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Encounters with Nature
Early sprouting of the Wild Asparagus – 03/03/2020
2020 has so far been characterised by dry spells with January being the driest in 13 years, and February being regarded as one of the driest throughout recorded Maltese meteorological history. The typical winter climate of the Maltese Islands, is typified by mild, wet winters, but the lack of rain this year has brought about conditions akin to droughts with an unusual state of dryness caused by insufficient rainfall during the wet season.
Apart from the consequences of water scarcity which are being felt by the agricultural sector, the lack of rain is also being manifested in wild plants.
Usually, spring in the Maltese Islands means time for wild asparagus foraging. However, this year, the young asparagus shoots have started appearing much earlier – as early as February. Early ferning of the asparagus (when spears mature, become woody and develop into fern-like spikes), are indicative of temperature and weather conditions. The hotter temperatures are and the less rainfall there is, the more rapidly the spears grow and open-up.
The edible shoots, which are soft and break easily when picking, grow straight up from the plant. The thin shoots are the edible bits, often with a uniquely bitter-aromatic flavour.
The wild asparagus is actually a type of uncultivated asparagus which grows on its own in the wild. The related cultivated asparagus has been cultivated for over 2000 years, with well-known culinary and medicinal benefits. The edible shoots have diuretic, anti-rheumatic and purifying properties. They are low in calories and sodium, and a good source of iron, vitamins, calcium and dietary fibre.
The wild asparagus is also foraged and processed in the kitchen of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, when in season.
Educational activities by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – 16/02/2020
The Maltese Islands are currently experiencing a very dry winter, with mild temperatures and fine weather. These sunny days are prefect for being out in the fresh air, enjoying the countryside and panoramic views of Dingli Cliffs.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, has innovatively merged gastronomy and local produce with educational awareness, and has been offering educational activities for all types of visitors since its opening 9 years ago. This has highlighted self-sufficiency, with the company that has planned and manages The Centre following the sustainability’s three concepts – social, environment, economic – in its operations. The gastronomical experience offered at The Centre complements the walking trail and the educational activities offered to provide an authentic visitor experience by locals.
The target participants for these educational activities is very wide, ranging from locals, tourists, groups, elderly, secondary school students, children, language students, association members, environmental organisations, team-building and more. Activities are also customised according to the target audience’s needs. The range of events organised can be viewed from our website at http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/past-events/.
The activities are organised all year-round, and all are offered for FREE. Participants are able to enjoy the green countryside in a recreational manner, whilst learning about the area’s geology, ecology, local produce, history, archaeology and more.
Contact us on [email protected] or 7962380 to book one of our FREE eco-walks.
Local edible nutritious weeds: the Stinging Nettles – 27/01/2020
The lush Maltese countryside is now indicative of winter-time, associated with greenery and wild flowering plants. Amongst the plant which blends in the greenery, but which often gets one’s attention is the Stinging Nettle, having a notorious reputation for stinging the skin when the bristles on the leaves and stems are touched. In fact, the species’ latin name Urtica, is derived from the Latin verb urere, meaning “to burn”. The nettle is often familiar to most as a weed, partly because it thrives in disturbed soils.
The stinging sensation is brought about by chemicals, among which is histamine, which irritate the skin to protect the plant from predators. Such chemical is easily destroyed by heating, yielding many benefits.
Three species of nettles are found in the Maltese Islands, namely Common Nettle (Urtica dioca), Small nettle (Urtica urens, Ħurrieqa żgħira), Roman Nettle (Urtica pilulifera, Ħurrieqa taż-żibeġ) and the Large-leaved nettle (Urtica membranacea, Ħurrieqa komuni).
The nettle can be used to treat a wide variety of health ailments, including rheumatic conditions. The plant also contains substances which reduce inflammation, and if taken regularly, can help with hay fever symptoms. Traditionally, in the Maltese Islands, washing or immersing in warm water of boiled stinging nettles treats chilblains (seqej).
Since the nettles are common throughout Europe, the use of the nettle dates back to the Bronze Age in Denmark, when fabric was woven out of nettle fibre. At the UK, in Roman Times, nettle roots was used in the boiling of meat to tenderise it. Uniforms from Napoleon’s armada were woven from nettles. In the First World War, nettle cloth was manufactured in Germany and dye from the nettles was used to camouflage UK’s military uniforms in World War II.
While the nettles as usually regarded as weeds, they nevertheless are very nutritious to eat, and their flavour when cooked is similar to spinach mixed with cucumber. They are very palatable, and are best harvested when young. Nettles are rich in Vitamin A, C, D, iron, calcium, potassium and silica. In fact, January is the season when the nettles are young in the Maltese Islands and The Cliffs Interpretation Centre prepares fresh specialities, ranging from fried nettle leaves and Nettle soup.
Time for the Yellow-throated Crocus blooms (05/11/2019)
In particular garrigue areas within the Maltese Islands, autumn time brings along the blooming of the Yellow-throated Crocus flower (Crocus longiflorus, Żagħfran Salvaġġ).
This plant belongs in the Iris plant family and appears after the first autumn rains. It grows just to a height of 15cm, blooming as a six-petalled, lilac violet flower with darker veins on the outer side.
The uncultivated plant which is found growing in the wild in the Maltese Islands, Italy and Sicily is not the same as the one which produces the saffron spice. The spice is collected from the stigma of the Crocus sativus, which is closely related to the Maltese one. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, more expensive than gold, with each gram costing between €30 to €60. Over 70,000 flowers are required to produce just 500 grams of saffron. The word saffron is derived from the Arabic term asfar, similar to the Maltese term isfar, and meaning yellow.
During the FREE eco-walks by THE CLIFFS Interpretation Centre, participants can spot the yellow-throated crocus and wander. Join us in one of our free eco-walks on Wednesday and Fridays at 11:00 – For more details email [email protected] or call us on 79642380.
Time for Carob Harvesting (03/09/2019)
One of the characteristic and widespread tree species of Maltese maquis habitats is the Carob Tree (Siġra tal-Ħarrub, Ceratonia siliqua). The name comes from the Greek word to refer to a horn, due to the shape of the seed pod.
Being indigenous to the Mediterranean region, the carob tree has numerous adaptations, amongst which are deep roots and some leaves shed all year to act as dried organic matter for nutrient cycling. The carob is even part of the local linguistic idiom, often associated with longevity, in idioms such as “xiħ daqs ħarruba”. The carob tree is thought to have been introduced in the Maltese Islands in antiquity and later becoming part of the landscape.
Traditionally, the tree has been used as fodder crop, but during the second world war, it was used for human consumption, as a supplement to rationed food. The carob is also relevant for the honey industry, since carobs provide food to honey bees. In fact, carob honey, which is harvested in November, follows the blooming of the carob flowers.
Carob is quite nutritious and a great source of vitamins, protein, iron and calcium. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre produces and packages the carob syrup (Ġulepp tal-Ħarrub) which has been used to soothe sore throats and ease coughs when diluted in hot water and lemon juice.
Blooming Caper bushes and traditional Capers (04/07/2019)
The Caper Bush is synonymous with summer time, when the evergreen shrub produces large white flowers with purple stamens.
The Spineless Caper (Capparis spinosa, Kappar) is indigenous, hence its presence is natural in the Maltese Islands. It is found commonly on garrigue habitats, rock faces, along crevices within walls and even in disturbed areas.
This plant is well-adapted to thriving in the Mediterranean climate. The root system is extensive with the ability to extract waters and minerals from soils. The thick, fleshy leaves offer good storage for water, and less water is lost by transpiration.
The flowering of the caper bush is also ideal for pollination, since during this time, few are the flowers which are in bloom. The plant uses insects to pollinate it and birds to help spread its seeds.
It is also thought that capers have medicinal properties, with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and astringent properties.
The traditional caper hand-picking involves collecting the flower bud before it opens, then pickling and using in the culinary traditions of the Maltese Islands. With pickling in vinegar and/or salt, intense flavour is developed since mustard oil is released from each bud. At The Cliffs, Capers are featured as accompaniments in several dishes, ranging from starters, refreshing platters and salads, and even in seasonal specialities.
Capers are also encountered during our summer evening eco-walks. For more information, check out our related webpage at https://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/.
Wild Artichoke Blooms (10/06/2019)
The surrounding garrigue is already indicating summer conditions. Only patches of green grasses remain, otherwise several plants have already dried up. But, the purple blooms of the Wild Artichoke still add some colour to the landscape.
The Wild Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus, Qaqoċċ tax-Xewk) is a wild variant of the edible Globe Artichoke. This thistle-like plant is in fact part of the sunflower family of plants, and is naturally present in the Mediterranean region. The leaves of both the wild and cultivated varieties show the distinction between these plants, since the former is spinier and full of thistles.
This plant has several adaptations to our hot, dry summers – it is a herbaceous perennial with rigid spiny leaves to deter herbivorous animals.
This plant was already used in the 4th century BC by Ancient Greeks in their cuisine. In fact, both the flowering bud and stalk are edible. It is also said that in traditional Malta, the wild artichoke leaves were used for medicinal purposes and used as a tonic against fever. At The Cliffs, the cultivated globe artichoke features as one of the refreshing starter dishes, alongside typical local Maltese produce – sundried tomatoes, capers and olives.
Free Walks and the bright purple Orchid (16/05/2019)
The garrigue areas of Dingli Cliffs have started to obtain the summer landscape, with patches of brown grasses amidst the remaining greenery. A plant which clearly stands out is Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis, Orkida Piramidali), through its bright purple flowers and clusters of orchid blooms.
Whilst this plant is Indigenous, it is quite frequently encountered during May. The flower stalk grows directly from underground rhizomes, tubers or bulbs. The bottom flowers bloom first, followed by each layer in an upward movement, forming a pyramidal-shaped flower head. The scent of this orchid varies according to the time of day, from sweet-scented in the morning to a musty-scent later in the day.
Each flower has two whitish flaps which help in the process of pollination. This way, pollinating insects, especially butterflies and moths, find their way to the nectar much easier by following the flaps. Usually each plant has two tubers next to each other, whereby the bigger tuber feeds the flower whilst the smaller one is like a spare bulb, which will feed the flower the following year.
In the Middle East tradition, the dried tubers of this orchid was used in the making of Salep, a type of powdery flour, which is rich in starch and nutritional value. Drinks made from Salep were traditionally used for curing coughs and cold, amongst other benefits.
A very similar orchid, which however retains an endemic status in the Maltese Islands, is that of the Maltese Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis urvilleana, Orkida Piramidali ta’ Malta). The flowers of the endemic plant are smaller and with a lighter pink to white colour, with earlier blossoming in March. This rare protected species of orchid can sometimes be encountered in Dingli Cliffs.
Despite the approaching summer, the Common Pryamidal Orchid is among the wild flora which can be abundantly found at Dingli Cliffs during this time of the year. Join us in one of our eco-walks – more information at 79642380 or our website – https://www.thecliffs.com.mt/faq/
Maltese Wild flora and their cultivated relatives (11/05/2019)
The transformation of human societies from hunting and gathering to farming – the Neolithic Revolution – resulted in crop cultivation as the first expression of agriculture. Dating back to between 10,000BC and 2000BC, this transition involved collection of seeds, planting and cultivating wild grains. In fact, the Mediterranean region was one of the areas in which crops were first domesticated from their crop wild relatives.
Traditionally, domesticated crops followed results of actions of man and nature, by which a variety with more desirable characteristics is selected for propagation. Together with natural selection (environmental conditions and soil type), the result is development of crop landraces. Hence, a crop wild relative is a wild plant, closely related to a domesticated plant, either direct wild ancestor or belonging to a closely related species. Wild relatives of crop plants provide a very important resource to maintain agricultural production and improve agro-ecosystems.
In the Maltese Islands, we have various examples of wild plants. One which appears during springtime is the Wild Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus), which is closely related to the cultivated Garden Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). The young shoots of the local wild asparagus are used as a spring vegetable, and may be eaten raw or cooked. Both the wild and cultivated plants are perennials, providing a good source of protein and dietary fibre.
Another common wild plant is that of the Wild Carrot (Zunnarija Salvaġġa, Daucus carota), which often flowers during springtime. This very common indigenous wild plant has pinnate leaves, very similar to that of the domesticated carrot (Daucus carota subs. sativus). Even the wild carrot roots are edible when young, however they soon become woody-texture and no longer palatable. Springtime in Malta is also characterised by the blooming of the Hairy Garlic (Tewm Muswaf, Allium subhirsutum), a wild derivative of the garlic (Allium sativum). In the Maltese Islands alone, there are about 16 different species of Allium, but the Hairy Garlic is amongst the most common. This wild plant with small white flowers prefers moist rocky places. The kitchen of The Cliffs uses wild garlic flowers as garnish, adding a garlic punch to food dishes. Other wild relatives of the onion are the Wild Leek (Kurrat tax-Xatt, Allium commutatum) and the Maltese Leek (Allium melitense), often visible in late spring.
Cruciferous vegetables (Brassica spp.) include various types of vegetables cultivated for food production such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, rocket and similar green-leafy vegetables. Wild flora of cultivated cruciferous vegetables include those of the Field mustard/Wild Turnip (Liftija, Brassica rapa subs. sylvestris), Perennial Wall Rocket (Ġarġir Isfar, Diplotaxis tenuifolia,), Rapeseed (Nevew, Brassoca napus subs. oleifera), Wild Beet (Selq, Beta vulgaris subs. vulgaris) and Wild Cabbage (Kaboċċa, Salvaġġa, Brassica oleracea), with many of these plants have edible leaves.
Understanding the presence of crop wild relatives in the Maltese Islands, helps to increase an appreciation of the intricate links between the environment and agricultural practices. To gain more knowledge on edible wild plants, join us in one of our free eco-walks – http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/
Wild Garlic Blooms and culinary use (24/04/2019)
The garlic is amongst the most common ingredients of the typical Mediterranean cuisine. Being a versatile seasoning, garlic complements many savoury dishes and it has been used for cooking and medicine for several thousand years.
The use of garlic dates back thousands of years – being consumed by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
The garlic forms part of the Allium family, which groups several different types of plants ranging from the cultivated onion, garlic, shallot, leek and chives. Allium comes from the Greek aleo, meaning ‘to avoid’ because of the pungent smell of the garlic.
Although the garlic is grown on a cultivated basis, the garlic may also grow in the wild in areas where it has become naturalised, the process by which a non-native species spreads and continues to reproduce in the wild. In fact, in the Maltese Islands there are about 16 different species of Allium, amongst which is the common Hairy Garlic (Allium subhirsutum, Tewm Muswaf Salvaġġ). Both the flowers and the leaves are edible.
This species with white flowers prefers moist rocky places within the garrigue habitat of small spiny aromatic shrubs. The wild garlic can be easily recognised by its pungent smell, typical of the garlic.
Garlic itself has been traditionally used as a cure for various ailments. Recent studies also focus on the garlic’s benefits in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and the common cold. During the hard times of World War II, the Maltese used to eat the garlic raw as a disinfectant and antiseptic.
Spring-time flowers of Dingli Cliffs (15/04/2019)
The presence of spring is clear in the surrounding landscape – the fine balance between winter and summer is distinctive by the colourful carpets of wild plants, typical of spring and including several plants.
The Crown Daisy (Lellux, Glebionis coronaria) is very common throughout the Maltese Islands. In fact, this plant is found all over the Mediterranean region. The young shoots and stems of this plant used to be eaten raw or cooked in the past.
Spring time is also the time for the blooming of the Borage (Fidloqqom, Borago officinalis). This pretty blue star-shaped flower is quite beneficial as a herb with particular medicinal properties for rheumatism, and traditional usage in the past related to cough-remedies.
Another miniscule but very common flowering plant is that of the Blue-Scarlet Pimpernel (Ħarira Ħamra, Anagallis arvensis). This indigenous plant, which was present in the Maltese Islands before the first arrival of man, is low-growing, with flowers opening only when the sun shines.
Springtime is also distinctly marked by the presence of the fine orchids, such as the Small-flowered tongue Orchid (Orkida tal-Ilsien iż-Żgħira, Serapias parviflora). This frequent orchid, only growing to around 10cm high, often flowers between March – April, and is native to the Mediterranean Basin.
Dingli Cliffs offers some of the most panoramic views – both of the plunging cliffs and the typical aromatic shrubs of the garrigue. At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, free eco-walks are organised throughout the year. This time is one of the best to appreciate the surrounding landscape. One of the latest eco-tour was organised for a Maltese martial arts group consisting of instructors, trainees and parents. For more information visit our website at http://www.thecliffs.com.mt or call us on 79642380.
Malta’s own Giant Fennel (28/03/2019)
This springtime, the Giant Fennel may be abundantly seen throughout the Maltese countryside. It is found in different areas, varying from garrigue habitats, abandoned fields, disturbed grounds, countryside lanes and more. Everywhere you look at Dingli Cliffs, one can find the umbrella-shaped flowers of this plant. The yellow flowers appear from end of February to June, from stalks growing to heights of 2.5m.
The plant species is different when compared to the European Ferule or the African Ferule. Whilst the Maltese plant has links to the Tunisian one, just end of December 2018, it was identified that the Maltese plant of the “Ferla” is endemic to the Maltese Islands, and given a new scientific name – Ferula melitensis.
The Maltese plant is more robust that the Common Fennel (Ferula communis) because it had to adapt to the Islands’ conditions, and the isolation from North Africa. Other Maltese endemic plants tied to North Africa include the Maltese Salt Tree (Darniella melitensis) and the Maltese Fleabane (Chiliadenus bocconei).
The Fennel’s purposes were also used as firewood and dried stalks were used to sharpen razor blades. In the past, this species was used for medicinal purposes for the treatment of skin infection, and dysentery. Inadequate doses were found to be poisonous.
This plant is easily distinguished from the Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) because the Giant Fennel has a thicker stem, darker foliage, larger and denser inflorescences, larger seeds and lack of aromas.
To learn more about the surrounding countryside and the seasonal biodiversity, join us in one of our eco-walks. Find more about the eco-walks on http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/ or contact us on 79642380.
Wild Borage Blooms (22/03/2019)
The Borage (Fidloqqom, Borago officinalis) is easily recognisable by its edible, bright blue star-shaped flowers. Being indigenous to the Mediterranean and Central Europe, this plant blooms from January to May. Sometimes, one may encounter whitish or pink flowering borage plants.
The Latin name ‘Borage’ could be related to the cordial effects brought by the borage through its medicinal properties, or from the Italian word ‘borra’ because the whole plant is covered by short hair.
Both flowers and leaves are edible. The leaves are quite hairy and tough, but when cooked, the texture becomes smooth, similar to those of the spinach. It is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and potassium.
In traditional Maltese medicinal practices, the flowers were used to treat coughs. Other benefits of the borage include its diuretic, tonic, emollient, expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties. Borage oil, extracted from the seeds is used for skin disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, stress, diabetes and for the prevention of heart disease. In the past, Maltese spring multiflora honey used to be produced from the nectar of borage flowers, amongst other plants.
The Borage is featured in The Cliffs’ Interpretation Centre cuisine, we cook with Borage according to the season. Throughout the year, we have the Ravioli Borage, ravioli stuffed with the leaves of the borage, garnished with local herbs and local pecan nuts from trees planted by the British 200 years ago at Buskett Gardens. More info on our menu http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/menu/
Nature’s bounty harvest at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – Wild Asparagus (13/03/2019)
Spring time – the balance between winter and summer weather – is distinctive by the bountiful presence of wild plants. Dingli Cliffs currently thrive with the surrounding garrigue and carpets full of wild plants, amongst which is the Wild Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus).
During the year, this branched woody shrub is a clear indication of its adaptation to our hot dry summers. Instead of leaves, this shrub is characterised by spiny shoots. However, the new sprouts of the Asparagus – juicy, soft tips – appear during early springtime. The young green sprouts are edible and can be foraged for culinary purposes. Did you know that the oldest surviving recipe books, prepared over 2000 years ago, includes a recipe for cooking asparagus?
The asparagus is quite nutritious with a good source of Vitamin C and Potassium. In fact, in the 4th Century in Greece, Hippocrates was recommending asparagus for is diuretic and health aid qualities.
In fact, through its motto “A new concept…local produce”, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has innovated the use of nature’s bounty in the harvest of wild edible plants. It has managed to combine local produce with environmental and social consciousness, including traditional foraging for plants. The kitchen of The Cliffs prepares seasonal specialities features this local plant. Furthermore, during the free eco-walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre several wild edible plants may be encountered, according to the season.
Meeting Mr. Joseph Borg, a Genealogist, and author of Documents on Ghar il-Kbir, Malta 1588 – 1733 (22/02/2019)
Earlier today, Mr. Joseph Borg, a genealogist and author of “Documents on Għar il-Kbir, Malta 1588-1733” visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. Through his profession, Mr. Joseph Borg was introduced to the marriage contracts involving inhabitants of the cave complex. His interests in ancestral heritage, genealogy and enthusiasm for the cave complex dwellers are remarkable.
The book was published in 2013, and focuses on eighteen documents, signed between 1588 and 1733, reflecting the cave dwellers and their social aspects. The transcribed and translated comments are notarial deeds of couples prior to getting married, declaring the goods they were bringing into the marriage. Items in the marriage dowries included fields, clothes, animals, decorations, utensils and more. It is interesting to note that in the majority of cases, residents of the cave got married to people outside the cave, such as Rabat, Żebbug, Mosta and Siġġiewi.
The cave complex of Għar il-Kbir, consisting of numerous interconnecting caves, was inhabited by people till 1835, with the heyday of population in the 1600s. Whilst the ceiling of the cave has collapsed due to bombs thrown by the British to make the cave unhabitable, today some features of cave dwelling can still be seen.
Għar il-Kbir is one of the sites visited during the free eco-walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. For more information on our eco-walks contact us on [email protected] or 79273747.
Recognition at the National Scale – The Cliffs Interpretation Centre as one of Malta’s sustainable enterprises (08/02/2019)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre and La Pinta Ltd. which manages it, received five prestigious awards in 2018, related to the innovative and sustainable approach in amalgamating gastronomy with free information provision. At The Centre, we give part of what you give to the environment. When visitors dine at The Cliffs, they are supporting local produce and our innovative initiative to disseminate environmental education. In fact, a percentage of the bill is reprocessed by The Centre to create FREE informative activities. This way, the project is self-sufficient, and revenues from the catering facilities are used to provide visitors with the necessary free information, expertise and support resources to explore the area.
Before Dingli Cliffs was designated part of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, and even after, visitors (both locals and foreigners) were not aware of the natural environment and local produce offered in the area, and their main interest was the views. Hence, The Centre has sought to address the previous lack of services by blending the environment, tourism and local aspects whilst offering a service for visitors arriving at Dingli Cliffs. The Centre’s main aim is to provide the public with unique information about Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings using innovative means, and by doing so, reaching visitors more effectively. It introduced previously non-existent facilities for kilometres along Dingli Cliffs, including providing the only public toilets along the whole stretch of the cliffs.
The aim of these awards is to recognise and reward businesses that have made a significant contribution to the varying aspects of sustainable development. The criteria upon which assessment included Proof of commitment, together with achieved results and long-term viability. The award enshrines the three main pillars constituting a sustainable enterprise – Economic sustainability, Environmental sustainability and Social sustainability.
La Pinta Ltd, would like to thank the Dingli Local Council, for entrusting it with this project and for its on-going collaboration to ensure that Dingli Cliffs continues to be sustainably enjoyed by both tourists and locals alike. For more information, or to plan your next visit to the Dingli Cliffs and nearby attractions, visit www.thecliffs.com.mt or contact The Cliffs on [email protected].
Two other awards for The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – Recognition at the European scale (02/02/2019)
2018 was an exceptional year for The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, which received five prestigious awards in 2018, related to the innovative approach of La Pinta Ltd in merging gastronomy and information provision, through a best practice approach related to sustainability and its three pillars. The project is self-sufficient, whereby revenues from the catering facilities are used to provide visitors with the necessary free information, expertise and support resources to explore the area.
Living at Dingli, having a sense of belonging to the rural environment and being linked to the area’s stakeholders in the area, La Pinta Ltd. saw the need to blend the environment, tourism, culture and local aspects in one comprehensive experience. In fact, at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, visitors can make use of several public facilities, including information resources, walking guides, all-year round free eco-walks, meeting and exhibition spaces, and catering facilities.
Open for European applicants, The Centre has been recognised in two other awards schemes:
- Diploma of Recognition for creating a positive rural environment in the 2018 Anders Wall Award
- First prize in the category Contributions by Cultural and Creative Industries in the ECTN Sustainable Cultural Tourism 2018 Award
The prestigious Anders Wall Award Environment is dedicated to recognising individuals or organisations for their special contribution to the rural environment within the EU, with achievements related to preserving the landscape and cultural heritage, providing biodiversity and contributing to sustainable local development. La Pinta was awarded the Diploma of Recognition for its positive environmental impacts with benefits at the local, national and European levels. The Anders Wall Award is organised by the Anders Wall Foundation in association with the European Commission – Directorate General for the Environment, the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry and the Friends of the Countryside. The Anders Wall Award ceremony was organised at Constance Lake, Germany in May 2018, and La Pinta Ltd. was invited to address the guests and fellow nominees, to explain the innovative concept of The Centre.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been declared as one of the destinations of sustainable cultural tourism in Europe through the ECTN Sustainable Cultural Tourism Award. The special edition was organised by European Cultural Tourism Network (ECTN) in partnership with Europa Nostra and the European Travel Commission, as a contribution to 2018 being the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH 2018). The contributions of cultural tourism relate to the protection and promotion of cultural heritage, extension of the tourism period throughout the whole year, and the increase in awareness of both locals and tourists. The Centre’s achievements have been recognised as an example of excellence with significant and evident results in enhancing visitor experience, while respecting traditions and involving local communities.
La Pinta Ltd, would like to thank the Dingli Local Council, for entrusting it with this project and for its on-going collaboration to ensure that Dingli Cliffs continues to be sustainably enjoyed by both tourists and locals alike. For more information, or to plan your next visit to the Dingli Cliffs and nearby attractions, visit www.thecliffs.com.mt or contact The Cliffs on [email protected].
Time to spot the Caterpillars! (23/11/2018)
All moths and butterflies go through complete metamorphosis, from egg to larva to pupa to adult. In fact, the caterpillar stage is part of the four-part lifecycle of every butterfly and moth. Caterpillars have soft bodies, sometimes protected with hairs, and a head with chewing mouthparts, since they are avid grass-eaters. Their colour patterns are good camouflage, whilst some caterpillars are poisonous to deter predators.
Despite Malta’s small size, the insect fauna is quite considerable. In fact, about 20 species of butterflies and about 500 species of moths have been recorded from the Maltese Islands.
Perhaps the most exceptional butterfly that we may encounter in the Maltese Islands is the Maltese Swallowtail (Papilio machaon subs. melitensis, Farfett tar-Reġina/Farfett tal-Bużbież). Prior to becoming a winged insect, the mature caterpillar of the Maltese Swallowtail Butterfly is unique, with a green body and transverse black stripes spotted with red. The swallowtail is Malta’s only endemic butterfly. When alarmed, it flocks out a pair of scent glands from behind the head, orange in colour and emitting a strong smell to try to deter its predators. It is often found feeding on the fennel and rue plants, which are the host plants. The butterfly feeding on the yellow-throated crocus plants – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr34bxMlCdo
Another caterpillar to spot during Autumn time is the Maltese Spurge Hawksmoth (Baħrija tat-Tengħud, Hyles sammuti) which often lives on the spurge plant and feeds on its leaves. The toxic liquid produced by the plant to defend against herbivores is used by the Spurge Hawksmoth caterpillar, which accumulates the poison in their body to protect itself from predators. The caterpillar is smooth and black with several white dots and a red line than runs from its head to back. In fact, the bright colour of the caterpillar is due to the absorption of poison from the plant to the caterpillar’s body, which is even endemic
Often the caterpillar makes a cocoon to protect itself before it transforms. Inside the pupal case, the moth or butterfly completes its transformation to the final stage and emerges as a winged adult, important for their roles as valuable pollinators. This time of the year is amongst the best to encounter caterpillars and butterflies in the surrounding countryside of Dingli Cliffs. The FREE guided walk of Tour B at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre allows us to appreciate more these elusive creatures.
Sardinian Warbler chicks ready to flee the Nest – 23/07/2018
The Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melancocephala, Bufula Sewda) is one of the breeding birds that may be found in the Maltese Islands.
This little passerine bird, which weighs just about 19g, builds its nest hidden in low shrubs or bushes – in fact, within the site area of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, there has been a nest with several chicks in a small shrub.
Whilst this active warbler is quite common in the Maltese Islands today, this bird was previously an uncommon winter visitor, and it has only been breeding in the Maltese Island for about 150 years. Nowadays, the bird breeds in southern Europe till Turkey and in North Africa.
The breeding season of this warbler is from February to August, with clutches of between 3 to 5 eggs. Males and females are very different in colour, but both share building the nest, incubation and feeding the chicks. After hatching, the young take about 13 days to fledge and they still depend on their parents for the first couple of weeks.
For more information on the biodiversity of the Maltese Islands, especially that of Dingli Cliffs, join us in our of our free Eco-walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – fill our online booking form or call on 79642380.
27th September 2016 – The Honey Buzzard
The Honey Buzzard, a bird of prey is a type of bird species that is occasionally sighted in the Maltese Islands.
This bird feeds mostly on insects, but also small mammals and small birds. It soars on flat wings, and the sexes are quite easily identified by the colour of their plumage. The Honey Buzzard travels over long distances when migrating, and hence it uses magnetic orientation and visual memory of landscapes to navigate. It also prefers to soar on thermals, rising air over land, hence avoiding large expanses of water surfaces.
The Honey Buzzard, similar to other migrating birds, travels from its European breeding grounds to its African wintering ground in autumn, returning back to the breeding grounds in the springtime. The Maltese Islands are not a major stop-over point, but several species can be sighted, especially at Clapham Junction site overlooking Buskett Gardens, one of the landmarks of The Cliffs Trail Map produced by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
Education is recognised as an ideal way forward to protect and conserve biodiversity. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre had hosted the first seminar to local hunters by an ornithologist, with the aim of such seminar to enhance hunters’ knowledge on birds and their behaviour by taking photographs.
20th October 2016 – The Spurge Hawkmoth (Caterpillar)
The caterpillar of the Maltese Spurge Hawksmoth (Baħrija tat-Tengħud, Hyles sammuti) lives on the spurge plant, by feeding on the leaves. The spurge plant is typical of the Maltese Islands, which often thrives in garrigue vegetation communities. This wild plant defends itself from herbivores such as goats and sheep, by producing a toxic milky-white liquid. The poison found in the plant is used by the caterpillar of the Spurge Hawkmoth, which accumulates the poison in their body to protect itself from predators. In fact, the bright colour of the caterpillar is due to the assimilation of poison from the plant to their body. In Malta, the species of the spurge hawksmoth is protected since it is endemic and can only found in the islands. The caterpillar is smooth and black with several white dots and a coral line than runs from its head to back. A fully grown caterpillar may be about 10cm long.
In their adult life form, hawk moths are large sized with narrow wings and stout bodies. They have powerful wings built for speed, over long distances. Some hawkmoths can fly at 50 kilometers per hour and are among the fastest insects. In the Maltese Islands, this species is endemic.
3rd October 2016 – the Mediterranean Tiger Moth
The Mediterranean Tiger Moth (Cymbalophora pudica, Żarżur), identified by its tessellated pattern made of black shapes on a light background, can be seen from September to October. The tiger moth that was photographed at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was recorded during the day and it appeared to be resting, since this moth is nocturnal. The meaning of the Maltese name is that of buzzing, since while flying the moth makes a buzzing sound. The female moths lay eggs in autumn, and by the following spring the caterpillar is fully grown. The pupa changes into adult form after the first autumn rains, and that is when the moth can be seen.
8th September 2016 – Autumn migration and the vibrant bee-eater
September is one of the best times of the year to meet across several of the migratory birds that fly by the Maltese Islands during the autumn season.
A common bird migrant that often visits the Maltese Islands during this time of the year is the Bee Eater (Merops apiaster, Qerd in-naħal) with pointed wings and very distinguishable colourful plumage. Their extravagant bright colours often catch the eye of the observer, or else you may hear its very particular repetitive call. The bird has social habitats – it is often seen in large flocks and breeds in colonies.
The bee-eater is a specialist in catching insects whilst in flight. Despite its name, only one of the ten insect that it catches is a bee. In the Maltese Islands, this bird feeds mainly on wasps, dragonflies, butterflies and grasshoppers. During the past years, this birds was also noted breeding in the Maltese Islands.
One of the best sites for bird-watching during Autumn is Buskett Gardens, the largest woodland area in Malta, located about 2km from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
10th August 2016 – The unmistakable sound of summer…from the Cicada
Heard everywhere in summer is the songs of the male Cicada (Cicada orni, Werżieq ta’ b’inhar). This insect is the most active during the hottest times of the day, that’s why it sings throughout the day. The sound originates from the blur-speed vibration of part of this winged insect’s abdomen.
The cicada appears when the larvae dig out of the soil and climb onto trees. Upon metamomorphisis, the cicada turns into its adult life form. Only males sing to attract females to mate. Eggs are laid in the soil and these hatch in late summer. The newly hatched-larvae spend the majority of their lives in the soil.
This winged insect makes one of the loudest animal sounds, but it is difficult to see one, since when threatened the cicada stop singing. Once mating occurs, adult cicadas start dying. That’s why end of summer is characterised by such a silence!
28th July 2016 – The Mediterranean Chameleon
This chameleon was rescued whilst crossing a road close to Dingli Cliffs. It was then released in a shrub. Currently, from mid-July to September, during the mating season, one might see pairs of chameleon, but throughout the year, the chameleon is a solitary reptile. It is important to note that the chameleon is protected by law and and one should not keep, kill or sell them.
The Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeoleo chamaeleon, Kamalejont) was brought to Malta from North Africa and introduced in a residence in a private gardens in St. Julians in the mid-1800s, but it then spread all over Malta.
This reptile inhabits trees, shrubs, low-lying vegetation and open countryside, using its four tours to grasp branches and its tail to maintain balance. It can grow up to 30cm and is normally green or brown in colour with pale markings. When threatened, it changes colour, puffs its body and opens its mouth to appear fiercer. The chameleon feeds on insects, using its protractible long tongue, which is often two times the length of its body. Its eyes can be rotated independently from each other. Thus, the chameleon, has a full 360° arc of vision, and can focus on two different objects simultaneously.
Date: Thursday 28th July 2016
Place: Dingli Cliffs, Chameleon was rescued and then released in its natural environment.
2nd July 2016 – Animal friction
An encounter between a gecko and a bat was riddled with friction, when sounds were heard coming from a circa two meter high spacing in a wall within an agricultural area at Dingli Cliffs in the evening of 2nd July.
The Moorish Gecko (Wizgha tal-Kampanja) is native of the Mediterranean region. Its flat head and transparent eyelid. The encounter was photographed in the evening, attributing to the very light colour of the gecko. Bats, which are the only flying mammals are nocturnal animals. They often roost in sheltered areas such as caves and cliffs, but also man-made structures such as walls and buildings.
22nd February 2016 – Spot the Common Starling
The Common Starling (Sturnell, Sturnus vulgaris) is a very common bird, which often spends winter in the Maltese Islands. Often, the Starlings visit the Maltese Islands in October and return back to Europe before spring.
The bird is alike to a thrush in size but has a glossy black body. White spots appear in later summer when the bird moults, giving the starling a speckled appearance. By the following summer, the feather tips wear off and the plumage is no longer spotted with white. Common starlings can often be encountered in huge flocks. It is thought that this is a defence mechanisms against birds of prey.
Starlings eat mostly insects, seeds and fruits. They are often regarded as pests since they devour sprouting crops and feed on fruit trees, whilst also causing noise nuisance due to their large roosts. However, in the Maltese Islands, the starlings do not damage fruit trees; albeit eating olives abandoned by farmers in trees.
16th November 2015 – The Swallowtail butterfly
The endemic Maltese Swallowtail butterfly, a subspecies of the European Swallowtail is only found in the Maltese Islands, locally called “Farfett tar-reġina/bużbież/fejġel”. It has an impressive wingspan of between 8 -10cm. It is identified by the bright yellow and black wings, blue band and red spots on the hind wings. Its name is attributed to the pair of protruding tails on the hind wings of this butterfly. The Maltese Swallowtail is elusive, it often flutters its wings as it feeds on flower nectar, moving from one flower to the next.
The life history of the swallowtail starts from a single egg laid on the larval host plant, most often under the leaf of a Fennel plant. The larva, which hatches from the egg feeds on the host plant for about 4 weeks, producing a pupa. The adult butterfly then lives for about 20 days, during which the female lays its eggs to complete its life cycle. The endemic Maltese Swallowtail butterfly can be seen from February to November since it produces two or three broods. Populations of the Swallowtail butterfly have remained relatively stable because the wild fennel is common in the Maltese countryside.
Date: Sunday 15th November 2015
Time: 9.30 am
Place: Dingli Cliffs, along The Cliffs Trail
14th October 2015 – The Eurasian Dotterel
Eurasian Dotterel Birwina Charadrius morinellus
Kevin Francica Kevin Francica
Observed: Mainly in Autumn, however is also seen in Winter and Spring
Description: The Eurasian Dotterel is a small long-legged wader of the plover bird family, about 20-22cm long with a wingspan of 57-64cm.
Population: The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Ecology: This species is fully migratory and travels non-stop on a broad front across Europe, staging first at a number of traditional sites. It departs from its breeding grounds from August to September, the return migration in the spring beginning in late-February or March. The species breeds from May to August in solitary well-dispersed pairs.
Behaviour: There is a sexual dimorphism in the size and plumage of the dotterel, since the female is larger and brighter than the male. This species shows a reversal of sexual roles; the female attracts a mate through its plumage displays, while the male helps incubate the eggs and tends the young chicks.
Local Habitat: Garrigue and bare arable land with sparse vegetation.
Breeding Habitat: The species breeds on flat open uplands, on mountain ridges and plateaus with sparse vegetation, and on coastal and inland Arctic tundra of moss, short grass or lichen and bare patches of rock.
Diet: Its diet consists of insects, (mainly beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and ants), spiders, snails and earthworms, as well as plant matter such as leaves, seeds, berries and flowers.
Breeding site: The nest is a shallow scrape on bare ground or in short vegetation. The species is a solitary nester but where suitable habitat is restricted it may also breed in loose groups of 2-5 pairs.
Main threats: Some of Scotland’s most popular birds are suffering a severe drop in numbers, a study has revealed:
Mon, 09/12/2013 – 16:46 — Henk Tennekes
Scientists from the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Natural Research have revealed the startling decline in bird populations in the State of UK Birds 2013 report. The mountain species dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), one of the rarest breeds in Britain – with two-thirds living in the Cairngorms – has declined by about 40 per cent in just over a decade. The results found that the estimated number of dotterels had fallen from 630 breeding males in 1999, to just 423 breeding males in 2011, continuing a longer-term decline since the first survey in 1987-88, which estimated the number of breeding males at 981. Mark Eaton, of RSPB, said: “Scotland’s Highlands provide an important home for dotterel and the species’ presence offers a good indicator of the health of our mountain landscapes. To see such a significant drop in their numbers over the past three decades is deeply concerning.
Eileen Stuart, SNH head of policy and advice, said: “The declining numbers of some birds, particularly the drop in dotterels, is obviously very worrying”. Colette Hall, a species monitoring officer with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, was concerned that the figures show the breeding ranges of waders are drastically shrinking. She said: “We’re losing much-loved species like snipe or lapwing completely from parts of lowland Britain. The list of countryside birds which are declining also includes willow tits, cuckoos, whinchats, starlings, wood warblers and yellow wagtails.
Source: The Scotsman, 9 December 2013
In northern England, a historical decline since the mid-nineteenth century has been attributed to overgrazing by sheep causing a degradation in the quality of breeding habitat, although pollution and human recreational disturbance may also be involved in preventing a recovery (Galbraith et al. 1993). The main threats for the species are loss of habitat due to alteration in mountains,-the construction of ski stations, tracks and urbanization.
Latest encounter along The Cliffs Trail: Sunday 4th October 2015, two hunters along the Cliffs Trail at Dingli Cliffs managed to take some photos of the wonderful bird, which rested for some time in a field prior to continuing its journey.
31st August 2015 – The spectacular Lobed Argiope
The Lobed Argiope at Dingli Cliffs (Source: The Cliffs Interpretation Centre)
The striking Lobed Argiope (Argiope lobata, Brimba kbira tal-widien) is the largest spider in the Maltese Islands with a striped black and yellow abdomen. The males have a body length of only 6mm, but the females’ body length reach 25mm, and its legs reach 40mm.
As the other members of the Argiope genus, the Loped Argiope decorates its large spherical web with a prominent zig-zag silk structure to immobilise and captures its prey, which it also poisons.
The Lobed Argiope is frequently found in vegetated areas, such as valleys. The photo above shows its presence at the garrigue habitat of the Dingli Cliffs.
6 June 2015 – Mating Western Whip Snakes
(product of THE CLIFFS Interpretation Centre)
The largest snake in the Maltese Islands is the Western Whip Snake, which can grow up to 1.5m. Known in Maltese as “Is-Serp Iswed”, it is the most common snake in Malta. It lives in dry places along valley sides, maquis and open rocky ground, where it is occasionally found basking on rocks or rubble walls. It usually feeds on lizards, mice, shrews, young birds, smaller snakes, frogs and large insects.
Although some people are afraid or dislike snakes, native reptiles are part of our Maltese heritage and should be safeguarded. The Western Whip Snake, like all native snakes, has been protected in Malta since 1992. One should not pursue, take, kill or keep these fascinating reptiles. According to a report compiled by MEPA in connection with the EC Habitats Directive, the population status of the western whip snake is considered to be favourable and positive trends have been predicted.
Date: Saturday 6th June 2015
Temperature: During day maximum 28 degrees Celsius
Wind: Low North East.
Place: Dingli Cliffs, along The Cliffs Interpretation Centre trail.
Important: Pair was not disturbed