FAA shocked by approval to fell Awrikarja tree
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Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) is saddened and shocked by the approval both by the Department of Agriculture and the Heritage Advisory Committee of MEPA of the chopping down of the enormous old Awrikarja tree in a Manwel Dimech Street garden, one of the last natural landmarks in Sliema. This is being done to make way for yet more apartments, at a time when the development industry is in a self-avowed crisis. The application for the development to encroach on a large garden in the Urban Conservation area (UCA) of Sliema is recommended for approval by MEPA next Wednesday.
MEPA claims to protect trees in Urban Conservation Areas:
Protection of Existing Trees : The Planning Authority can take measures to protect individual or groups of trees through scheduling and if necessary issue a Tree Preservation Order. The Authority will usually give trees within UCAs a high priority for protection, particularly if there is a perceived threat to the tree(s) or if the Authority considers that the removal of the tree(s) will be detrimental to the overall visual appearance of the UCA.
However not only with this tree, protected due to its great age, but every other application to fell a protected tree that we know of, these regulations have been ignored and permission issued for the felling in order to make way for further development, This implies that such documentation is used just as a smokescreen. Add insult to injury, the Department of Agriculture is continuously giving the green light to cut down protected trees on the pretext of compensatory planting of other trees. This is acting as an incentive to chop down any beautiful old tree because it has been made so easy to plant a few saplings elsewhere. Such trees end up far away from the original one and as a result the people of that locality would not draw any benefit. Furthermore, the developer is not bound to take care of the saplings and there is therefore no guarantee that they will reach maturation, thus destroying the whole scope of compensatory planting.
The ease with which these tree-felling permits are issued also makes tree-planting campaigns ring hollow. Are we going to the trouble and expense of much-publicized tree-plantings in the countryside, only to destroy them in urban areas where they are so rare and therefore much more precious?
Our towns and villages have been losing large gardens and for several years, even when they are designated as supposedly ‘protected enclaves’. This is further aggravated by misguided and savage over-pruning, neglect of the palm weevil problem and the destruction of mature trees in urban areas which have deprived residents of the many benefits of trees and the bird communities they support.
We have been repeatedly told that “In the choice between sustainability and development, we have to choose sustainability.” With permits being issued unabatedly for buildings Out of Development Zone, and the felling of trees within the UCA, one is compelled to ask whether those pro-environment electoral promises were only lip service as far as nature issues are concerned? FAA is publishing this photo of the said tree so that present and future generations will know that it was the Department of Agriculture, under the portfolio of Hon. Minister George Pullicino, who comes from Sliema himself, and MEPA and its Heritage Advisory Committee, under the portfolio of the Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Gonzi, that were the authorities accountable for such decisions.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar