The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is saddened by the loss of Mr Michael Briffa, one of Malta’s most humble and prominent experts on local plants and fungi.

Mr Briffa was also acknowledged of his valuable contribution to the country in 2017, when he was awarded the prestigious Buonamico Award, Indeed, Mr Briffa was awarded the very first award of this award, which was set up by ERA, under the patronage of H.E. President of Malta, to recognise individuals who significantly contributed towards the protection of our natural heritage.

Michael Briffa was born in 17th November 1926 and has been a prominent figure in research on our local flora. Briffa’s passion on local plants and fungi led to valuable knowledge to the scientific community on local vascular plants, fungi and slime moulds – with various new records of species for Malta, new localities for rare species and the rediscovery of species previously considered as possibly extinct.

Amongst his most renowned discoveries is the thorny burnet (tursin il-għul xewwieki), a very rare shrub in Malta found for the first time in 1985; the narrow-leaved grape-hyacinth (il-muskari s-skur), a bulbous flowering plant first reported by him in 1983; and the small-flowered buttercup (iċ-ċfolloq)in 1985. Additional rediscoveries of important species include the Maltese dwarf hawksbeard (il-melitella), a species first described in the world from Malta in the early 20th century and rediscovered by him in 1983, and which is now protected at international level, as well as the dog rose (wardet il-klieb) and a species of viper’s bugloss (lsien il-fart), rediscovered after more than a century; the very rare beaked spider orchid (il-brimba ta’ Sqallija) ; and more than 40 other flowering plant species. He also rediscovered the white-flowered form of the National Plant, the Maltese Rock-Centaury (widnet il-baħar); such form was first included in the description of the species by Stefano Zerapha in 1827 but not found for decades.

In 1980s, he also became interested in fungi (particularly wild mushrooms and toadstools) and later in 1995 in the related slime moulds. More than 300 fungal species were encountered during his studies, with several new records for Malta. Notable fungi include Amanita mushrooms; the polypore Inonotus euphoriae; as well as various species association with oak/pine woodlands as well as rockrose phrygana. As to slime moulds and related species, Briffa compiled the first annotated checklist of 71 species in 1997, amongst which he enlisted several rare species as well as a number of species which were never recorded been in the Mediterranean Region.

Most of the discoveries by Michael Briffa are included in the official ‘Red Data Book for the Maltese Islands’ issued by the precursor to the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA), and a good number of species are now protected by law, either directly as protected species or through the protection of their habitats through the Natura 2000 network and the related designation of Special Areas of Conservation and Tree Protection Areas by ERA.

ERA’s heartfelt and sincere condolences are extended to his family and relatives, who have also supported Mr Briffa. Mr Michael Briffa’s memory will surely live on through his significant contribution to our knowledge on local biodiversity and his efforts towards safeguarding our natural environment.

7 February 2020