Updated 2.50pm

Activists turned up at Mosta Square on Tuesday morning halting the uprooting of old trees that are being transplanted to another part of the locality in a move that sparked widespread anger.

Moviment Graffitti urged people to join them in protest following uproar on Monday when 12 ficus trees were "pruned" in preparation for uprooting because of embellishment works around the Rotunda.

A young activist makes her voice heard with a message: "Are you going insane?"A young activist makes her voice heard with a message: "Are you going insane?"

Calling placards reading: 'Are you mad?', the group has also called a protest for Wednesday at 6.30pm in front of the local council's offices.

Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus, who grew up in Mosta, criticised the “pruning,” emphasising the shock residents felt at the sight. 

“Yesterday, all Mosta residents were shocked as nobody knew about it… there was no reason for this. We want the trees here,” Callus said, recalling the square always being home to the ficus trees since he was a child. 

Emphasising that the trees also provided shade for locals to chat under in the summer, he said the look of the square would now be significantly less green.

“This is nonsensical. It’s irrelevant if they will transplant the trees somewhere else. Us residents want them here and they are part of our collective memories of this place. There is no reason for this atrocity,” he said

As Callus spoke, one resident joined the protesters' ranks.

“I can’t take it anymore,” Tania Debono said. “What can I say? Why are they doing this? Why? Don’t they take in consideration pollution, the health of their people.”

“I’m not one to protest, but I cannot take it anymore. It is hurting me inside.”

ADPD leader Sandra Gauci, who was also in Mosta, expressed her own disappointment. 

The action has sparked anger. Photo: Daniel TihnThe action has sparked anger. Photo: Daniel Tihn

“This is yet another show of power by those in power. It shows how little green they have,” she said, worried that more and more greenery will be removed while concrete parks will be marketed as green areas. 

“Keep the citizens in mind because we have had enough”

On Monday, BirdLife Malta condemned the "butchering" of the trees that the Mosta local council - with the blessing of the Environment and Resources Authority - said will be relocated to the Santa Margerita area.

ERA said ficus trees usually survive transplanting and this was the best time for them to be relocated. The environmental watchdog also noted that removing the canopy and the smaller branches ensured the trees' survival during transplanting. 

Mosta mayor and architect Chris Grech said the trees would be replaced with indigenous ones. 

Birdlife and environmentalists expressed concern about the many birds that roost in the trees at nightfall.

By Monday evening footage of birds frantically flying over the area looking for a roosting place went viral, drawing even more condemnation on social media. 

The plan is to move the trees to another area in Mosta, known as Santa Margarita. 

When Times of Malta visited that area on Tuesday morning, workers were chopping down various trees there, to make way for the ficus trees being moved from the square.

Workers told journalists that the trees they were cutting down were "sick".  

Rangers hit out at permit for the removal of the trees

"The Malta Ranger Unit in a statement on Tuesday condemned the decision by the Environmental Resources Authority to allow the uprooting of the decades-old ficus trees in Mosta square.

Each of those large trees is protected by the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations which were made law in 2018, the rangers said. 

"Our rangers patrol several woodland areas and educate the public about these important regulations. They make sure no one harms any protected tree under their watch by being on the lookout for anyone cutting trees or kindling fire close to protected trees, which is prohibited by the above mentioned law.

"When the government allows such trees to be cut with impunity, it makes our work to protect the environment harder. Rampant and pointless destruction sends a message to the general public that the law is not for everyone."

Protected trees should be really protected, without the possibility for side-stepping. Projects planned in areas with protected trees should only be approved if the said trees remain there and projects are planned around them especially if those projects are labelled "green," the unit insisted. 

Faculty for Social Wellbeing also condemns uprooting of trees

In a statement later, the Faculty for Social Wellbeing joined the chorus of condemnation saying it could not fathom "the relentless destruction of the environment, or how on earth this serves the public interest of this and future generations".

It called upon the council, the ERA, the Environment Ministry and any other authorities to do their job and "protect what is collectively ours by right.

"We must not stand by passively as we see the little remaining urban greenery being literally chopped down and replaced with concrete. This has to stop. The mental wellbeing of the community is dependent on the environment and this is once again being seriously jeopardised," the faculty said.

Later, Żminijietna also appealed for the decision to remove trees to be revoked. 

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