Making space for our urban birds

October 18, 2016 1:17 pm

Recently, Birdlife Malta has been organising workshops on urban tree management with local councils. My colleague James Symonds and I have been giving presentations about management of urban trees, with the aim of increasing the knowledge of councillors responsible for the environment about the benefits of urban trees for people and for wildlife, and good practice in tree management.

The idea for giving tree management workshops follows on from the ‘Spot a Sparrow’ project, which engaged local people by getting them to report to us the locations of sparrow roosts. It also became apparent that in some places there is malpractice when managing trees – in particular a recent incident on the University Racetrack where ugly stumps were left where healthy olive trees used to be, and this was labelled as ‘pruning’.  The workshops we are holding should help local councils when discussing with their contractors what the best time of year to prune trees is, how much of the tree foliage should be pruned, and their concerns about managing trees for wildlife.

On 12th September 2016, the first workshop with Naxxar Local Council was held, and was a great success. Attending councillors were very interested to hear about the birds that use their urban trees for roosting and nesting at different times of the year, and the services these birds provide, such as insect control. Another workshop with Marsaxlokk local council was held on the 14th September, and once again was very successful. In Marsaxlokk, council members were not just interested in good management of the trees they already have, but in increasing numbers of trees in Marsaxlokk in the future.

James and I both came away from the workshops feeling that not only had we helped inform councillors about tree management, but that we had also forged positive links between BirdLife Malta and the councils. We hope that in the future councillors will not hesitate to contact us with any environmental concerns they have in their constituencies, and that perhaps we can work together again.

Not knowing what the councillors were expecting or the level of formality usual for their meetings, I planned to give the workshops with the structure ‘Introduction – Presentation –Questions – Provision of a Handout – Thanks and Conclusion’. However I was mildly surprised and pleased to find that the atmosphere was very relaxed and more time was spent in discussion than keeping to my planned structure. It was clear that most councillors were highly interested in the environment and would describe their sightings of sparrows, bee-eaters and robins around their local area. Sometimes it felt a bit like preaching to the converted – we didn’t need to convince them of the health, aesthetic and shade providing services of trees! But they did show a lot of interest in the fact that urban trees can provide warmer, less exposed conditions for birds to roost in, and that regular but light pruning can keep trees healthy with a sound structure, and avoid problems like excessive root growth and low hanging branches.

Future workshops have been organised with Sliema and Victoria (Rabat, Gozo) local councils, showing the interest and hopefully commitment of some local councils to providing wildlife with a home in cities on the Maltese Islands. However, this is just a small number of the 68 local councils across Malta and Gozo, and we hope that more local councils will also show interest and agree to host workshops.

By Rachel Shepherd, Conservation Assistant at BirdLife Malta