Updated 5pm - Added government reply
A decades-old tree outside the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta has been chopped down, with authorities saying it was "dangerous to passers-by".
The large Holm Oak was removed some days ago, with photos of the remaining tree stump trickling out onto social media and prompting consternation from local Facebook users.
A spokesman for the parliamentary secretary for agriculture said the tree was "uprooted" - it was in fact cut down - "due to damage it had in its main trunk and branches, thus making the tree dangerous to passers by."
They did not elaborate any further, save for saying that the environmental regulator had issued a permit to remove the tree and that additional trees would be planted elsewhere.
Times of Malta sought an explanation from the Environment and Resources Authority and the Environment Ministry. Both had yet to reply at the time of writing.
Valletta mayor Aleixei Dingli told Times of Malta that the council had only found out that the tree had been chopped down on Monday morning.
“We asked for an explanation, and were told that the tree was removed because it had died,” he said. “The least they could have done was inform us beforehand.”
Holm Oaks are a hardy tree species which are generally not susceptible to many untreatable diseases. One exception is root rot, which is however associated with waterlogged trees rather than trees planted into roadside paving.
Local laws list Holm Oaks as a Schedule II protected species, meaning all trees older than 50 years old and within Urban Conservation Areas are protected.
The chopped down tree qualifies on both fronts, with Valletta designated a UCA area and the tree visible in wartime photos of the capital.
Photos uploaded to Facebook by architect and environmental activist Edward Said which date back to World War II feature the tree in the background. The photos quickly gained traction, as social media users expressed outrage at the historic tree’s sudden removal.
Mr Said told Times of Malta that he had contacted Environment Minister José Herrera after discovering that tree had been chopped down.
“He replied immediately and told me that he had asked the ERA to investigate,” Mr Said noted.
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