any damage to trees.

Moreover, he expressed concern that current ERA guidelines regulating these works put the onus of protecting birds during pruning works on the applicant and only refer to nesting birds and not to wintering birds like white wagtails and starlings and birds like Spanish sparrows who roost all year round.

“The guidelines and permitting procedures should also be more sensitive to the function of trees as roosting sites for birds and bats”.

As a way of remedying such lacunas, Barbara proposed that ERA should conduct site inspections by its own officers or by approved ecologists or ornithologists before granting such a permit.

In fact, the case officer report for the pruning of the 145 trees in Valley Road does refer to a site visit by ERA conducted with the applicant and an arborist aimed at “better understanding the scope of the works.”

But a similar report recommending the uprooting of 12 trees in Mosta did not refer to a site visit being held before works proposed by the local council were approved.