Eight Holm oak trees have been placed in Mosta's square for roosting birds, a week after 12 decades-old Ficus trees were heavily pruned ahead of transplanting. 

The potted trees were seen being placed close to the Mosta Rotunda on Monday afternoon. Last week, NGO BirdLife Malta told Times of Malta that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) had promised to install potted trees for birds that previously roosted in the Ficus canopies.

Mosta councillors last week reversed an ERA-approved decision to transplant the mature Ficus trees and replace them with indigenous varieties, following widespread public uproar and protest. 

They said in a Facebook post on Monday that it was a pity that not enough time had been given  for the project to be completed.

The Ficus trees were home to various bird species including White Wagtails (Zakak Abjad), Common Starlings (Sturnell) and Spanish Sparrows (Għasfur tal-Bejt), which all used the birds as a roosting spot during the night. 

Yet following the heavy pruning, the Ficus trees' branches were left bare, leaving the birds with no place to rest. A video taken on the first evening after the pruning showed flocks of birds circling the area above the trees, unable to find a spot to roost. 

The Ficus trees were stripped of their canopies, as diggers loomed large. Photo: Chris Sant FournierThe Ficus trees were stripped of their canopies, as diggers loomed large. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Birds poised to triple within weeks

BirdLife's Mark Sultana estimated that there are some 400 birds in Mosta at the moment, but that number is "expected to triple in coming weeks" as more birds move to migrate south for the winter.

He said that without space for multiple birds to roost together, they will be unable to huddle on colder days, which could lead to the bird population dropping.

According to an ERA case officer’s report, the Mosta local council applied for permission to transplant the trees to improve the design of the square.

The permit was granted despite the report noting that Ficus trees are protected when located within an urban public open space.

The architects behind the Mosta square embellishment project distanced themselves from the decision to uproot and transplant the mature trees. 

Moviment Graffitti activists staged peaceful demonstrations to protect the trees from workers and their looming diggers. On Tuesday afternoon, activist Andre Callus was dragged to the ground and handcuffed by the police, which led to activists spending the night in tents at the site. 

On Wednesday evening, after Mosta's mayor announced the U-turn, Graffitti held a protest where activists said people have the power to effect change when decisions by politicians went against the common good. 

Questions have been sent to the ERA about both its decision to approve the permit as well as the potted trees selected to provide birds with shelter. 

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