60 iGEN volunteers help with afforestation project for Earth Day 2023

Sustainable tree planting and land clearance with Din L-art Helwa Mellieha

On Friday 21st April, 60 volunteers from Aspire Global, Betsson, Tipico, Pariplay and Myaffiliates gathered at the Il Majjistral Nature and History Park to help with a land clearance and tree planting initiative under the direction of David Azzopardi of Din L-Art Helwa Mellieha.

The site, located at the edge of the Natura 2000 park close to Manikata, was once a dumping ground for waste from the old Golden Sands hotel which was demolished when the new Radisson Blu resort was built. David explains that when Din L-Art Helwa Mellieha took over the site the natural garrigue had already been destroyed, so they had to spend many hours removing rubble, including sinks, toilets and other hotel fixtures, and bring in tons of topsoil to make a viable environment for tree planting.

Left: As people begin to arrive at the site, the rangers put in an appearance. Middle: David Azzopardi of Din L-Art Helwa Mellieha, our host for the day. Right: Happy volunteers wait to be assigned their tasks

Over the past three years they have planted 450 indigenous trees in the area, and David and his small team are kept busy maintaining the site and caring for the trees until they are fully established and can take care of themselves.

When we first contacted David, he was very clear that he would only be willing to host a sustainable initiative to ensure its success. It transpires that many of the tree planting events held around the country are feel-good initiatives which lack a long-term focus, resulting in the trees not receiving the care they need in the early years and subsequently dying, so therefore our aim was to keep our event small-scale and sustainable.

At our first location scouting David explained that what was primarily required was the care and maintenance of the existing trees, mostly clearing of vegetation from around their roots and identifying any which had died of natural causes for replacement. He also showed us an area which they hoped to clear of rocks to enable more trees to be planted at a later date, as well as an area of mature trees where vegetation had previously been cut to form fire breaks, but which now needed removing.

We had also co-ordinated with the Malta Ranger Unit for a guided litter-picking hike through the park for those interested in learning more about the park and the work the rangers do in protecting it from illegal dumping, fires, camping and vehicle access, as well as illegal hunting and trapping.

The three main areas of focus. From left: Clearing the cut vegetation from the fire breaks by the mature trees, clearing rocks to make room for more trees to be planted, and clearing weeds from around the roots of the 3 year old trees.

We began gathering at the park entrance from 15:30, on a very windy day. We then divided the up volunteers – including a number of families with children – into different teams for the different tasks, and at 16:00 the teams headed off to their respective areas and began work, and Ranger Cami Appelgren led her group off into the park for the start of the hike.

Work progressed well, despite the strong winds, some tough and spiky vegetation and a huge amount of rocks lying around, and soon we were well on our way to achieving our goals for the day. David then brought out the trees for planting, and lead everyone to an area previously allocated for planting, and showed us how to prepare the ground with mattocks, digging down into the stony soil to a sufficient depth, watering the bottom of the hole and then transplanting the saplings, pressing them into the ground, backfilling and watering.

David Azzopardi demonstrates how to properly plant the saplings in the stony terrain, and explains the history behind the afforestation project

Each group got to try their hand at tree planting under his supervision, and David also gave us a history of the flora of the park, explaining which trees were suitable for afforestation and which were not, and explained how the harsh environment affects their development.

Once we were finished we made our way down to Munchies on the beach at Golden Bay for some well deserved refreshments. The rangers arrived with their group and could report filling four sacks with litter from their hike, another great result for the event, and another great initiative for the benefit of a sustainable Malta! The only sour note on the day was that a rather over-zealous motorcycle policeman could not be dissuaded from ticketing a number of our volunteer’s parked vehicles for obstruction.

Left: iGEN’s Glen Smith with the Aspire Global team. Right: Aspire Global’s Liesbeth Oost together with iGEN’s Enrico Bradamante and Gil and Cami of the MRU, enjoying some refreshments at Munchies.