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Status and Trends of Biodiversity


The Maltese Islands harbour a very diverse array of flora and fauna, especially when considering the relatively small land area, the limited number of habitat types and the intense human pressure. Its isolated, yet central position in the Mediterranean, has given it a relatively large number of species that have affinities with those of the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Mediterranean. The Maltese Islands have a coastline of 271 Km. The North East coastline of Malta and Gozo is gently sloping whereas sheer cliffs typify the western and southern parts of the islands. Cliffs represent an important natural habitat because they harbour many interesting species of flora and fauna, including endemic species that are restricted only to this habitat, such as the Maltese Cliff-Orache (Cremnophyton lanfrancoi) and the Maltese Rock-Centaury (Palaeocyanus crassifolius) amongst the flowering plants, both belonging to monospecific genera; and one of the rarest animals in the Maltese Islands, the endemic Maltese Door Snail (Lampedusa melitensis). Cliffs also provide shelter and breeding habitat for many bird species such as Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), Mediterranean Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and the Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus). The coastline is further characterised by a series of bays, harbours and inlets thereby increasing the habitat’s diversity. Natural habitats in the Maltese Islands appear in different stages of the same ecological succession, including steppic, garrigue, maquis and woodland communities. Seagrass meadows are perhaps the most important natural marine habitat type in the Maltese Islands in terms of productivity and with respect to providing shelter and a place for breeding and feeding for a number of marine organisms.

Overall the state of knowledge of species occurring in the Maltese Islands has been stable over the years, but a number of new records have been published and others await publication. Several species are threatened, vulnerable and/or endemic and hence are generally legally protected on a national and/or regional/international scale. Malta has made much progress with protecting species and habitats of importance. An analysis of 189 Maltese species of international importance indicates that 183 (97 percent) of species of international importance are protected by Maltese legislation. These figures contrast sharply with the protection regime in 2002, when 39 percent of the species of international importance were unprotected. The most marked improvements are with respect to: higher plants (29 percent protected in 2002 vs. 100 percent in 2005); fish (21 percent vs. 93 percent); and crustaceans (12 percent vs. 89 percent).

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

Areas harbouring important habitat types and threatened native/endemic species within the Maltese Islands are afforded some form of protection by two main pieces of primary legislation: the Development Planning Act (DPA, Chapter 356/Act I of 1992 as amended) and the Environment Protection Act (EPA, Chapter 435/Act XX of 2001). The DPA schedules areas as either Areas of Ecological Importance and/or Sites of Scientific Importance, apart from Areas of High Landscape Value. The EPA through its various subsidiary legislation, has over the years designated areas as Strict Nature Reserves, Nature Reserves (Tree Protection Areas) and Bird Sanctuaries. The most recent system of protected areas has been established under both the DPA and EPA as Special Areas of Conservation of National Importance and Special Areas of Conservation of International Importance (in line with the EC Habitats Directive), and Special Protection Areas (in line with EC Birds Directive). A few small sites also fall under the List of Historical Trees having an Antiquarian Importance.

As at March 2007: 57 sites are scheduled under the DPA (16.7% of the land area); and various sites are protected through the EPA, namely 3 Nature Reserves (0.1% of the land area); 32 Special Areas of Conservation of International Importance (12.5% of land area & 1 marine site); 8 Special Areas of Conservation of National Importance (0.2% of land area & 1 marine); 12 Special Protection Areas (2.4% of land area); as well as 29 Tree Protection Areas and 24 Bird Sanctuaries.

International/Regional designations of natural areas in the Maltese Islands include 23 ASCIs under the Emerald Network of the Bern Convention; 2 Ramsar Sites in terms of the Ramsar Convention; and 4 Specially Protected Areas in terms of the SPA Protocol of the Barcelona Convention.

One should keep in mind that a significant number of sites fall under different designations. As of 2005, protected areas under such various designations represented about 18% of the land area of the Maltese Islands and one marine site.

Percentage of Forest Cover

In the Maltese Islands, the native forest is almost extinct, and only forest remnants remain at four localities, all on the island of Malta. These forest remnants take the form of small copses of Holm Oak (Quercus ilex). Some of these trees are estimated to be between 500 and 900 years old. Nevertheless, various maquis communities occur.

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

The process for developing the NBSAP of the Maltese Islands was introduced at a preliminary stakeholders’ meeting, which was held in 2004 in Malta. Terms of reference (ToRs) setting up the way forward have been recently approved. These ToRs recognise the need for establishing an administrative structure and adopting a participatory approach for addressing biodiversity concerns in a national context. The planned structure for the NBSAP document incorporates a set of themes: Biodiversity & Natural Resources; Biodiversity & Water; Biodiversity & Land Use; Biodiversity & Air; Biodiversity & Recreation; Biodiversity & Competitiveness; and a section covering Cross-cutting Issues – education, public awareness, science and research. The need to establish the NBSAP for the Maltese Islands has been recognised as one of the priorities under the Strategic Theme 05 - Environment, which appears in the Malta National Reform Programme 2005-2008. The latter has been prepared to enhance Malta's competitive edge in connection with the guidance provided by the EU through the Lisbon Agenda. The NBSAP development process is planned to be finalised by the 2009.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

The development of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for the Maltese Islands shall serve as the primary tool for integrating biodiversity concerns into other sectors. Nonetheless biodiversity issues have already been considered in the context of sustainable development via the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, rural development by way of the Rural Development Plan and its agri-environment measures and through cross-compliance procedures with respect to statutory environmental management standards established in relation to the EU Directives listed in Annex III to Council Regulation (EC) No. 1782/2003. Other measures undertaken at a national level and that contribute to the achievement of objectives as identified to address the 2010 target include:

1) Conservation of species and the protection of their natural habitats – a number of native and endemic species of terrestrial and marine flora and fauna threatened by exploitation are afforded strict legal protection at a national level by way of subsidiary legislation issued under the Environment Protection Act, making it illegal to exploit them. In addition, ex situ conservation is also being carried out for a number of threatened species as part of reinforcement programmes. Moreover, legislation on nature protection, particularly the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations Notice 311 of 2006, has also declared habitat types important for the survival of such species as protected areas, and which are to be protected accordingly (Refer to section on Protected Areas).

2) Conservation of genetic diversity and agrobiodiversity – The conservation and enhancement of autochthonous species, such as the Maltese Ox, a critically endangered indigenous breed due to the small number of remaining specimens, features as an agri-environment measure under the Rural Development Plan for Malta (2004-2006), as well as support to organic farming. The restoration of rubble walls, which serve to reduce soil erosion in agricultural fields by wind and water, and which act as an important habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, also qualifies as an agri-environment measure in relation to Malta’s Rural Development Policy (2004-2006). Good farming practice is also promoted and encouraged, whereby the observation of a number of standards, such as soil conservation, efficient use of water, conservation of biodiversity, rational use of pesticides and fertilisers, is called for.

3) Sustainable use of components – Provisions calling for the control of species exploitation and the sustainable use of components of biodiversity are incorporated into national law. For instance, Regulation 27 of the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitat Protection Regulations Notice 311 of 2006 allows for the exploitation of a number of listed species subject that such exploitation is carried out in a way that does not undermine their conservation status. By virtue of Article 38 of the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Act II of 2001), the Minister responsible for fisheries may make regulations, on, amongst others, the conservation, management and protection of fish resources.

4) Trade control of protected species – This is done nationally through the implementation of the Trade in Fauna and Flora Regulations Notice 236 of 2004. These Regulations implement and enforce Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, which in turn implements the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

5) Controlling pressures from habitat loss, land use change and degradation – The Development Planning Act has as one of its aims the harmonisation of ‘development’ with the environment. The Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands, which forms part the DPA, provides a set of policies which amongst others cater for Rural Conservation Areas. These include within them Areas of Ecological Importance (AEIs) and Sites of Scientific Importance (SSIs), which areas/sites are scheduled under the DPA. Such scheduling affords the listed areas blanket protection from certain activities but does not provide for management of the areas. Functionally, therefore, these areas do not fall under any management regime. However, the Planning Authority can issue Conservation Orders that specify management requirements for any scheduled site. Local legislation that transposes EU law also provides for the taking up of an Environment Impact Assessment for specific types of development, as explained and listed in Environment Impact Assessment Regulations of 2001 Notice 204 of 2001.

6) Controlling the threats of alien species – National legislation for addressing alien species exists through the provisions of the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (Legal Notice 311 of 2006). Measures have been initiated to increase the knowledge base of alien species already introduced into the Maltese Islands through commissioned studies for setting up lists of alien flora and fauna, with the aim of prioritising conservation/eradication efforts. Eradication programmes have been initiated in connection with different species, including eradication of rats from some of the smaller islets and of invasive plants from sensitive habitats as sand dunes. Awareness on issues related to alien species has been promoted through a number of seminars, which targeted groups of stakeholders.

7) Addressing the challenges to biodiversity from climate change and pollution – There is very limited scientific research on the impacts and implications of climate change on biodiversity in Malta. Most information is based on observation, inference and expert-advise, and it appears that wetlands and species not adapted to reduced rainfall and extensive drought are more at risk. Indeed, some ‘non-native’ drought-tolerant North African wetland species have made their appearance in Maltese widien (seasonally-wet valleys) in the last decade, and are increasing at the expense of native vegetation.

With respect to the UNFCCC, Malta ratified as a non-Annex I party on 17th March 1994, and on the same basis, subsequently ratified the Kyoto Protocol on the 11th November 2001. Although Malta does not have any individual reduction limitation commitment, Malta fully supports the European Commission in leading all Member States towards ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, together with the EU’s leading role in the international action on climate change.

Malta is bound by the obligations set out in European Union legislation, including the Emissions Trading Directive. Malta’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are very small when compared to those of the European Union as a whole. In fact, Malta’s emissions of GHGs in 2002 were just 0.068% of the total EU-15 emissions and 0.058% of the total EU-25 emissions. This reflects the small size of the country in geographical, population and economic terms. In addition, Malta has one of the lowest emission rates per capita within the EU (7 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared to an average of 11 tonnes for the EU- 25).

8) Capacity Building – Through twinning exercises with Austria and the UK, MEPA has strengthened the institutional capacity of the organisation for the implementation of the nature protection EU acquis. Moreover, through the commissioning of studies, the knowledge base on threatened species is being widened, for the purpose of shedding light into more effective protection and conservation. Information extracted from these studies is feeding into the National Database on Biodiversity. Several projects that one way or another contribute to addressing the 2010 target are further being or shall be carried out. One project that can be mentioned is the ERDF funded project to collect rigorous scientific data on benthic and pelagic environments of the island of Filfla, which is one of the uninhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago and, due to its inaccessibility, is known to harbour a vast array of important organisms.

Further information related to biodiversity and related issues in the Maltese Islands can be found on the MEPA website www.mepa.org.mt. Following is a list of some of the relevant sections:

-Env Protection (General) : -http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/index.htm -Nature Protection: http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/index.htm?nature_protection/mainpage.htm&1 -Climate Change: http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/index.htm?climate_change/mainpage.htm&1 -Rural Environment: http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/index.htm?land_use/Rural_Env/mainframe.htm&1 -GMOs & Biosafety: http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/index.htm?GMOs/mainpage.htm&1 -Environment Impact Assessment: http://www.mepa.org.mt/EIA-Malta/index.htm?MainPage.aspx&1 -State of the Environment Report: http://www.mepa.org.mt/Environment/index.htm?SOER/mainframe.htm&1 -List of Primary Legislation on the Environment: http://www.mepa.org.mt/asps/webdocs/main.aspx?Organisation=Environment&DocumentType=Legislation&Menu=Environment -List of Secondary Legislation on the Environment: http://www.mepa.org.mt/asps/webdocs/main.aspx?Organisation=Environment&DocumentType=Legal Notices&Menu=Environment -International Nature Protection Treaties: http://www.mepa.org.mt/environment/nature_protection/NP_legislation/mainpage_International.htm

Initiatives in Protected Areas

Being an island archipelago, almost all of Malta’s protected areas can be said to be coastal. To date two marine sites have been declared. A number of protected areas include buffer zones. The protected area network created for Malta takes into account international/regional plans, strategies, targets and goals, as well as the IUCN system of categories. Illegal exploitation and trade of resources are regulated through legislation.

One of the main efforts in the Maltese Islands when considering the environment sector is the setting up and implementation of policies and plans in connection with the management of protected areas, particularly of Special Areas of Conservation. Management is called for in this case through local legislation that transposes the EU Habitats Directive. Management agreements have been approved for a number of sites, while management plans are in place, being developed, or undergoing review with respect to other sites. The management of other sites follows the obligations put forth through national legislation. To date, two marine areas are also covered by management measures.

The selection and management of protected areas is carried out in liaison with relevant stakeholders.

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

An ethnobotanic survey has been ongoing for the past 13 years and consists of semi-structured interviews, including discussions, and participant observation. Most interviewees are farmers and/or herders, and sometimes fishermen and traditional healers. Since traditional knowledge has declined considerably during the past 50 years, informants are usually sought from among the pre-World War II generation. Aspects of biocultural knowledge discussed include: medicinal plants; folk concepts of disease; local cultivars of crops; plants in myth, legend and superstitions; vernacular names and ethnotaxonomy; traditional agricultural practices; traditional methods of pest control; role of plants in animal husbandry, e.g. use of plants for veterinary purposes and fodder; old methods of pest control; fibrecrafts; etc. This research will culminate in the publication of a monograph on the ethnobotany of the Maltese Islands.

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