Anthony Valletta was a keen lepidopterist. He spent most of his life collecting and studying butterflies and other insects and was one of the first people in Malta to talk and write about the need to protect Malta’s natural environment. He wrote a number of books for children and adults as well as articles in newspapers and magazines.
In 1980 he wrote an article about the butterflies of the Maltese islands and their dwindling habitats, in which he expressed concern about an alarming decrease in the number of individuals of certain butterflies which he was noticing. He wrote that complete colonies had disappeared from newly built up areas. He noted that in the 48 years during which he had been studying butterflies the colourful abundance of these beautiful insects had become a thing of the past. As is the situation today the most common butterflies were the migrants who every year augmented the local population.
Lately I have been talking a lot with Maltese farmers especially elderly ones who remember the countryside as it was sixty or seventy years ago and what all of them told me sadly reflects what Valletta wrote thirty years ago. Mr Valletta believed that the decline was being caused by the destruction of the butterflies’ habitats because of new residential areas. He also blamed the planting of ornamental trees along the sides of valleys which were replacing local flora. The farmers blame the large quantities of pesticides that they use for the decline.
I am not aware of any studies that have been carried out to monitor the butterfly decline and their causes. It is already late to save the butterflies but it is better late than never and we can if we want to, halt the decline and even to reverse the trend. We owe the butterflies to future generations of Maltese people. We also have a responsibility to conserve local races such as that of the swallowtail butterfly which is endemic to the Maltese islands.
Mr Valletta wrote that many of the natural habitats would continue to disappear but he hoped that those in a position to do so will encourage the preservation of all existing species by ensuring that the necessary food plants are not entirely eradicated from the countryside and in some cases that these would be deliberately propagated.
Unfortunately, many species that Mr Valletta once enjoyed have become a rarity and might soon become extinct from the Maltese islands unless urgent action is taken to save them.
This article was published in The Times on 18.August.2010)