Mr. Mika Vanhanen founder and Director of ENO, Environment Online, an e-NGO which is present in more than 150 countries through a virtual network of educators, visited Malta in October. ENO has made an ambitious commitment at the UN RIO+20 Summit, to plant 100 million trees by 2017. Learning about Forests International has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ENO Environment Online.
During his short stay, LEAF Malta caught up with Mika Vanhanen to discuss the progress Malta has made in its bid to reach out to more schools with respect to awareness about the benefits of forests and local activeparticipation to safeguard these vital natural commodities.
Hailing from the lush landscapes of Finland, Mr. Vanhanen was quite bemused with the seemingly barren landscape, since the local vegetation is still reeling from the hot arid weather of the past summer months. It was explained, that the scantiness of the soil, the erratic rainfall patterns, the introduction of invasive species and the other human pressures, have done nothing to arrest the progressive degradation of the remaining pockets of vulnerable ecological niches.
Buskett woodland, a Natura 200 site and a bird sanctuary is one such place. Located in the Western/South Western Coast of Malta this special important site of ecological and nature conservation is home to a variety of endemic and rare species and a concentration of Annex I habitats that are unparalleled in the Maltese Islands. This semi- natural woodland has also areas of archaeological and historical interest. These include Punic Catacombs, Bronze Age Cart Ruts in the limestone garigue, underground Flour Mills and a Hunting Lodge commissioned by the Grandmaster Jean De La Valette (1557-1595).
A popular retreat during the winter months for picnic lovers, the woodland has suffered badly and has been in neglect for various years giving hardly any chance for the local flora and fauna to re-establish itself. Thankfully, the Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate change through the PARK Directorate has managed to secure EU funding for a very ambitious Life Project; Saving Buskett that is envisaged to give a much needed uplift to the site.
Mr Vanhanen had the opportunity to meet the project managers Dr. Mark Causon and Mr. Mark Zammit for a short tour around the specific targeted areas were intervention has already started. The project budget is €2.7 million, 50% of which is co-financed by the EU LIFE Funding Programme under the Nature and Biodiversity priority area. The project commenced in July 2013 and is expected to be completed by May 2018. The aim of the project is; to repair and rebuild retaining dry stone walls and arched buttresses along the watercourses, to remove invasive alien species which are competing with native trees and the planting on new indigenous plants to enhance the quality of existing habitats.
To this effect Mr. Vanhanen had the opportunity to see the works in progress and discussed several issues with the project leaders. Mr Neville Ebejer, Senior Environment Inspector at the PARK Directorate discussed also the challenges to reach out to the general public in a well thought and vigorous educational campaign. Mr. Johann Gatt National Operator of LEAF Malta explained how the LEAF programme is assisting in the growing of trees in various schools that will be eventually planted at Buskett as part of the ambitious LIFE Project-Saving Buskett. Several LEAF schools have also benefit ted from guided tours around the site to gain further awareness about the key role these woodlands play in our lives when managed sustainably.