MEPA and the Ministry for Gozo have just revealed their plans for a long-term project that will see the rehabilitation of many of Gozo’s valleys. JONATHAN HENWOOd discusses what this extensive project will involve.
As part of the EcoGozo Project the Ministry of Gozo has approached the Environment Protection Directorate (EPD) to discuss a long-term plan of valley rehabilitation. The Ministry’s aims were to rehabilitate valley basins in order to alleviate flooding problems, promote aquifer recharge through seepage through valley beds and make more surface water available to flora and fauna and the agricultural sector to make use of.
Each valley is considered physically unique with differing water-retention capabilities. Whereas the majority are dry during the summer period and food during the wet season, a few are capable of withholding water during the entire year. The flora and fauna found in each valley is therefore unique for each valley system, with a number of species of plants and animals inhabiting solely such habitats due to their dependence on water.
One can therefore imagine that these species are very rare, and thus their habitats merit formal scheduling as Areas of Ecological Importance or Natura 2000 sites. It is therefore of utmost importance that these habitats are preserved in good conservation status, which includes attaining good quality water status, whilst retaining or enhancing the ability to store water for human consumption.
This balance between nature and human needs is of course a delicate one, easily disrupted by the indiscriminate dumping of material and oils within the valley bed and by the proliferation of alien species. Together with the Ministry, MEPA’s Environment Directorate has identified a list of valleys which are in need of restoration through removal of accumulated debris, which would restore the original valley contours and increase the retention capacity of the valley basins.
Given the ecological importance of these areas, the Environment Directorate embarked on a consultation process with the Ministry to short list the original identified sites to those sites in which works would be of low ecological risk. This pilot list of sites was examined through various site inspections by members of the Directorate and the Ministry, where details of the cleaning methodology were agreed upon.
The Ministry and the Directorate also agreed on a written statement which detailed all the interventions to be carried out on each site. Amongst the measures taken the following are noteworthy:
• Material from site is separated as inert material and scrap (such as metal, plastic, etc). Inert material is deposited in the Qortin Landfill as part of the landfill rehabilitation process;
• Cordoning-off sensitive areas, such as tree clumps to avoid damage;
• Removal of topsoil prior to excavation properly, and separate storage and redeposition on site following works, allowing the seed bank to be preserved and germinate the following year; and
• Allowance for a buffer zone (at least 1m) from rubble walls, trees and any other features worthy of protection.
The works were carried out in an ecologically-sensitive manner and have resulted in a successful pilot project. Unfortunately in particular spots, the level of contamination of dumped material and alien species required their removal to bedrock level. Although such unforeseeable problems have arisen during the works, close discussions between the Ministry and EPD enabled the restoration to be carried out in a sensitive manner.
This year’s trial project has successfully opened up discussions between the Directorate and the Ministry and has laid the path for further liaison for proper valley management in the coming months. MEPA is confident that such initiatives and collaboration will continue to reap results, provided a long-term plan is drawn up to also encourage an appreciation of these habitats as sources of life and water by the general public and not simply as a sinks for fly-tipping, which would need to be cleaned repeatedly at public expense.
The responsibility is on every one of us to appreciate that it is our duty to leave earth a better place for us and our children. After all, we have not inherited our land from our ancestors; we have borrowed it from our children.