Trees play a very important role in rural and urban areas. They filter air, and provide shelter and food to animals. They also provide shade and recreational areas. They reduce air temperature, slow down wind speed and mitigate the effects of extreme climate. They also actively reduce pollutants from the air.
Trees also reduce stress and are beneficial to health in more ways than one.
Trees or the lack of trees in the Maltese islands can bring about extreme reactions ranging from that of persons who want to save trees at all costs to those who want to move or remove trees from particular areas.
These reactions are understandable. Those who believe that there should be more trees in our towns and villages are hurt when they see trees being removed while ignoring the fact that trees can cause damage to buildings and underground structures and must be replaced or removed.
In the countryside trees are an important tool for soil conservation. Their roots hold the soil in place and help rainwater seep into the ground. They slow down the flow of water and help reduce flooding.
The leaves and flowers of many species provide food for insects such as bees and butterflies.
There are those who insist that any tree planted in the Maltese islands whether in urban or rural area should be indigenous to the islands. Indigenous species are those that have been growing in the Maltese islands for thousands of years and came here without human intervention. These trees are usually very well adapted to the local climate and conditions and provide the best possible habitat for indigenous fauna.
The number of indigenous trees is very small. Species that nowadays form an integral part of the Maltese countryside such as the carob, almond and olive trees, in spite of what many people think, are not indigenous.
Several species of alien trees grow in the Maltese countryside. Some species such as the castor oil tree are aggressive invaders and in many areas have taken over vast tracts of ground at the cost of local species. These species need to be eradicated from the Maltese countryside and replaced by local species.
Much needs to be done to protect trees and increase their numbers in the Maltese islands.
Any action that is taken should be based on sound principles and should not be based solely on emotional reactions.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 19 June 2013