Environment Minister José Herrera has earmarked an area in the middle of Malta to transform into a “mini-Buskett” which would be large enough to encourage wildlife to settle.

“Malta is crying out for trees,” Dr Herrera told The Sunday Times of Malta.

“It will be located towards the centre of the island and will be a decent-sized, self-sustainable park – large enough for wildlife to settle again,” he said, refraining from pinpointing the exact location.

“I am very disappointed that over the past five years, the amount of afforestation has been minimal… only around a thousand trees a year.”

Research was done to find suitable sites available for government use, confirmed through the government property division, and suitable for afforestation with indigenous trees.

They included disused landfills with a potential for rehabilitation (capped and landscaped) into over 50 tumoli.

Malta is crying out for trees

The initial part of securing the selected site is now being finalised. A special committee will then draw up an action plan and budget accordingly.

The minister said that one of his first tasks upon taking office was to appoint an ad hoc committee for the sole purpose of carrying out an afforestation project of indigenous trees covering an area of over 50 tumoli in Malta.

The committee will also work towards extending the coverage of wooded areas across the islands, as well as preserving and enhancing local indigenous trees.

“I am very much against the insensitivity of certain contractors here in Malta, who plant trees or shrubs which do more harm than good, since they are not endemic. While some alien species may be planted, others create a lot of harm, because they destroy the surrounding natural habitat.

“I would like to see the planting of trees which are endemically Maltese. This is something I think we should even legislate on.”

The committee’s priorities also include increasing the availability of wooded areas for countryside recreation, as well as increasing the “sense of connectedness” to nature in the Maltese population.

Green NGOs have long advocated for the implementation of the Tree Protection Act, which was drafted in 2013 to replace the controversial 2011 law that left most trees on the island without any protection and made it easier for developers to get rid of trees that got in the way of development.

The draft protection law has since been shelved.

Dr Herrera said he had met a number of environmental NGOs that stressed to him the necessity of introducing the revamped law.

The draft legislation, which took into account the NGOs’ view, is currently being finalised, Dr Herrera said.

Once the draft legislation is concluded, it will go through the normal consultation process prior to being tabled in Parliament.