The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

Spring is the season to enjoy

Monday, 11 March 2019, 17:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

Mark Sultana, BirdLife Malta CEO

From a very young age children are taught about the four seasons in a year; summer, autumn, winter and spring. Without any doubt, we all understand the important role that each season plays in the cycle of life and the survival of living organisms. Yet I am also sure many, like me, have their favourite one and in my case, it’s spring.

For me spring is what gives a boost to life. Most of the biodiversity reproduces during this season and ecosystems work together to help in this process. The flowers start blooming in plants and trees making sure the colourful spectacle attracts as many insects as possible to pollinate. Both insects and fruit such as berries also help in making sure there is enough food for the few mammals we have in our country. The hedgehog could have a feast on snails, while field mice would enjoy a juicy fruit.

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Birds are also gearing up for migration and the breeding season. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful birds of all colours and sizes will start their migration from south to north back to their breeding grounds. On the way, they need to find resting spots where they can gather energy and refuel to continue with their journey. Migration is one of nature’s amazing feats and spectacles.

Our country lies at a very vital strategic position for bird migration. Open seas are not very kind to birds especially for those who would have flown already over vast stretches of arid desert in Africa. The mixture of small islands in the Mediterranean like Malta, Gozo and Comino attract birds for this reason. The spectacle of migration is amazing just as a sight on its own but when you observe a flock of herons in V-formation flying over, or the colourful Bee-eaters roaming our valleys acrobatically catching insects in flight while calling out loudly, and then understand the ordeal these birds must have gone through during migration, the admiration and respect for them should be limitless.

Malta is not only unique for its geographical position but it also has unique characteristics that unfortunately challenge deeply the balance of nature and human activity. Malta is the most built-up country in the European Union with more than 33% of its land built up. We are very densely populated and therefore waste management, pollution and land use are immense challenges that can have negative effects on biodiversity and natural habitats. Needless to say, both hunting and trapping have a negative effect on birds too, in our country even more so. While Malta ‘only’ has 12,000 hunters from the 7,000,000 in Europe, the density and hence the impact are extraordinary. While in Europe you would find two hunters per square kilometre, in Malta we have 40!

Apart from migration, Malta is home to various breeding birds, some more than others which might breed occasionally or irregularly. The list varies from a few birds of prey like the Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon to seabirds and warblers, with the Sardinian Warbler being one of the most common. Every bird species has its own favourite habitat and nowadays it is very easy to find out where to go to observe any particular bird.

The topography of our island and the diverse habitat within a small area are beneficial for those who want to explore it. Tourists love the idea of being able to visit different sites within a short time. While being small has its disadvantages, it also brings some advantages and the fact that you can be overlooking Dingli Cliffs, visit the Buskett woodland and be on a sandy beach within a couple of hours just proves this.

There are 34 Natura 2000 sites in Malta and this designation was given to them because of their ecological importance. They contain a mix of different habitats such as garigue, rocky shore and maquis and each habitat hosts a wide variety of living species. Some of these places are managed by environmental NGOs in collaboration with Ambjent Malta and the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) such as Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk which is managed by Nature Trust-FEE Malta, the Għadira and Simar Nature Reserves and the well-known Foresta 2000 just under the Red Tower in Mellieħa. The latter are managed by BirdLife Malta, and in order to encourage the public to make the most of spring we have just announced extended opening hours for these natural sites which will now also be open to the public during the week.

People benefit from being in nature, because we are part of it. Nature is what gives us the basic necessities such as fresh healthy air and clean water. The spectacle which is spring is an added value and I encourage everyone to find time during the whole year, but especially during the upcoming spring season, to explore and enjoy our country’s natural beauty. Look out for the different array of flowers, the buzzing bees, the dancing butterflies and the sound of a trickling watercourse. Try your luck with spotting our only amphibian the Painted Frog, or spot the difference between the lizards found in Malta, Gozo and Comino. Don’t forget to look up…birds are migrating over us. Don’t let spring pass you by, go out and enjoy nature.

 

Mark Sultana is the CEO of BirdLife Malta, an organization that strives to conserve biodiversity through research, lobbying and people engagement. For more information visit www.birdlifemalta.org

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