Posted on 13/09/03 in Environment
It has been calculated through geological methods that during the Neolithic ages almost half of Malta was afforested. As soon as humans set foot on our islands, the effect on forests started being felt. Like other neighbouring Mediterranean countries men started herding goats. Thus men cut trees for his own use and goats ate everything including freshly sprouting trees.
On the advent of the Bronze Age more trees were needed to fuel the working of bronze. At the times of building of the ancient temples even more trees suffered fatal losses. Olive, Narrow Leaved Ash, Aleppo Pine, Sandarac gum and many other kinds of trees were felled. This was found through the analysis of ashes found at the temples.
At around 800 BC Phoenicians started to use Malta is one of their bases. Their naval fleet required repairs and this continued to increase the need for more wood. Carthaginians followed and took over Malta. The same pressure applied because they had also a strong naval fleet. As the Roman Empire expanded they took over Malta as launching pad for the whole of the Mediterranean. They required would to build their fleet, to build tools and heat up Roman baths.
When the Roman Empire fell Malta became colony to the Arab might for around 250 years. They brought new and improved farming techniques such as irrigation. This and the fact that they planted cotton and citrus started taking the place of fruitless trees. Whole stretches of land were planted with olive trees which was used for oil production.
“The Gharghar or Araar Tree is the national tree of Malta which is also rare in the wild. This species of Cypress is on the World endanger list as the tree is endemic to the Maltese Islands and a small forest pocket in Spain. It was prestigiously used by the Romans to build their Senator’s chairs.”
The Knights of St. John followed as the next colonists. While the encouragement of planting of new expensive spices meant the cutting down of around 50,000 olive trees, more wood had to be found for the market of ship building and repair. Piracy was legalized and was considered to be a very good market to work in. In fact, for many years, Maltese pirates were famed for their harshness at sea. The population quickly expanded, new towns were being built in order to serve for the new needs of the Knights. Soil was used as a passive coolant between the walls of houses. The decrease in soil became a problem for the need of the trees. The Arabs frequently tried to set woods on fire in order to reduce the vital supply and fumigate people protected inside the bastions. After the Maltese won the Great Siege, the reconstruction of buildings and construction of new palaces required a volume of wood which was not available on the Islands and had to be imported. As woodland decreased, the Knights started to build forests such as the one under the Grandmaster’s summer palace which was used for recreation purposes. This later was expanded to the now very well known as Buskett Forest. The national forest has been protected since then and has become a harbour for many typical Mediterranean animals and plants.