[fyeg_gen-l] timesofmalta.com - 'Nobody cares for the woods any more...'

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Tue Apr 25 00:35:13 CEST 2006


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International Forest Week has sent you an article from the timesofmalta.com website.

Hi green friends
next weekend ADZ-Green Youth together with another environmental NGO is celebrating forest week in Malta - our Sumava baby project 2003...

Hope we can keep this going from year to year

Natalie Debono
ADZ-Green Youth

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

< International Forest Week - 'Nobody cares for the woods any more...' >
by Annalise Falzon

So Laments Treebeard, an Ent in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers. This tree-like shepherd of the forest is concerned with the massive deforestation caused by the evil wizard "There was a time when Saruman walked in my woods. Now he has a mind of metal and wheels. He no longer cares for growing things."

It is difficult not to draw analogies between Tolkien's epic The Lord of The Rings and the post-industrial world of environmental degradation, misuse of resources and an awareness which almost comes too late. The awakening of the Ents is slow but the revenge is swift and massive - I am sure many cheered along with me at the success of the Ents who march together to destroy the dark heavy industry at Isengard.

Trees, please?

Today deforestation, desertification and land degradation are an unwelcome reality. But not necessarily an irreversible one. At least on small scales, nature is finding its way back to reclaim its place in long abandoned fields where wild plants, if left undisturbed, can start a process of succession eventually paving the way for longer standing perennial shrubs forming a dense maquis, and eventually a woodland.

I long to see the ancient forests regain their ground, spread their roots and branches and advance onto the land which has been taken away from them. The less trees we have, however, the more they seem to be targets for the axe, or rather, the bulldozer.

Hopefully, the tide is turning, yet there still lingers an uncanny dislike for trees among many Maltese. Trees are disliked because they don't give any fruit, or they make too much of it (which messes up the streets), because they shed leaves (such nuisance!), or because they hold on to their foliage all year round thus blocking the views of the landscape (aren't trees also a view in themselves?).

Other trees are blamed for attracting all sorts of insects or for ruining buildings. Maybe we have been out of touch with nature for too long. Few recognise any of our indigenous trees except maybe for the carob and the olive - how many have heard of, let alone seen, our National Tree? It is a unique tree with a very limited distribution - the Sandarac Gum Tree which is confined mainly to Morocco, Spain and Malta.

No tree should be judged by its uses to man but this is just a brief list of all the services which are provided free... air to breathe; fruits to eat; medicinal extracts to heal; network of roots to prevent floods; shields against wind, sunlight and noise; climate regulation; habitat creation and biodiversity enrichment.

Indigenous trees

We have some 60 indigenous trees and shrubs, most of which are hard to come by as they have been reduced to rarities. It is unfortunate that up to this day indigenous trees such as the tamarisk are still shunned and replaced by exotic palms that give no shade. It is unfortunate that we continue to witness the butchering of many trees through excessive pruning and during building works.

Don't look for regimented trees lined up straight but rather be surprised by the rich variety of species and scents, the dark shining green leaves of the majestic holm oak with their silvery underside, the elegant narrow leaves of the willow tree, the ethereally white poplar, the delicately scented flowers of the myrtle and Spanish broom, the Judas tree celebrating the arrival of spring with its outburst of pink flowers, the soft cool caress of the tamarisk tree on a summer evening, the bright red berries of the hawthorn and the lentisk.

These are but a few of the indigenous trees of our islands - although some species are indeed hard to come by as they have become rarities in our diminishing countryside.

"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them" (Bill Vaughn).

We have quite a few placenames which bear evidence to the past existence of trees ... sad reminders of a greener Malta of the past. Ghajn Rihana (Myrtle), Il-Balluta (the Oak), Wied Znuber (Valley of the Pines), Zebbug (Olive). Many other places seem to be destined to the same fate - Sqaq il-Harrub in Marsascala and Tal-Harrub in Zurrieq still hold majestic carobs but for how long - both still hang in peril awaiting planning decisions.

So many seeds...so few trees

A stroll under an oak tree in winter will bear evidence to the multitude of seeds it bears each year. But why do these never make it to mature trees? Malta has just above one per cent of its land covered with trees. One per cent! With such a meagre figure one cannot but be emotional and cry out at even just one more single tree which is cut down in the name of progress.

Trees of course require space and soil where to grow and such habitats are being eroded away rapidly by building development, valley works, roads and insensitive agricultural reclamation or "clean-up and tidying operations" which clear away hopes of any woodland attempting to regenerate.

Forests in Malta?

Quite probably the Maltese Islands had a much wider coverage of woodland in past millennia. Eventual deforestation, overgrazing and plantations were its demise, while the last blow was struck especially in last century's widespread building boom.

There is something mystical and powerful about ancient trees and woodlands. They demand respect - if only they could speak. Very few remnants of original woodland remain - but herein lie some true "national monuments" as the Antiquities Act of 1925 aptly describes the massive oak trees which have seen a thousand years of life on these islands.

"Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground" (Anon.)

Sixteen years ago Nature Trust volunteers started to plant a woodland for the future. Despite the lack of funds, the cruel vandalistic attacks, the thefts and the countless fires spread by an insistent group of tree-haters, we did not give up.

And today Wied Ghollieqa Nature Reserve counts thousands of indigenous trees, the oldest among which have grown tall and produced their own seeds. It is always amazing to see the look of surprise on young students' faces when they are shown a small acorn which has turned to be the great string oak tree which is already offering them shade.

No forest - no future

We invite you once again to celebrate trees with us as we did last year during the successful International Week of the Forest - an international venture to focus on the plight of forests (www.noforestnofuture.net).

Be the one to help forests set roots again in Malta by supporting afforestation initiatives around the island. Remember, however that a woodland grows slowly - it may take more than your lifetime ...

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. (Nelson Henderson)

The activities are organised by Nature Trust and Argotti Botanic Gardens and supported by ADZ - Green Youth. Participation requires prior booking by Wednesday (on a first come first served basis). No fee is charged but donations are appreciated to help the continuation of conservation initiatives in Malta.

Bookings: ntsec at waldonet.net.mt or call 7947-2950 (12.30-4.30 p.m.).

Annalise Falzon is conservation officer, Nature Trust www.naturetrustmalta.org PO Box 9, Valletta CMR 01

Nature Trust activities

Saturday: Preparing the trees for the future - come and give a hand in Nature Trust's nursery to help us grow indigenous trees for afforestation projects. You will be contributing to making Malta greener!

Venue: Micropropagation Centre, Triq Annibale Preca, Lija.

Time: 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Sunday, 3 p.m.: A walk through a budding woodland.

A woodland in the making - a two-hour walk in the protected area of Wied Ghollieqa - view afforestation and its rewarding results through a timespan of 16 years.

Venue: meeting at 2.45 p.m. at the University of Malta Gateway Building.

Donations for the upkeep of the reserve are welcome and a small token of thanks will be given in return. Nature related publications can be bought on the day.

Special offer on membership during the weekend.

Activity organised by the Argotti Botanic Gardens and Herbarium - University of Malta Section, Floriana

Sunday: A unique opportunity to view this historical and botanical gem. One of the main missions of the section is to protect, propagate and increase awareness on indigenous trees.

Two tours will be led by the curator, Joseph Buhagiar, at 9.30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Booking required.
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This article may also be viewed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/core/article.php?id=221718



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