SURVEYING OF VALLEYS AND FRESHWATER SYSTEMS IN MALTA AND GOZO
Tisbiħ Malta, formerly known as Ambjent Malta, is a partner in the LIFE IP RBMP project. One of its main tasks to date has been that of creating a geo-spatial database following intense surveying of valleys and freshwater systems in Malta and Gozo. The team researched existing information, prepared maps, took photos using drones and carried out field surveys. This has resulted in a valuable collection of data which includes land use, water flow, and the presence of important ecological species, such as protected trees and areas colonized by invasive and alien species. These surveys are being done in the following valleys:
Wied Ħarq Ħamiem and Wied Mejxu
These valleys are the only remaining green lungs found in the urban areas of Swieqi and Madliena. A substantial amount of water passes through Ħarq Ħamiem after storms, flowing through underground tunnels into St George’s Bay. This valley gained attention recently with the rediscovery of an underground cave containing seawater that hosts a rare albino shrimp.
Not many know about this hidden gem found parallel to the Burmarrad bypass. Water in Għajn Rihana can be seen flowing most of the year down a cascade of stone dams. Tisbiħ Malta is currently responsible for restoring the area, replacing invasive species such as the Acacia with indigenous species such as the African Tamarisk.
Wied Blandin has been greatly altered by human activities throughout the years. Despite the negative impact of these activities, there are a number of semi-natural habitats flourishing in the area. Tisbiħ Malta planted circa 1,000 trees in the north-west slopes including Aleppo pine, Holm oak and White willow, which have now formed a semi-natural community.
Despite its highly altered state, including an overgrowth of the invasive Greet Reed this valley is one of a few sites where a single individual of the Sandarac Gum Tree was observed, a highly protected tree species.
Wied Għomor is a scheduled area of ecological and scientific importance and provides a green space in the dense urban area between Swieqi and San Ġwann. Several indigenous species of trees have been planted by Tisbiħ Malta, residents and NGOs and it serves as a home to native and migrating animals such as birds, bats, hedgehogs and chameleons.
The Sant’Antnin valley system contains a Tree Protected Area where Chaste Trees can be found. These trees flower mid-summer, producing lavender aromatic flowers and later, small grey seeds, which resemble and smell similar to peppercorns. Tisbiħ Malta manages the popular Sant’Antnin Family Park, where a couple of bridges cross the main channel.
Mistra Valley is a habitat to a number of local flora and fauna. All life stages of the Maltese Painted Frog were observed in pools along the watercourse, showing that water is present for most of the year. A dam mid-way through the valley collects a large amount of water potentially contributing to aquifer recharge.
Wied Żembaq is perhaps one of the few valleys in Malta showing little to no signs of human intervention. Although evidence of running water in the valley is minimal, it serves as a habitat for several European wild pear trees in what has been designated as a Tree Protected Area.
The Dalam valley features a site of prehistoric importance: the Għar Dalam prehistoric cave and its grounds. These provide a vantage point overlooking the valley, which at present is not accessible to the general public. This area has recently been designated as a nature reserve and has great restoration potential.
Despite the effects of human influence, this valley is one of the most scenic on the island, due to the striking golden sand at the outflow of the stream. Highly maintained terraced fields supporting diverse agricultural products and trees can be found on each side of the channel, which flows on the side of the road leading down to Ġnejna bay.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Baħrija Valley is that it sustains running water all throughout the year. The downstream region of the valley shows a rare natural stream pattern, and due to the steep slopes, often features small waterfalls. Parts of this valley are highly protected as they are home to the Maltese endemic freshwater crab, a rare species.
Wied Liemu (Rabat – Malta)
Water flows through this valley in a complex system of man-made channels, which are used by the farmers in the area to water their fields and fill up reservoirs. The only natural vegetation observed was confined to the waterway, such as the Fool’s water cess and Sweet Galingale observed within the channels.
Wied tad-Dwejra (Gozo)
Dwejra is a diverse valley system, supporting a number of species adapted to growing on cliff faces and garrigues. Resident fauna and flora include the Maltese Painted Frog and Chaste tree which are protected species. Water pools are typical throughout the valley, and permanent freshwater ponds in Qatar can be located below the cliff-face, close to the inland island.
Wied tax-Xlendi, Gozo
A number of protected species can be found in the Xlendi valley system, such as the Silver Poplar, Narrow-leaved Ash, and Sandarac Gum Tree. The valley is mainly used for agricultural activities, particularly in the Lunzjata chapel area and features many traditional features of water harvesting and transportation.
Imġarr is known by most as the docking point for the Gozo Ferry. Few realize that a substantial amount of water flows through the valley along the main road, passing the Bethlehem of Għajnsielem and eventually outflowing into the marina. This valley system will be included in a water catchment masterplan managed by EcoGozo, along with the Xlendi and Dwejra valley systems.