Sunday, April 17, 2011

Roadside vegetation

Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Road verges, especially in rural areas, often provide the right conditions for many species of wild plants to grow along them. 

In a densely populated island like ours where much of the original natural habitats had to give way to buildings, roads and agriculture and as a result of this road sides have become important because they can also provide a good habitat for several species of animals especially insects and reptiles. 

They can also act as corridors linking a number of habitats together and can facilitate the dispersal and migration of plants and animals from one place to another.

Many of the plant species that grow in these spaces are adapted to live in disturbed habitats but this does not reduce their importance in the ecology of the Maltese islands. 

Unfortunately there still exists the mentality that all wild plants are weeds which compete directly with humans and must therefore be destroyed. 

In former years farmers weeded their fields with their bare hands or with a hoe. Nowadays they have an arsenal of herbicides with which to get rid of plants which are considered as competitors. And the fight is no longer limited to a small area surrounding their trees and crops.

Herbicides were also used to kill the vegetation growing along country roads. I have not seen this practice for some years now and it might have been stopped although some localities hire persons to remove wild plants growing along country roads  

This destruction of precious fauna and flora must stop. We need a complete change of attitude and start looking at verges as important habitats for our flora and fauna.

We should also start looking at roundabouts and centre-strips as potential habitats. These sites are being planted with cultivated plants with no ecological value. These plants do not support any wildlife while some need large quantities of water to maintain a resource which needs to be conserved.

Management plants to improve the biodiversity of all these sites should be drawn up to ensure that they are managed properly so that indigenous plants are encouraged to grow in them and thus provide a habitat and food for our fauna especially insects including butterflies and bees. 

This article was published in The Times on 16.03.2011

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