Nothing makes me more livid than complete and utter ignorance; and there seems to be quite a healthy dose of the latter affecting thieves in Malta lately. There appears to be an ever increasing trend of tree thefts on the Islands, which is worrying to say the least. In a country renowned for its areas of natural beauty, but also for its marked increase in urbanization at the expense of such areas, the decimation of these saplings is not contributing towards a greener future for Maltese generations.
Firstly, I would like to dissect the reported thefts which have happened within the last five years (as reported by The Times of Malta). I compiled a list of nine thefts (colour coordinated) that occurred in Malta and Gozo and mapped them below (links to articles below):
O – Nov/Dec 2012 – Palazzo Bettina Gudja – 6 trees and counting (one bay laurel, one olive tree, two cypress and two Aleppo pine)
O – May 2012 – Xrobb l-Ghagin Nature Park – 170 trees
O – Jan 2012 – Triq il-Buskett (Road between Rabat and Buskett) – 50 trees (Aleppo pines)
O – Jan 2011 – Tal-Karnival Mtarfa – 12 trees (Olives)
O – Apr 2010 – Mellieha Foresta 2000 site, under Red Tower – 104 trees (uprooted and vandalised)
O – Oct 2008 – Luqa Civic Amentiy site – 4 trees
O – Jan 2013 – Qala (Taksis area) – 20 trees
O – Jan 2013 – Xewkija (Ta Lambert area) – 20 trees
O – May 2010 – Qala Picnic Area/Gnien il-Familja – 60 trees (Mostly Olive and some Pomegranate trees)
Over the past five years, 446 newly planted trees have been reported as stolen or vandalised…and who knows how many more acts like these are committed on a daily basis but are not reported to the authorities.
If there is something I have learned from the many episodes of CSI that Mr Bruckheimer has graciously produced for us, is that any crime hinges on three important questions: The Who? The How? and The Why?
I suppose this is the question everyone wants the answer to. When people think of theft, they generally assume that it involves items of a certain monetary value, such as jewellery, cash, electronics and so on – who would stop and think that plants are items worth stealing? Also, let’s face it – I doubt there is a black market in Malta for trees that are only worth approximately €20 each (as calculated from articles by The Times of Malta), especially when smartphones have pickpockets here in London and across cities in the world in a literal feeding frenzy!
So who could be the culprit? I personally find it hard to believe that there is some ring of tree stealing delinquents that meet casually every Sunday and plan their next move over a beer or two…so it could possibly be someone who these trees may have an importance to their work or life for him/her to get their hands dirty (literally).
This is the question which in this particular issue bothers me the most. Here, I am not talking about those thefts involving less than ten trees, or any number of trees that can comfortably fit in a Fiat Cinquecento or Peugeot 205…I’m talking about the fact that people can steal over 50 trees, and comfortably walk away with them!
First of all, even if the trees have been newly planted, it takes some stamina to uproot and carry these tree to the ‘getaway car’. So assuming it takes a minute per tree, we are looking at an act of at least 20-30 minutes depending on the number of perpetrators and trees. How does one engage in the act of theft for that period of time without being caught?
Secondly, WITNESSES? I’m sure it is very improbable that someone would be wandering a Nature Park at the dead of night, so it would be easy to get away with it. But how about the busy road? Seriously? In a country as densely populated as Malta, not taking into account tourists and visitors, no one has ever seen somebody steal a tree?
Thirdly, Where the bloody hell are these trees? Did they go to a better place where the air is clean and light is of a non-carcinogenic UV Index?
This is the question many people forget to ask when such a crime is committed – Why on Earth would anyone go and steal a tree?
Did the perpetrators take these trees to plant them on their properties? Are they selling them? Are they dumping them somewhere (if so why haven’t they ever been found)? Are they using them for kindling? TOO many questions!!
I personally believe that these trees are being uprooted by some individuals trying to make a statement. If you look at most of the cases, the trees have been planted by NGOs in areas that should be afforested or restored. As such, there is a strong possibility that someone with a grudge against these organisations is trying to undermine their work by removing these trees.
This is what irritates me; should this be the case, these people are failing to comprehend that they are not simply setting back the NGOs, but us the people and the fragile environment in our little country.
My concluding remark goes to any government official who will someday (hopefully) stumble upon this article…should someone be held accountable? If we are talking about Nature Parks, should there be constant vigilance to protect their environmental integrity or is it too costly to hire green officers and keep an eye out for such incidents? Such incidents in public areas such as roads, family parks and so on are more acceptable (albeit still deplorable) than those occurring in protected areas. If these areas are not even living up to their name, then why call them that and leave people running around with shovels and saws and doing what they like?
Each article published on the matter includes a concluding remark by a government official, either a Local Council Mayor or a Minister, condemning the acts and declaring a war by virtue of planting more trees. This is a good approach at least, that the damage being done is somehow being reverted. However, tax payers money aside (which seems to bother most people in these situations), the problem is not being nipped at the bud. There needs to be more vigilance and surveillance of these areas, and individuals that are caught should be punished by giving them community work in the form of tree planting, since it takes more effort to plant them than to uproot them!
As far as I am concerned, Malta still lacks a lot of accountabili-tree.
Links to articles: