Forestland and Nature Reserves in Malta | EP: 28, p 1 | The Local Traveller with Clare Agius | Malta
What if I told you there's forests in Malta? Have you ever been to one? Today we'll see where our guest will take us. I'll be accompanied by him throughout this programme. I'll be enjoying Malta's natural beauty. [theme song] TRAVELLING AROUND THE WORLD ENJOYING LIFE ENHANCING OUR STORY [nostalgic music] Although Malta's climate is not ideal for forests there are these small pockets looked after by 'Bird Life' thanks to the project 'Foresta 2000'. These habitats are being provided. I'm taking you to one at the top of Għadira It's a very nice walk.
It is in fact a forest. Enter through this gate and walk with me. There's around 250 tonnes of forest.
[peaceful music] [Clare] I met Mark Gauci from 'Bird Life' to go around this site full of natural beauty and diversity. All of these are Maltese indigenous trees. Indigenous trees and bushes. When did you plant them? This was a project aimed for the year 2000. 'Foresta 2000'.
'Bird Life' and 'Din l-Art Ħelwa' joined forces to create a forested area to be enjoyed by the public. It took longer as we faced lots of challenges. Over 25,000 trees and bushes were planted.
They had to be planted and watered. The land is in good shape now. It's a forest in the making. It's magnificent. How big is this area? It's very large. We're along the Mellieħa main road.
It goes over to the other side, to the Qammieħ area. It's a beautiful walk that is not well known. It's an hour and a half of trekking through this peaceful place.
[peaceful music] It's just like a forest behind me. You wouldn't expect it in Malta. We're not used to such a sight. It's a pity. There's a Facebook page, but only few people know of it. We're accustomed to being lazy. We don't like walking.
This is perfect for trekking. Take water and some bread, walk and enjoy the sounds of nature. You can hear the swallows.
The collared dove. The robins sing. One can enjoy the fresh air and nature. I have to admit that I never walked here before. I definitely will now. After promoting the place, whoever comes must respect nature.
Its purpose is to enjoy nature. We shouldn't come with a lot of stuff and litter the place. Whoever visits should be respectful. In order to enjoy it, noise should be kept to a minimum.
We have to behave as nature's guests. This is nature's home and we have to respect its rules. I wish this was the general mentality and that our customs change to cherish our local beauty. That's the aim of NGOs like us. Such as 'Bird Life' to educate and show that although Malta is tiny with a lot of buildings, amazing places like this exist and can be enjoyed. Let us show you what's in this forest.
[cheerful music] [Mark] As you can see, trees are planted in a specific way, so we didn't- Although the trees are close together, planting was done so as to leave space between them. The forest regenerates itself in a natural way. The birds eat the lentisk's seeds and spread them elsewhere. So we didn't plant some of the trees but they are growing on their own through natural regeneration. [Clare] It's wonderful to see: nature growing over a number of years. This happened in 20 years. It's a small forest.
In just this period, a lot happened. [Mark] It's not just about birds. We conduct studies about otters, hedgehogs, there's a good number of snakes found on the Maltese islands, and chameleons.
They're all important for a strong ecological system. A small tip for those with kids which I learnt when I went to Africa. We used to wake up at 5 am to go animal spotting. If you bring your kids and create a list of creatures you can see and they start ticking off what they see to make it more fun for the kids. They might find walking boring. But you can make it more fun by seeing how many animals were found off the list.
[peaceful music] [Clare] From Forest 2000 we're off to visit the Nature Reserve in Għadira and learn more about the importance of such sites. Mark brought me to the Nature Reserve. It's open for the public. It's free of charge. [Mark] The entrance is always free. It's open from September to May.
It's accessible on weekends, Saturday and Sunday from ten to four. Our representatives assist visitors. It's also open on Tuesdays and Fridays from two to seven. School children come in the morning. It's part of their curriculum.
In Year Three and Four, they learn about Malta's nature. Let's change our mentality and spend more time in nature. [dramatic music] [Clare] This is the best time for bird migration.
[Mark] Spring migration. We benefit from two migrations. Spring and autumn.
Birds spend winter in Africa for warmth and to find food. Europe is too cold during winter. In spring they come back to Europe to lay eggs.
'Bird Life' have the "On the Move" campaign as birds are on the move. There are different bird species. Their journeys are incredible. We can see photos of different birds that due to scientific research we know that these birds were here in the reserve and migrated to different countries. Such as Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Norway, Sweden. Countries far away.
[Clare] So such a tiny bird can go on a long trip. Perfectly put. It's so tiny.
We put a ring on this bird which was found in Russia. -[Clare] Is that the common redstart? -[Mark] That's right. [Mark] It doesn't weigh more than 20kg. This is a male.
It's going to its nest. At this time, birds are eager to leave to find the best place where to build a nest, where there's more food. Male birds are the first to migrate and mark their territory. My colleagues are currently doing "bird ringing". The study from which this information is gathered.
Let's go see how it's collected. [upbeat music] This is "bird ringing". These are different sized rings, each having a unique number that identifies them. It's like the bird's ID number.
There's also the address for 'Bird Life'. This is so once the bird is ringed and we free him, if it's found elsewhere, we can use the number to identify it. 'Bird Life' is found in different countries. They inform you of birds they find. [Mark] Yes. That's right. This is a common bird found in spring.
A striking Hoopoe. Very beautiful bird. We're putting this ring on. The ring fits loose around the leg just like when we wear a watch or ring. It doesn't hurt the bird.
It's very light, made of aluminium. It turns around and goes up and down the leg so the bird is not in pain. [Clare] How do you catch this bird? We have a special license, obtained after years of training on how to identify and handle birds. The bird ringing license is then given. We are then permitted to use mist nets.
Small nets which we set up in trees Birds get caught up in these pockets and we go get them and ring them immediately. -[Clare] Then they're released? -[Mark] Yes, immediately. The process only lasts a few minutes. The mist nets are never left unattended. There's always someone checking them. We then measure the wing.
The measurement for this bird is 143. We find out if they're babies or adults or if they're old. From its feathers, and the shape of the tail we know it was born last year. In 2020, it was born somewhere in Europe, migrated to Africa in the autumn and it's going back to lay eggs and build its own family.
We check the approximate length of the beak. More than five cm which determines it's a male. We check if it has fat. Zero and one. Its given a score from zero to nine of how much fat it has. It's important that they eat a lot before migrating.
They can't always stop for food. This particular bird is light judging its muscle and fat so it might spend a few days in the reserve to eat and gain weight and then it migrates. They do this naturally on their own. It's incredible how they manage to learn.
Especially since there's always a first time. It's an instinct. He's weighing the bird. It's important as if it spends a few days here and should we possibly catch it again we'd know how much it gained. It weighs 72 grams.
I'm going to set it free. This is the best moment. [Clare] Let me get my phone. [dramatic music] [Mark] Għadira is comprised of different habitats.
The shore and saltmarsh ideal for certain birds. Like the Common Kingfisher a beautiful bird that eats fish. The water area in which we find the killifish.
Malta's national fish. Lots of it here. It's important for the birds.
There woodland areas with African tamarisk and pine trees. There's this last interesting area where we had this project to save the sand dune which was lost throughout the years and we tried to revive it. We can go see the result. They're all small areas but there's still a bit of everything.
We're entering the area I mentioned. The sand dune area. Restoration was carried out here.
It was full of alien species planted years ago. The sandy area was covered so we carried out a project for years to slowly remove trees. There was also a lot of leaf litter. We had to remove the compost to expose the sand.
We built this boardwalk. It's a very delicate environment which can be destroyed if people walk on it. We built an elevated boardwalk so school children and the public can enjoy this rare habitat.
[uplifting music] This is a sea daffodil. It blooms beautiful white flowers in summer. It grows in a sandy habitat. This is the entire area we cleaned up. It was covered with trees.
[Clare] So there's sand underneath these bushes. [Mark] That's right. There's the sea daffodil and different types of thorny shrubs.
[Clare] They create a new environment. [Mark] They create a different environment. Here we find the Burrowing Sand Cricket. In a few weeks time, you can see the sand being thrown around because the cricket will be burrowing in the sand.
It looks for soft sand in which it can dig a hole. It's a small area but we're doing our best to educate future generations. Children that come here can see this habitat. This is well known in Ramla, Gozo, because they're the largest on the Maltese islands but we now have a small area here. I'm very happy to see such diversity which can be found in this country.
Even when it comes to nature. One wouldn't notice it at first glance. When you become involved and meet people like you and others with similar roles one realizes how diverse Malta is. [uplifting music]