Trees are integral to biodiversity as they provide food and shelter for a variety of organisms, stabilise sediment, assist in soil retention and the uptake of runoff waters. They also contribute various ecosystem services, such as cleaner air, noise abatement and the provision of shade, amongst others.
The Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations (S.L. 549.123) build on, and ameliorate, the previous Regulations by affording additional protection to trees and woodlands in the Maltese Islands. About 90 different tree species are now protected under the new Regulations, which include an addition of circa 30 new protected species when compared to the circa 60 tree species covered by the 2011 legislation and its earlier 2001 version. These figures clearly show that the new Regulations have further strengthened Malta’s legislative framework on trees.
Moreover, mature trees over 50 years of age that are found in urban, public, open spaces are now protected, irrespective of what species it is, thereby giving due regard to the social and cultural element that trees provide to urban areas.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) will also be able to apply a number of other measures to mitigate adverse impacts on trees by limiting the activity of an intervention, transplanting within or outside the site, and demanding compensatory planting.
Another important change in the new Regulations is the requirement to have licensed tree specialists to carry out interventions on protected trees and on trees located within urban, public, open spaces. These individuals will be required to attend specialised courses, focusing on Maltese trees and woodlands, the identification of species, arboriculture and other related matters, thereby ensuring that pruning and other interventions on trees will be done in a diligent manner. ERA will also establish and publish a Register of Licensed Tree Specialists; such measures are currently not in force to enable the appropriate set-up of a training course and licensing system.
The obligations under the new Regulations are also supported by substantial increases in penalties, which are based on the rarity or protection status of the tree/s. The penalties also distinguish between interventions that result in the destruction/ death of the tree (highest penalty), and other lesser interventions. The Regulations also allow ERA to impose administrative fines for infringements against these Regulations.
Additional provisions on the control of invasive, alien or environmentally incompatible species, such as the blacklisting of additional species of Union concern and the prohibition on the use of such species in urban landscaping, also feature in the proposed Regulations.
The permitting system that is in place for interventions on protected trees has been strengthened through the promotion of best practice on such works. In order to assist the general public and specialists alike, ERA shall be launching guidelines that assist in the interpretation of the obligations emanating from the proposed Regulations, which also contain sections on the practical implementation of interventions on these trees.
The new Regulations give ERA the power to request a bank guarantee to be tied to a permit, issued through these Regulations. A bank guarantee would be forfeited if the conditions implied in the permit are not adhered to, such as when the trees that have been transplanted, or new trees that have been planted in compensation, are not cared for in a manner to ascertain their survival. This will ensure that ERA will be in a position to maintain the trees themselves, should this be required. It is evident that at the core of these decisions, ERA applies sustainability criteria that go beyond the protection of individual trees.
Book on trees
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