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The River Valleys of the Maltese Islands
Environment and human impact. 1998.

S.M. Haslam, M.A., Sc.D. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, England and Institute of Agriculture, University of Malta and

J. Borg, Dip. Hort.(Am); C.D.H., Principal Agricultural Officer, Programmes and Initiatives, Department of Agriculture, Malta.

Information and assistance from:
Volunteers: M.J. Camilleri, Mr and Mrs C. Busuttil, Miss M. Ellul, Mr and Mrs S. Busuttil, Mr J. Gatt, Rev. V. Scicluna. Students: Mr B. Attard, Miss P. Chircop, Mr D. Muscat, Miss M. Bajada, Mr D. Farrugia, Miss P. Schembri, Miss S. Busuttil, Mr H. Micallef, Miss E. Mousù and: Mr F. Borg-Millo, Miss D. Borg-Millo, Mr E. Lanfranco, Mrs J. Psaila, University Library (Melitensia), Society for the Care and Conservation of Nature.
With illustrations by Mrs Y. Bower

Published by the Islands and Small States Institute of the Foundation for International Studies, Malta and CIHEAM, Bari, Italy. Malta, December 1998. Available from: BDL, 487 Triq Manché, Pembroke, STJ 07, Malta. Email: Contact BDL (Almost sold out)


Malta (and her sister Islands) are one of the smallest among the nations of the world, but her location in the centre of the Mediterranean, the Middle Sea, has given her a unique position. The tides of ecology, culture and of war flowing back and forth have washed her shores, and impressed each upon her land. Her native plants and animals show affinities with Africa as well as Europe, and travel beyond as well as over the Middle Sea has brought further species, from the prickly pear so commonly cultivated for farm and boundary use, come here from the Americas, to the cape sorrel so common by the wayside, which hails from South Africa (Cape of Good Hope).

The central position led, in ancient times, to the prehistoric temples, and later to the imprint of cultures anxious to hold Malta as a bastion against their enemies. When not such a bastion, in unpeaceful times the raiding by pirates was distressful, and did little for heritage. Both Religious Malta and Fortress Malta have added much, however.

In recent centuries population has exploded and far outstripped the resources of the Island: except that those resources include sun and sea, and tourists can support an indigenous population far too large to feed itself, and which has never been industrial. Agriculture continues and to a surprising extent, given the small reliance on indigenous food, forms a crucial part of the land economy. Such a large population in such a small area necessarily means its impact is great, even horrific. Malta is much to be congratulated in having kept so much of her heritage, both natural and cultural. This book is written in hope and trust that it may help to conserve this heritage, now seriously under threat, for future generations. That it may help the non-scientist and non-archaeologist to understand the marvellous diversity in nature and art in just one habitat of the Island, and that, understanding, they too will wish their great-grandchildren to have the same inheritance. That which, in the past was handed down without thought, now, due to the intense population pressure, needs much effort to preserve.



1 Introduction

The river valleys; the human influence; geology and history; climate; structure, soils and diversity of widien; population pressure; the status of the widien.

2 Rivers or Valleys?

Malta has no rivers(?); evidence from floras; evidence from Cassar's Medical History of Malta; Evidence from folklore; other evidence; use of water from river beds; naming the waters; rain water and spring water.

3 Plants and Animals

Introduction; structure and community; animals; plants; the changing nature of river vegetation; places of conservation importance; seasonal changes; the plants and animals of some places in widien.

4 Harvests from the Widien

Minerals, animals, plants, farming history.

5 Water Supply

Introduction; the Water Services Corporation; water resources; restrictions on water use; water quality; water loss; changes in run-off; river farms and gnien farms.

6 Communications

Travel along the stream; travel across the stream; causeways; river port; river town; other transporting.

7 Waste Disposal

Introduction; solid waste (and associated liquids); effluents (and liquid dumping); road and urban run-off pollution; field run-off pollution; field pollution by irrigation waters; pollution-tolerant aquatic vegetation; conclusions; wetland and soil cleaning, buffer strips; the law,.

8 Dangers Old and New

Drowning; sickness; causeways; floods; defence; crime; explosion.

9 Flowing water, Holiness and Chapels

Holy waters; river chapels; healing waters.

10 The consequences of neglect

Loss of spring water; loss of rain run-off water; loss of aquatic and marsh flora and fauna; loss of aquatic habitat from dams; lack of maintenance of wied vegetation; flood hazards from vegetation overgrowth; failure to repair crumbling retaining walls; failure to repair broken dams; soil erosion from lack of maintenance and care; unsatisfactory dredging and cleaning; fire; recreation; walking and picnicking; leaving litter; motor vehicles, offroading; riding; canoeing; climbing and abseiling.

11 The consequences of deliberate damage

Dumping of rubbish and rubble; blocking up historical features by dumping; obstructing water flow in valleys; pollution; putting streams underground; lining the bed or valley floor with concrete, asphalt, stones, etc.; removing features of historic importance; quarrying; snail collecting; frog, reptile, etc., collecting; grazing; killing aquatic and wied birds by hunting (shooting) or trapping; unsatisfactory tree planting for hunting; destroying trees for hunting; other inappropriate tree planting; the valleys Good Luck or Bounty Scheme, Risq il-Widien, and similar schemes of valley disruption; drainage; biocide spills; confusing urban and rural situations; losing sense of place.

12 The main widien: the Ghasel, Kbir and Sewda systems

The River Ghasel System; the River Kbir System; the River Sewda System.

13 Some smaller widien

Wied Babu; (Upper) Santi Valley; Wied Ghomor (northern); Wied ix-Xlendi; Mellieha Valley; Bahrija Valley; Wied il-Faham; Selmun Valley; Ramla Valley.

14 Remedial: to decrease the dangers to human life and health

Remove obstructions to water flow; encourage valley stability; decrease flash floods in built-up areas; decrease flood damage in rural areas; decrease pollution of field and aquifer; monitor pollution of wied, field and aquifer; study pollutant breakdown in this Mediterranean Soil; use the valleys to clean polluted air from settlements and roads.

15 Remedial: to conserve the cultural heritage

Constructions and other artefacts of ancient and recent days; list and publicise actions; care for visitors; maintain 'Sense of Place'; provide compensation.

16 Remedial: to conserve and enhance the natural heritage

Improve water quantity and flow; improve water quality; careful dredging; bed structure; bank structure (by the watercourse bed); valley structure (wide vales, steep valleys, and gorges) planting trees; planting shrubs; planting and encouraging shorter land plants (from seeds or as grown plants); encouraging and planting marsh and water plants; control and partly remove Arundo donax; the 'Do Nothing' option; nature trails, etc.

Appendix 1: what needs to be done, and how to do it

That which needs to be done; the objectives; recommendations; implementation of plans; content of a land use plan.

Appendix 2: river trails

Introduction; River Sewda System: wied is sewda from the Zubbug Road bridge to the sea; River Kbir System (Widien Qirda, Kbir and Cawsli): from the Siggiewi Road bridge to the sewda confluence; River Ghasel System; Gnejna Valley; Mistra Valley; Wied San Niklaw; Wied Has-Saptan; Wied Maqluba, Ghar Lapsi Valley.

Index of Plant names
General Index

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