An arborist and forester working on the pruning of the 145 mature trees in Valley Road, Birkirkara, has pledged that the tree canopy will remain and no trees will be chopped down.

“Let me be very clear, the pruning in Valley Road is to help maintain the urban gallery that has developed there,” Charles Grech told Times of Malta. “The tree canopy will remain there, and I will do everything in my power to protect it.”

Last month, Moviment Graffitti raised the alarm about the pruning of the road’s trees, describing as “pure butchery” plans by Infrastructure Malta to prune the trees lining the road from Birkirkara to Msida.

However, last week the NGO said most of its concerns had been addressed and it was satisfied that the works would be conducted with the necessary sensitivity.

“During this process, we are maintaining and managing the trees properly,” Grech said, adding that such an intervention should have taken place 10 or even 20 years ago.

“Ideally, we manage and prune our trees correctly and more often so that we would not have to carry out such a large intervention like this.”

Interview with Charles Grech. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

A professional forester for over 30 years and an environmental management professional, Grech proposed the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations in 1993. He has worked in the environmental industry to push for the protection of Malta’s biodiversity and trees.

Emergency works in Valley Road began last week and the road will be closed to traffic bet­ween 9pm and 5am every day until March 10.

The tender for the works provides for the hard pruning of the tree’s canopy by up to six metres. It also requires the removal of any low-hanging branches and those touching nearby buildings.

Grech said that meetings with Infrastructure Malta and Environment and Resources Authority officials are held regularly to check the progress of the work.

He will also keep in touch with members of Moviment Graffitti and BirdLife Malta.

“I believe both NGOs are doing a sterling service to the nation by bringing core issues to our attention for discussion,” he said.

Wires from which banners were hung have been left in the trees and need to be removed with pliers.Wires from which banners were hung have been left in the trees and need to be removed with pliers.

He emphasised that no trees would be felled and the canopy would be maintained as a habitat for nesting birds.

“When I first heard that we can prune the trees’ canopy by up to six metres, I shivered at the thought,” he said. “I want us to be careful with what we have in Birkirkara. We already lost similar canopies in Żebbuġ and Żabbar, I will make sure we retain the canopies in Birkirkara and Naxxar. No trees will be pruned up to six metres, no one wants to do that and we do not have to do so.”

As soon as works started last week, social media was flooded with pictures of one tree with its branches completely cut off, with concerns raised over the fate of the rest of the trees.

'Branches removed to avoid tragedy'

Grech said the tree’s limbs and branches were removed in what is known as tree lopping, intended to avoid serious road accidents.

“When a tree is leaning into the road and vehicles are trying to avoid it, you know they are avoiding an accident. A tragedy happened in 2018. I want to do my best to avoid something similar.”

In 2018, two tourists were killed when a double-decker bus hit low-lying tree branches in Valletta Road, Żurrieq.

“The way the tree has been pruned, it will grow back,” Grech added.

He is concerned about another tree but will be discussing the situation with officials and the NGOs to make a collective decision on how to tackle it.

The tree that was pruned (lopped) because it was leaning into the road and could have caused an accident.The tree that was pruned (lopped) because it was leaning into the road and could have caused an accident.

The work involves more than simply pruning trees.

“We are removing dead tree brunches, pruning low-hanging branches that interfere with traffic, and branches that are overtopping other branches and hindering them from growing, as well as clearing up the rubbish left,” he said.

“Apart from all that, we also found a lot of wire tied from one tree to another from which to hang banners. The wire was left there and when the trees grew, they became tangled. Now we need to remove all the wire and tangled branches by cutting through them with pliers.”

Grech suggested that a regular management regime for planting should be introduced.

“Not just for when it comes to pruning, but also when it comes to dealing with planting flowers or trees in our urban spaces. We need to understand how to manage the care, growth and development of such species,” he said.

He wants people to be informed and understand the work being done.

“We don’t want to alarm people. We want to listen to each other, to understand what is best for the citizens, and also to protect our trees and habitats that live in their branches.”

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