Malta Diary How green are our valleys in Malta and Gozo?
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Malta and Gozo are criss-crossed with valleys and ditches but unfortunately, rainwater quickly drains away and deposits eroded and precious soil into the surrounding seas. The few water catchments left quickly stagnate under the hot summer sunshine. However, the greener areas are naturally concentrated around these valleys and ditches.
One of the better and much loved valleys is that of Wied il-Qliegha in the Rabat area of Malta, the word “Wied” meaning “Valley” from the Arabic word “Wadi”. It is better known as The Chadwick Lakes (a bit of a misnomer because the “lakes” are miniscule), named after the British engineer Sir Osbert Chadwick who designed a system of dams at the end of the 19th Century aimed at preserving rain water as it poured down the various levels.
Unfortunately, this and most other valleys were totally neglected for many years and besides rubbish being dumped in them they were also allowed to silt up with soil, stones and gravel. In addition they became a hotbed for alien invasive plant, animal and insect species that destroyed most of the indigenous environment.
Since the fruition of Chadwick’s stroke of environmental genius the area became a magnet for family outings, admiring the stretches of water and the general wildlife of a bonanza of plants and ducks and tadpoles and frogs wallowing in the cool waters. Nature walks were a non-event unless centred around the “lakes” and the spring weather was a magnet for family picnics and the delights of children.
Fortunately, before this and other valleys were totally destroyed, the community awoke to its responsibilities and in recent years, intensive renovation and regeneration has taken place to restore these areas to their natural beauty as a result of thorough clean-ups, dredging, the removal of invasive species and their replacement by indigenous species.
One of the most thorough and intensive clean-ups was around the Chadwick Lakes and now these have been placed under the management of Nature Trust Malta. The total investment clean-up reaches €5 million, co-financed from EU Funds (yes, the EU sometimes DOES have some uses!).
There are about 200 valleys in the Islands, 154 in Malta, 42 in Gozo and two on the small island in between, Comino. Some of the major ones run into each other but are named differently because of the locality they run through.
The intensity is possible because of the soft limestone formation of the Maltese islands, easily grooved during periods of heavy rain.
Many are beautiful, natural and picturesque – although some in the past were subject to awful experiences because they were seen as natural dumping grounds for unwanted and bulky household rubbish by the more moronic elements of society.
In those days it was not unusual to find a valley full of mattresses, rusty bedsteads, ‘fridges and cookers together with dead dogs and cats and on numerous occasions, dumped vehicles.
Fortunately, those days are now over because of greater environmental awareness campaigns as well as eagle-eyed vigilante groups and of course strategically situated security cameras.
Some are obviously better known than others because of their natural beauty and their landmark assignation. Some of the names are romantic and linked to fabled love affairs or otherwise are linked to various Ottoman Moors invasions that produced miracles or anguish. One of these is the Mosta Valley where legend has it that lantern lights can be seen at night and screams of anguish heard.
One of my favourites has always been Wied il-Lunzjata (the Valley of the Annunciation) in Rabat, Gozo. This is a deep valley of beauty and serenity that begins its descent in the vicinity of a small and ancient chapel that still bears the Latin plaque that holy patronage is not granted to criminals – thus precluding criminals from gaining entry with the scope of legal immunity and thus protection for their criminal actions.
The valley gradually descends surrounded on both sides by stratas of well-kept terraced fields each with their impeccable stone walls to provide shelter from soil erosion in heavy rainfall.
It is just heavenly.
Another beautiful valley in Gozo is Wied il-Ghasri, as well as the “widien” at Xlendi and Marsalforn.
Unfortunately, these were totally neglected for many years and besides rubbish being dumped in them they were also allowed to silt up with soil, stones and gravel. Renovation and regeneration is taking pace to restore the area to its natural beauty.
Regeneration and renovation is taking place in Wied Babu in Zurrieq, probably Malta’s most beautiful valley with a water flow that emerges in the area of Zurrieq’s Blue Grotto with its crystal clear blue waters and rainbow coloured strips of sea bottom sands.
Most meaningfully, these valleys house the most important strains of plants, trees, bushes, animals, birds and insects that are indigenous to the Maltese Islands yet over the years they have become clogged up with invasive vegetation such as wildly growing canes that are so abundant they choke off the indigenous vegetation.
Thankfully, the Government has now vowed to take regeneration and renovation of all valleys in hand and a survey has been carried out to establish all the various needs and restore this environmental and agricultural lifeline of the Maltese Islands to their natural beauty.
It is estimated that currently almost 30% of the landmass of the Maltese Islands is under the protection of Natura 2000 and thus geared to safeguard biodiversity and their natural ecosystems. From the marine aspect, Malta’s Protected Zone covers 35% of Malta’s territorial waters, that is, 13 times larger than the landmass.
“The hangman’s noose is for the unfortunate”
An expression used to signify that while one person may be hanged for their crime, there are many, many more criminals who have done much worse but have not been brought to face justice.