Several mature trees along the Marsamxett fortifications were felled on Saturday as part of ongoing 'embellishment works'.
The trees' removal appears to be part of a project by the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation, which is upgrading the pavement along the bastion side of Marsamxett and St Sebastian roads in Valletta over the coming months, as part of the regeneration of Valletta.
Last February, when a tender for the works was issued, the GHRC insisted it had consulted experts and acquired a permit from the Environment and Resources Authority for the works.
It said 12 new Judas trees and 18 tamarisk trees would be placed there – but in new planters, rather than in the pavement itself, complete with a new irrigation system.
“Of the existing 54 olive trees, 11 will be transplanted to Hastings Garden together with three tamarisk trees, as per an agreement with the Valletta council,” a spokesman for GHRC told Times of Malta.
“The 11 olive trees were earmarked specifically because they have been felled in the past and have grown outwards – making pedestrian flow difficult."
Residents who flagged the matter to Times of Malta were in disbelief.
“It seems like authorities are hell bent to remove every single tree on the island,” they complained.
“Felling these trees and replacing them with saplings which - if they survive - will take 30 years to grow, makes absolutely no sense at all. Removing the few mature trees in the capital is madness,” they said.
Times of Malta also spoke to the Derek Garden Centre employees who were felling the trees with a chain saw. While empathising with the outraged residents the workers insisted they were following orders.
Works on this embellishment project which stretches to the former War Museum in St Elmo began in recent months.
Environmental NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar was left aghast by the decision to chop down the trees.
"There is no excuse to destroy mature trees that reduce air pollution and provide much-needed shade. Transplanting trees almost never works in Malta, still less does planting trees in pots - all the olive trees that had been planted in pots in Żebbuġ had died," the group said, saying such exercises were just a waste of money.
"Claiming that this is part of an embellishment plan is ludicrous as there is no embellishment as beautiful as a row of mature trees".