Simbiotic Project - habitat restoration of four sites in Gozo

The SIMBIOTIC Project in Gozo

afforestation site

SIMBIOTIC is a project implemented co-jointly by the Institute of Earth Systems of the University of Malta, the Ministry for Gozo, the Biology Department of the University of Catania and the Comune di Pachino in Syracuse. The project is financed by the Italia-Malta Territorial Cooperation Programme 2007  2013.

SIMBIOTIC is an environmental restoration project aiming at enhancing the ecological connectivity of the SE Sicily-Gozo transboundary migratory route through ecological restoration, improved area management, integrated environmental planning and policy and enhanced local environmental consciousness in the Comune di Pachino (Sicily) and the Island of Gozo (Malta). Restoration interventions will be designed based on an assessment of local plant, animal and habitat components, and analysis of landscape changes and the identification of priority connectivity areas.

In Gozo, the project is engaging with volunteer private and government land owners or title- holders in the participatory planning and implementation of habitat restoration actions through the planting of native trees and associated undercanopy vegetation in suitable configurations in the rural landscape. Three Government-owned sites and one privately-owned site have been selected for the restoration activities and work on the tree-planting is now under way.  The Government owned sites elected are:

  • Two adjacent fields in the Government Experimental Farm, Xewkija.
  • An abandoned olive grove at Ta Lambert, l/o Xewkija
  • A site at It-Taksis near Dahlet Qorrot, l/o Nadur

The privately-owned site selected is part of an Acacia plantation at Ghammar Hill opposite Ta Pinu.

 

Site at the Government Experimental Farm, Xewkija.

The idea behind the selection of this site is the creation of an area of woodland made up of indigenous trees with the principal aim being the didactic use of this woodland by the Institute of Earth Systems and other educational entities in Malta and Gozo. This is in line with the conversion of the Experimental Farm into a Centre for Innovation in Rural Sciences and Environmental Management which is currently under way. Tree planting at this site, involving a total of around 510 trees and shrubs started on Tuesday 6th November and was completed by Thursday 8th November.

 

Abandoned Olive Grove at Ta Lambert, l/o Xewkija.

This area of around 7000 square meters was planted as an olive grove about 50 years ago. Unfortunately over the years a number of olive trees died and the grove was abandoned, falling victim to vandalism including illegal dumping of waste building material and other refuse. The first task here was therefore site clearance, including the removal of dumped masonry blocks and all manner of other waste such as white goods. This was undertaken in October and the site was cleared by the end of the month. Tree Planting at this site will be carried out in the week starting 5th November and will involve a total of 270 native trees and shrubs.

 

Site at It-Taksis, near Dahlet Qorrot.

This site form part of one of the most spectacular landscapes in Gozo, bordered on one side by inland cliffs and on the other by slopes leading down to the Dahlet Qorrot coastline.. It consists of a complex of very small plots which appear to have been cultivated a very long time ago but which have now reverted to a natural state with olive trees and many interesting species of shrubs and plants. The site is in an excellent condition, without any problems of dumping or vandalism. The intervention planned here is minimal, intended to enhance the area by increasing the number of trees including the National Tree. About 50 native trees and shrubs will be planted in all.

 

Site at Ghammar Hill

Ghammar Hill, with its iconic Way of the Cross, is characterised by sloping woodland consisting mainly of the alien Acacia tree. Part of the woodland was selected for habitat restoration through replacement of the non-indigenous Acacias with native trees and shrubs. The first task undertaken here was the uprooting of around 60 Acacia trees and subsequent site clearance. This was completed by the end of October and the planting of around  150 trees and shrubs started on 5th November.

The habitat restoration work at all sites is expected to be completed by the end of November. Maintenance of the plantations will involve irrigation in the months between May and August 2013. In all a total of around 1000 indigenous trees and shrubs including Evergreen Oak (Ballut), Carob (Harrub), Olive (Zebbug), Bay Laurel (Rand), Pistacia (Deru), Spanish Broom (Genista safra), Rosemary (Klin) and Sandarac Gum tree (Gharghar), Aleppo Pines (Pinus halepensis), Myrtle (Myrtus communis) and Mediterranean Buckthorn (Alaternu).

As a result of participation by the Ministry for Gozo in the SIMBIOTIC project, the island will have gained four restored habitats which will be enjoyed by the general public. They will serve as stepping stones enhancing connectivity in the SE Sicily-Gozo transboundary migratory route, attracting wild fauna including reptiles, birds and small mammals. They will also be used as a living laboratory for the study of Gozos rich biodiversity. It is also expected that these four restored sites will serve as pilot projects for similar initiatives in future.

The project budget for the Ministry for Gozo as partner within this project amounts to ¬321,349.20. This budget is divided between ¬161,349.20 being provided as ERDF and ¬160,000.00 as additional contribution by the Ministry for Gozo.