Malta’s second prime river

Noel Grima
S. M. Haslam, J. Borg and J. M. Psaila

River Kbir: The Hidden Wonder

The Let’s Go Series

http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=106445

This slight field study guide is the fifth in a series entitled The Let’s Go series, preceded by a guide to Chadwick Lakes (1998), Wied il-Lunzjata and R. Xlendi (2001), Let’s Go and Look after Our Nature, Our Heritage (2002) and Wied Garnaw (2004).

Its authors are well-known for their interest in the Maltese countryside and the environment in particular.

Dr Sylvia Haslam is an international authority who has been writing about Malta since the 1970s when I helped her publish her monumental A Flora of the Maltese Islands (with P. D. Sell and P. A. Wolseley) at Il-Hajja Press. She has held research posts at Cambridge University and is a visiting lecturer at the Institute of Agriculture in Malta. She has been writing about Maltese river valleys since 1986.

Dr Joseph Borg manages the Afforestation and Gardens Section of the Agriculture Department and is also a part-time lecturer at the university. He has written many articles and publications on themes related to trees, horticulture and the natural environment in Malta.

Jenny Psaila worked as a guide since 1969 and has been involved with the Clean-up Malta Campaign and with BirdLife Malta.

This booklet is a nature lover’s guide to Wied il-Kbir, from its tributaries high near the Verdala Castle down the gulleys near Siggiewi and Zebbug to Marsa where it pans out to the sea.

Obviously, this great system, one of the two big ones in Malta, metamorphoses in a number of names: one tributary begins as Wied tal-Isqof and Wied San Anton near Verdala until they meet at the Bakkja Pumping Station in Wied Baqqija near Zebbug. The second one begins as Wied il-Luq at Buskett, Wied il-Girgenti and Wied Hesri to between Zebbug and Siggiewi. The third tributary is Wied Xkora which becomes Wied Zikku and then Wied San Lawrenz near Fawwara to end up passing through a ravine near Siggiewi. The fourth tributary is Wied Kosta which meanders to Wied ta’ Kandja and Wied Hanzir near the airport.

Somewhere between Siggiewi and Zebbug and on the way to Marsa they all become Wied Qirda which in turn becomes Wied il-Kbir as it passes under the Luqa road bridge through Wied ic-Cawsli and Wied ta’ Ceppuna near the Marsa sports ground joining up with Wied is-Sewda to end up in the canal near what we today know as the open centre and thence to the sea.

To write in English about something so Maltese as a river valley system and to persist in calling them River this and River that is somewhat disconcerting for the reader but the best thing in books like these is to use it as a guidebook and go on the spot to see what the authors are speaking about.

Doing without this reduces the amount of information that the book can provide and gets rather limited but it is still interesting and even riveting. This is a journey of discovery down from the highlands of Rabat, Buskett and Girgenti to that part of Malta where what were tributaries and streams suddenly, mainly due to winter rains, become ravines until they emerge, at Wied Qirda, as one big river valley which then peters out and silts around the Marsa Sports Grounds.

It is also a story of long long years of pollution, of farms turning the water to their own use and, worse, using the streams to offload their waste, of other industries that contaminate the water with detergents and other chemicals and of neglect which allows non-indigenous plants such as what the book constantly calls the “usurping eucalyptus”, roads damning the river beds, misguided clean-ups like Risq il-Widien, and unbridled expansion of canes (Arundo Donax) which clogs up the waterways and contributes further to the blocking up of waterways.

One must consider that Malta still had flowing rivers in 1890 which were reduced to numerous streamlets in the 1920s and by 1970 had all dried up.

Of course, with all our budgetary and fiscal problems it would be hard to persuade anyone to open up the river valleys, remove all the obstacles, clean up all pollution and thus enhance Malta’s water table, which suffers from far more than just canes and weeds. Yet this should be a task for the present and the future, a task to revitalize the Maltese countryside, so depredated in the past decades. Ninu Zammit tried to do this when he tried to open up the Sukkursu in Salina but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Unless it has already happened in the intervening years, I look forward to an accompanying volume on the other great river system which ironically begins just a few hundred metres away from the tributaries of Wied il-Kbir, becomes Wied il-Qlejgha (Chadwick Lakes) then Wied tal-Isperanza, then Wied il-Ghasel until it meanders around Burmarrad and Ghajn Rihana until it ends up in the sea at Salina.

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