The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

ERA investigating extent of pruning interventions on Santa Luċija trees

Albert Galea Sunday, 25 August 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 27 days ago

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is investigating the extent to which trees in Santa Luċija were pruned before being transplanted for possible breaches of the authority’s Guidelines on Works Involving Trees, The Malta Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Two hundred and fifty-four trees are being transplanted, while 295 are being uprooted to make way for a €20 million infrastructural project in Santa Luċija, which will see the construction of, among other things, a tunnel that runs beneath the roundabout outside the locality.

Works are well underway but many have cried foul over the procedure being followed for the transplantation of the aforementioned trees, saying that the process should not be carried out at the height of summer and that the pruning was excessive.

An entire section in the ERA’s Guidelines on Works Involving Trees, published last January, is dedicated to the transplantation of trees and the procedure to be followed. According to the guidelines, transplantation should only be carried out when all other options have been exhausted.

Moreover, any transplantation should be carried out between autumn and early spring, with the months between October and March described as ideal. The ERA rulebook also states that “transplanting after the spring growth flush and through summer shall be avoided altogether particularly for deciduous trees due to water stress and since the plant will likely not recuperate from the transplanting.”

Asked why the trees in Santa Luċija were being transplanted in the middle of summer, an ERA spokesperson said that the transplantation of trees during this period does not necessarily go against the ERA’s guidelines if this occurs in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Asked to clarify whether this meant that the underpass project and the works required for it were considered ‘exceptional circumstance’, the spokesperson said that this was indeed the case.

However, the spokesperson said, interventions carried out so far “may not be in line with other provisions of the same guidelines, in particular those relating to the extent of pruning prior to transplanting.”

With regard to pruning, the guidelines state that “any dead, weak and damaged branches shall be pruned in line with good practice. This will stimulate growth and reduce water loss. In general, not more than 25 per cent of the overall crown and no major boughs should be removed.”

In spite of this, pictures taken by this newsroom on site show that the trees have largely been butchered, with many left with no crown at all.

The ERA spokesperson said that in view of the above, the authority was investigating these interventions and was “in the process of seeking clarifications from the operator to determine whether all of the interventions were necessary and in line with sound arboriculture practices as required under the guidelines.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson said, “the ERA shall continue to monitor the works being undertaken in order to ensure adherence to the same guidelines. Action shall be taken should instances of non-compliance arise.”

Earlier this month, this newsroom asked Environment Minister Jose Herrera about the transplantation of the trees in Santa Luċija, questioning the procedure being followed, but Herrera said that the process was being monitored by the ERA, which has its own experts in this field. He noted that Transport Malta would ‘definitely’ not act without the guidance of the ERA.

Infrastructure Malta has also said that the transplantation process is being carried out under the guidance of ‘experienced arborists’.

The Santa Luċija project includes the excavation and construction of two tunnels beneath the Santa Luċija roundabout, directly connecting Santa Luċija Avenue (Addolorata Hill) to Tal-Barrani Road. The existing roundabout will be redesigned to allow for safer and quicker access to the residents of Santa Luċija, Paola and Tarxien. The project is estimated to cost €20 million, and 295 trees will be uprooted. A further 254 trees are being transplanted, and Infrastructure Malta has pointed out that another 757 indigenous trees will be planted in the area, leaving an excess of 300 trees more than there were before the project.

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