Some 50 people turned up on Sunday for a guided nature excursion into Wied tal-Grazzja between Victoria and Marsalforn, which highlighted the environmental ruin which road widening in the area will cause.

The event was organised by Malta-Arch and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAH).

Enthnobiologist Timothy J. Tabone led the group down the road that is to be widened and straightened, uprooting over 230 trees and destroying agricultural land and natural habitats in the process, FAH said.

During the walk, Tabone pointed out many threatened indigenous trees, including the Narrow-Leaved Ash (Fraxinus Angustifolia) and the White Poplar (Populus Alba). These trees, among Malta’s most highly-protected, were not indicated on the landscaping plans submitted by the Ministry for Gozo and approved by ERA.

"These large old trees dominate the landscape, and it is hard to understand how the Ministry for Gozo or ERA could have missed them. Outrageously, the ERA screening concludes that the project did not require an Environment Impact Assessment, as it provided no “significant environmental impact”, the NGO said. 

"Needlessly widening the road will have a huge environmental impact. These trees play a critical role in filtering out air pollutants and combating climate change. The project will also destroy rare natural habitats for threatened species. Finally, removing the trees and green spaces threatens the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of Gozo’s residents."

Tabone explained how the project would devastate habitats critical to indigenous species, such as the Moorhen—an endangered waterbird. Rare plants, such as the Bulrush (Typha domingensis) and Sea Clubrush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), are also of grave conservation concern. These species grow near flowing freshwater streams (a scarce resource in Malta and Gozo) making them especially vulnerable to the road-widening project.

"Even if their habitats are not completely wiped out, the influx of heavy vehicles, machinery and construction materials poses threats to their survival when their protection should be a top priority," the NGO added.

Tabone also shared fascinating stories connecting the plants to Maltese heritage and folklore. For instance, the ‘fluff’ of the Bullrush (Scirpoides holoschoenus) served to bind wounds. The Mediterranean Star Thistle (Centaurea nicaeensis) or ‘Xewk tal-Għotba’ was widely employed to treat Brucellosis. Meanwhile the White Hedge-Nettle (Prasium majus), also known as ‘Te Sqalli’, was historically used as a tea substitute by poor communities, especially during World War II. Additionally, non-indigenous plants like the Loquat fruit trees (‘Naspli’) played important roles in providing food.

He also delved into the origins of archaic Maltese words that drew from such plant names, illustrating how public memory and the language itself is intertwined with nature. Such linguistic heritage increases the imperative that our natural sites remain untouched.  Additionally, the claim that the road was being reconfigured to improve safety, was belied by the police confirmation that the road does not have a track record of serious traffic accidents or congestion. Everyone at the meeting agreed that the road is never congested and that the claim was a mere cover-up designed to funnel more money to the developers.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar insisted that the widening of the road is not needed and said co-funding by the European Union blatantly contravenes EU measures aimed at combating climate change.

"This so-called “upgrade” will transform an idyllic road and landscape into a dangerous motorway serving no one’s interest, other than the developers and their political cronies. It must be halted immediately," the NGO said. 

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