Rubble walls are part of our cultural heritage, yet few of us realise that, unless action is taken, they could disappear forever. And with them, they will take away that flora which is dependent on these retaining walls. Mark Causon tells Veronica Stivala how the Life Saving Buskett project aims to help.

Buskett is one of the few woodland areas in Malta, which makes it a popular site for picnicking and perhaps the occasional walk. But the area is also the habitat for a number of species, some rare, some even indigenous to the Buskett and Girgenti environs. Unfortunately, the habitats could soon be in danger, one of the main reasons being soil erosion. This is why a project entitled Life Saving Buskett is under way.

Life Saving Buskett is a project part-financed by the European Union Life+ calls created by the Parks department within the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change.

It was launched in August and will run until May 2018.

The Buskett/Girgenti area is a Natura 2000 site, which means it has been designated part of a network of protected nature areas. One of the main aims of the project is to protect the watercourse and its banks supporting the priority habitats and other trees characteristic of riparian woodland.

Riparian woodlands, as they are known, are those on the banks of natural bodies of water and particularly rivers.

To protect the watercourse, the retaining walls (mostly rubble walls) will be repaired, restored or rebuilt. As the name of the walls implies, the walls serve as barriers to retain water.

“The natural topography is a steep slope but has been terraced since at least the time of the Knights of St John in the 17th and 18th centuries,” says Mark Causon, project manager at the Parks Department.

Because the walls have been corroded, destroyed by the weather or snail-picking interferers, they are not serving their original function properly and water is seeping through, depleting the soil of vital chemicals, and causing damage to natural habitats through sedimentation and occlusion of the watercourse.

“Silting of the watercourse chokes the mature trees and buries the saplings, thus affecting negatively the habitat’s regeneration,” Causon says.

He goes on to point out how some retaining walls include arched buttresses over the watercourse. These serve to make the walls stronger but many of these have collapsed and the remaining ones are in danger of doing so.

Causon refers to photographic evidence which suggests that collapse of walls after violent rainstorms leads to huge gouges in the soil retained behind the walls with the erosion of soil. As a result, particular habitats are in danger to the point that mature trees that are hundreds of years old can die.

“The lack of action on such walls,” stresses Causon, “would deteriorate further such habitats since there will be more removal of the substratum and exposure of roots of mature trees leading to their death.”

Reconstruction of these retaining walls would reduce the volume of silt entering the watercourse habitats and, in turn, save the habitats and the natural life that lives and grows there.

The work has already started and visitors to Buskett can expect to see workers on site who are ultimately working to protect our natural environment and save species from becoming extinct. However, the work has been divided so as to cause as little disturbance to visitors as possible who will still be able to picnic and go for walks.