The Maltese Islands have a range of habitats that are typical of the Mediterranean. Natural habitats within the Maltese Islands are classified in terms of the vegetation communities characterising the various geomorphological units of the islands.
The four major natural habitats include:
• Woodland: these are characterised by large evergreen trees that are adapted to the Mediterranean climate such as the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) (Balluta) and the Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) (Znuber). Woodland communities are extremely rare in the Maltese Islands and remnants of such ecosystems are found in only four localities: Il-Ballut tal-Wardija, Il-Ballut ta’ L-Imgiebah, Wied Hazrun and Il-Bosk (Buskett);
• Maquis: this habitat is characterised by small trees and large shrubs, including the Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) (Harruba), Olive (Olea europaea s.l.) (Sigra taz-Zebbug), Lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus) (Deru) and associated undergrowth. Such communities are generally associated with valley sides and valley beds, base of cliff formations and boulder screes;
• Garigue: these communities are characterised by low aromatic shrubs such as the Mediterranen Thyme (Thymus capitatus) (Saghtar) and the Mediterranean Heath (Erica multiflora) (Erika) colonising stretches of limestone (or karstland) bearing numerous depressions and fissures. These biodiversity-rich communities constitute an important natural habitat on the Maltese Islands;
• Steppe: these are generally characterised by herbaceous plants and may result from the degradation of maquis and garigue communities and are very widespread in the Maltese Islands. However, more natural steppic systems include rocky steppe and clay slope steppe, the latter associated with a climax vegetation assemblage that is typically dominated by clay-binding species of grasses such as the perennial Esparto Grass (Lygeum spartum) (Halfa).
Apart from its intrinsic values and qualities the natural heritage and associated biodiversity of the Maltese Islands provides the backbone for essential ecosystem services and functions, such as clean air and water as well as the cycling of nutrients and waste—vital life-supporting functions that are all too often taken for granted. Furthermore, the Maltese Islands support habitats that are associated with diverse flora and fauna with a relatively high level of endemism (i.e. species found only in the Maltese Islands and nowhere else in the world). For example, due to their relative inaccessibility, coastal cliffs along the periphery of the Maltese Islands provide an important refuge for many species of Maltese fauna and flora—rupestral communities generally support a good number of endemic species. Such species include the Maltese Cliff-orache (Cremnophyton lanfrancoi) (Bjanka ta’ l-Irdum), the Maltese Rock-centaury (Palaeocyanus crassifolius) (Widnet il-Bahar) and the Maltese Everlasting (Helichrysum melitense) (Sempreviva ta’ Ghawdex), the latter a Critically Endangered (IUCN) species confined to Dwejra area in Gozo. Several endemic species and subspecies of fauna also occur within the Maltese Islands, including the Maltese Wall Lizard (Podarcis filfolensis) (Gremxula ta’ Malta).
From a planning perspective Natural and Cultural heritage is a material consideration designated by Chapter 15 of the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands and key sections of the Environment and Development Planning Act.
Why assess Heritage Significance?
Before making decisions about the future of a heritage property it is first necessary to understand its heritage values. This leads to decisions that will retain these values in the future. The assessment of heritage significance is the basis for all good heritage based planning decisions. It is a process that should be used as part of the management of all heritage items because it clarifies why the item is important. What is considered heritage for one individual may not be for another, which is why an assessment is undertaken for all property which may be considered to contain heritage significance.
When to assess Heritage Significance
There are numerous situations when assessment is needed. These may include: considering an item for inclusion on the Malta Scheduled Property Register, making decisions about whether to retain an item, preparation of a Heritage Study or Conservation Management Plan or considering changes to a property.
How do we assess Heritage Significance?
Just as the selection criteria for jobs help employers to look at the qualities and attributes people have to qualify for a particular position in the work place, heritage criteria assists heritage professionals to look at the qualities and attributes places have to qualify as heritage.
Heritage professionals are able to 'test' a place for heritage value against the criteria as set out in the following document: Criteria for Assessing Heritage Significance.
Degree of Protection
Chapter 15 of the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands identifies levels of heritage significance. Once a property is assessed and considered to contain heritage significance it is then ranked according to the degree of protection. The ranking is determined by the item’s importance. At this point the property or properties are referred to as scheduled property. In terms of planning the degree of protection provides guidance regarding what development is considered and not considered acceptable.
What is Scheduled Property?
Scheduled property is property which is deemed to contain heritage significance and therefore legally protected through legislation to be included on the Malta Scheduled Property Register.
Types and Categories of Scheduled Property
The Malta Scheduled Property Register is ever expanding as new discoveries are made. The attached heritage flow chart indicates the types of protected (scheduled) property we have included on the register. It is shown in further detail including definitions within the Malta Scheduled Property page.