The olive branch may be the traditional symbol of peace but it was the root of all evil yesterday morning, when a horticulturist and a conservationist came to blows in Rabat.

The brawl took place in the scorching sun under the olive trees, with a shrilly wood shredder as a background noise.

Landscapist Manuel Ciantar was engaged by the Rabat local council to clear up broken branches and cut “sick”ones. But work was interrupted by resident Foppe Seekles, 65, who was upset at what he termed “aggressive” pruning he believed was “killing the trees”.

Mr Seekles, a Dutchman resident in Malta for the past six years, went to where Mr Ciantar was cutting the branches and demanded he switch off the chainsaw. According to Mr Seekles, who is also the executive president of the Coastal and Marine Union, the pruner just shrugged and went about his business. Mr Ciantar later said that he could not hear a thing as he was wearing protective ear plugs. Eventually he switched off the pruner.

Mr Seekles repeatedly demanded that he call his boss “to tell you how to prune trees properly” and if he went on working, he would have “to stop” him. He also put his hand on the pole pruner (a long chainsaw).

One of the pruned trees. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiOne of the pruned trees. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Mr Ciantar said he was immediately concerned that this “gentleman” whom he had “never seen in his life before”, was trying to snatch the chainsaw from his hands. “I could not let him do that – I am responsible for my tools,” he said.

A clash ensued. Mr Seekles claimed he was elbowed and punched in the chest several times, ending up with several bruises.

But Mr Ciantar insisted he was merely fighting to get back his chainsaw: “I had to have an X-ray because of the strain on my neck and back to get back the chainsaw.”

Then both men headed to their mobile phones: Mr Ciantar called his contracting manager and Mr Seekles the police. They arrived on site and told Mr Seekles that if he kept stopping the man from working, they would have to arrest him.

A shocked Mr Seekles told them: “You have to arrest him, he is violating trees.”A dedicated conservationist with a background in civil engineering and architecture, he said he “favoured the wise use of nature”.

“This behaviour is not connected to a civilised country,” he said, adding he would be taking the case up in court.

This was not the right time to prune trees, he insisted.

“And you don’t prune them like that – only in Malta they do that.”

He said he had spoken about the issue to Resources Minister George Pullicino several times. “Those trees will die, they can’t survive.”

Mr Ciantar said evergreen trees can be pruned all year round and that this type of pruning strengthened the trees.

Rabat Mayor Sandro Craus said that after the accident, the council’s contract manager immediately stopped the pruning contract.

“The council will now seek advice on the matter and if need be will issue a default notice,” he said.

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