Some 480 trees have been uprooted so far this year as the government mulls over a set of new protection laws that lobbyists insist could not come soon enough.
Conservationists have called for an investigation into the removal of trees from various localities in recent weeks, saying the laws protecting trees urgently needed to be bolstered.
The Times of Malta has received numerous complaints about trees that have been removed from towns and villages this year, including an old Holm oak tree just outside Valletta’s Upper Barrakka, an iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija, and some 14 mulberry trees in Victoria.
The Environment Ministry on Monday said that of the nearly 500 uprooted trees, around 300 had been transplanted in other areas.
Experts, however, have repeatedly raised concerns about the relocation of trees, warning transplants were often unsuccessful.
Asked about the removal of trees, the ministry said that although several had been removed, developers had been requested to introduce more than 2,000 trees as “compensatory planting”.
Last week the Times of Malta reported how the 2001 Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations had been changed back in 2011 to make way for construction and roadworks.
The original law had included a list of about 54 species that could not be removed, but according to one of the drafters of the original regulations, the government had come under pressure from the construction and road works lobby to relax the restrictions.
The list of protected trees was chopped in half and some clauses were reworded.
A section of the original law, protecting “all trees older than 50 years” irrespective of whether they were on the protected list or not, was removed entirely.
The government had announced plans in February to review the laws protecting trees. However, although a public consultation period closed in March, environmentalists have pointed out there was still no word on when the reformed law would be enacted.
An Environment Ministry spokesman on Monday told the Times of Malta that in principle the new amendments strived to increase penalties on illegalities and increase the number of protected trees species.
The spokesman said the Environment and Resources Authority would be passing a final version of the amendments to Cabinet shortly.
“The amendments will effectively lead to an unprecedented increase in protected species covered by the current legislation and its earlier 2001 version,” the spokesman said.
The new amendments being proposed will see all trees over 50 years protected once again.
Asked about the dwindling number of trees on the island, the spokesman said the government expected to plant some 12,000 trees by end of the year.
The spokesman also pointed out that ERA had recently doubled the amount of Tree Protection Areas (TPAs) to 60 sites spread over the island, and work was at an advanced stage on the identification of additional Tree Protection Areas.