Woodland in Winter

February 9, 2015 1:03 pm
Guest blog by Roger Parkinson.

Malta is not a place you would automatically consider to visit to see trees and woodland. This beautiful island has a long and fascinating history of early human habitation which is probably why it was almost stripped of its original forests.  Even in the early 16th century when the Knights of the Order of St John were first offered the island as a refuge after they were under threat of losing their home of Rhodes.  They surveyed Malta to see if it would suit them and reported that there were few fresh water sources, thin soil and it was devoid of any useful trees.  They turned it down and continued on Rhodes until they were forced to leave there in 1522.

Over the centuries most of the usable land was converted for use as farm land or habitation with very few native trees remaining.  Various fruit trees were introduced and cultivated. In more recent times, as in most countries, nature conservation and environmental concerns have resulted in an increased interest in our surroundings.  In Malta organisations like BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa and Nature Trust have led the way in creating new habitats.  One fine area to visit is near the beach resort of Mellieħa Bay in the North of the island.  A gem of a nature reserve has been created just across the road from the beach.  Għadira Reserve consists of a wetland area surrounded by young trees which has created a perfect place for visiting birds, some stopping off on the migration route from Italy, Sicily and North Africa.  In the visitor centre I found some excellent publications which were locally produced to advise visitors about the wildlife and the best locations to see it. 

They have also created a woodland area (the Foresta 2000 project) to the north of the reserve on the hillside that leads up to the spectacular Red Tower, St Agatha’s Tower (also well worth a visit and run by the Maltese National Trust). The top of the tower is the perfect place to get your bearings as it overlooks the two headlands and the ferry crossing to Gozo.  Both headlands have wonderful quiet walks with the West giving high cliff top views towards Gozo and over the sea.  The habitat being first a few trees then thinning away to limestone pavement with a wide assortment of wild flowers and herbal aromas. 

The easterly headland  has beautiful views from the narrow cliff top path over looking Mellieħa Bay with small inlets and lots of places to stop, just take in the views and listen to the crashing waves. Half way along this route the path enters a young woodland giving shade and more interesting wildlife.  At the end of that headland there is the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception with more amazing cliff top and sea views.  In this area I also found a newly planted area of trees supported by the local branch of HSBC Bank. Excellent interpretation boards were well placed at all locations around the area.

The Maltese people are to be congratulated for establishing native trees particularly on such unforgiving ground.  Watering to get them established must have been a real problem and made me realise how comparatively easy our woodland creation projects are in the UK. It was really uplifting to see such positive work being done to establish native woodland.

So if you love trees as I do and would like to see green woodland, wildlife and enjoy warm weather in winter, then try Malta.  

Photos and words by Roger Parkinson BEM.

Roger is a long-term volunteer with The Woodland Trust in the UK.

2012 Winner of The National Trusts – Octavia Hill Award for improving green spaces to benefit people and wildlife
2013 British Empire Medal for voluntary work for The Woodland Trust and Thornes Park, Wakefield
2014 The Woodland Trust Volunteer of the Year for inspirational creation of Community Woodland