The National Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands embraces the needs of all types of …Read more
“The private sector may be better suited to carry out certain initiatives such as research, …Read more
Earlier today, a group of students from an independent school visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre …Read more
Regeneration refers to renewal, but the definition extends to various themes including social and economic …Read more
Linking agricultural practices and gastronomy are encouraged in the National Agricultural Policy 2018-2018, whereby a …Read more
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre favours harmony with national policies and strategies. The recent Agricultural Policy …Read more
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Innovation and the Agricultural policy – a private sector’s initiative (19/04/2018)
“The private sector may be better suited to carry out certain initiatives such as research, development and innovation aimed at improving productivity” (MESDC, 2018, pg. 94). The above is expressed in the National Agricultural Policy 2018-2028 consultation document. This signifies the role of the private sector to drive innovation.
Located along the stretch of Dingli Cliffs, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre developed its own notion of “A new concept…local produce”. It has innovated thinking outside the box to amalgamate gastronomy with local food and products. Local produce include wild and semi-wild edible fruits and other products. The habit of using edible produce is disappearing, hence it is crucial to record, preserve and infuse certain forms of knowledge. One example by which productivity has been enhanced with innovation has been through the making of local produce, such as fruit jams amalgamated with wild edible plants. Several educational television programmes have been aired on the particular uses of wild produce for cooking – with quince jam, carob syrup, local cheeselets, wild asparagus, and more.
Another innovative approach of the Centre has been the provision of innovative recreational activities with a focus on the off-peak months of visitor arrivals. The Centre has been a pioneer in the area, by providing the only services in the entire stretch of Dingli Cliffs – including provision of food and drinks, public toilets, shelter, local products and free educational activities.
In fact, the gastronomical experience offered at The Cliffs complements the walking trails and The Centre’s aim to provide an authentic visitor experience. The Cliffs Centre strives to maintain its initiatives – it is the only private entity in the whole stretch of SAC operating all year round and initialising initiatives of information dissemination to all its visitors.
Dingli Cliffs’ regeneration through education: The National Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands (16/04/2018)
Regeneration refers to renewal, but the definition extends to various themes including social and economic factors. Considering the stretch of Dingli Cliffs, which are designated as part of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, regeneration needs to be considered at the three domains, as sustainable development. One of the aspects of regeneration explored in the Draft National Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands 2018-2028, is to “invest in flexible career pathways and educational services for current and prospective rural entrepreneurs to offer an array of essential information, exchange of ideas…” (MSDEC, 2018, p.222)
With regards to economic regeneration, the construction, management and daily operations of The Centre has resulted in a the provision of previously non-existent facilities at source by local people, empowering local employment to benefit the economy, and including the socio-economic returns of new environmentally-friendly jobs. The Centre also favours vitality and viability of local produces, benefitting the economy e.g. bread is daily purchased from the local bakery, perishable items from local stores, fresh vegetables are brought from local Dingli farmers.
Concerning social regeneration, the majority of the staff at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre live in Dingli village or have links to the village. Through the local produce and food that are prepared, The Centre promotes local produce that are in the verge of being lost, such as wild edible plants and even traditional rural skills and knowledge systems. Even the free eco-walks that are organised twice a week promote good well-being. This complies to the National Agricultural Policy with the aim to “Mainstream social and cultural activities to raise awareness on the local product offered, its nutritional benefits and the opportunities emanating from the sector.” (MSDEC, 2018, p.222)
One important aspect of such regeneration is that The Centre is run by local professional personnel who love the environment and feel a particular sense of belonging. All types of visitors may engage with the environment, and this enhances the environmental consciousness of the area.
Since The Centre has pioneered information dissemination at Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding areas, it focuses on the potential of education to raise awareness. Through the free organised school visits to secondary school students, The Cliffs Centre directs its focus to the future career pathways of the students that visit. The Centre thus provides early stage exposure to issues of importance, including environment, agriculture, history, local produce, gastronomy, and more.
Through complying with the National Agricultural Policy and other strategies, The Cliffs Centre will continue striving to offer information services and authentic experience to visitors. Being self-sufficient means that it can offer sustainable solutions, and assistance for real self-sufficient project should be taken into consideration by the related authorities.
The quote by Edward de Bono, in his published book, “Thinking to Create Value-Bonting” (2016) is very relevant to the way of looking at an idea and challenging it. “‘Challenge’ means looking at a satisfactory idea, and then blocking that idea hence making room for other ideas. It is very important to realise that challenge is never directed at ideas that are wrong or inadequate, but at the best and strongest ideas. Challenge never suggests that an idea may be wrong. Challenge suggests that there may be other ideas which are blocked by excellence of the existing idea. That idea may be excellent and possible also the best one, but for the moment we will challenge it in order to see if there might be other, even better ideas”. Hence, the general public and upper authorities may find it initially difficult to accept a new concept, however through challenging the current concepts, creating new ones, and without undue negative pressures…….acceptance is enhanced.
Malta’s National Agricultural Policy: Strengthening agriculture-gastronomy links (12/04/2018)
Linking agricultural practices and gastronomy are encouraged in the National Agricultural Policy 2018-2018, whereby a listed objective is to “Strengthen the link between farming and gastronomy, food, health and the environment.” (MSDEC, 2018, p. 262)
Living at Dingli and being one of the main land users of Dingli Cliffs, the centre has strived to find an innovative way of infusing traditional knowledge systems and disseminating them to all types of visitors. The Centre’s motto is “A new concept…local produce”, and the daily operations attest to this.
The gastronomical experience offered by The Cliffs agrees to the meaning of an Interpretation Centre, that is, to offer innovative means of communication. Hence, gastronomy highlights the fresh local agricultural produce and the natural species richness of edible wild flora, always amalgamated to the historical and cultural traditions that have been retained throughout the years by the locals. One such habit is the use of wild edible plants for food and medicinal purposes. The Cliffs studies such knowledge systems and finds innovative ways of infusing them to future generations.
First preference is given to agricultural products available in the area according to the season, having the two-way benefit of providing economic returns to the local farmer, whilst making visitors aware of the rich local produce of the region. One such example is the One Kilometre Platter, consisting of freshly pickled vegetables and antipasti from a one kilometre zone around The Centre. These includes goat cheese from the last remaining shepherd in the area of Dingli Cliffs and seasonal vegetables bought from local producers. All vegetables that are served at The Cliffs Centre are a product of Dingli and its immediate surroundings.
Through its gastronomy, The Cliffs notifies and educates the public on the wide variety of edible plants, including the springtime’s borage, wild asparagus, and wild garlic. Furthermore, The Centre has been successful in studying past knowledge systems of local product use and in fact, it has managed to rejuvenate the making of quince jam and chutneys. Hence, in trying to revive past traditions, The Centre has focused on fruit trees which were not previously appreciated in the gastronomical aspect. The restoration of such local traditions could only be made possible by the direct engagement that The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has to the local stakeholders.
The daily operations of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre complement the prospect developed in the National Agricultural Policy, to link farming with gastronomy and food provision. Through such links, traditional aspects and practices, including the use of agricultural and wild produce, will be maintained and strengthened, to the benefit of the rural agricultural community and the authentic experience granted to visitors.
Educating the Local Community and the Agriculture Strategy (06/04/2018)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre favours harmony with national policies and strategies. The recent Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands, identifies the need to “familiarise the general public with the indigenous species that constitute a vital component of the Maltese natural heritage and enhance the public understanding of the qualities and attributes of the ecological biodiversity” (MSDEC, 2018, p. 60).
Amongst the visitors that visit The Cliffs Interpretation Centre for its recreational and informative activities, are members of the local community. Earlier today, over 17 members of the Local Craft Club of the village of Dingli visited The Centre for the free audiovisual and free accompanied walk. The main topics of interest and dialogue were local edible produce, traditional practices of the rural community, agricultural use of the land and more. This was complemented with The Centre’s motto “A new concept…local produce”, since after the walk, local food was served to the participants of the walk.
In its daily endeavours to improve the educational knowledge of all type of visitors which visit the Centre, it will continue to agree with the agricultural policy wording i.e. to “Work with the rural community to encourage sound land management practices which are essential for soil conservation and which help minimise the impacts of climate change on agricultural soils, as well, encourage long-term management strategies that increase soil organic matter.” (MDSEC, 2018, p. 191). Through its accomplishments for the past seven years, The Centre deems that through education and not enforcement, the public will learn to appreciate the natural environment and the importance of conservation.
Stimulating Eco-Tourism along Dingli Cliffs -The National Agricultural Policy 2018-2028 (04/04/2018)
The National Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands has identified the key challenges for agricultural practices in the Maltese Islands, whilst setting up a vision for opportunities and sustainable growth. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is dedicated to the dissemination of information about Dingli Cliffs’ main environmental, historical, agricultural and gastronomical features.
The National Agricultural Policy refers that “Current strategies in rural tourism including agro-tourism and eco-tourism are fragmented, lack coordination and do not adopt a multi-sectorial, long term approach” (MESDC, 2018, p.182). Such coordination will be an asset for the farming activities but also for tourism in general.
The panoramic Dingli Cliffs are appreciated by a wide ranging type of visitors, varying from local to foreign visitors. Dingli Cliffs offer a stunning view over the blue sea, in the rural countryside setting of the Dingli village, once consisting of farming communities and locals engaging in wild produce foraging.
The free of charge eco-tourism activities organised by The Centre, namely Free Audio-visual and Free Eco-walks are held all-year round, with summer and winter schedules.
The walking trail route which was devised by The Centre endeavours to maintain the harmony between landowners, and farmers and visitors. Such walking route highlights places of interest and rural areas whilst passing along public land to ensure that such harmony is maintained.
Through such innovative information dissemination, The Centre enhances environmental consciousness about the surrounding areas, especially when considering that there is active arable agriculture being practised in Dingli, as adequately indicated in the National Agricultural Policy, “…there are rural areas in mainland Malta such as the north-west and south-west of the island that contain an active farming population and farm landscape which could be exploited for rural tourism purposes.” (MESDC, 2018, p.182)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre fully agrees with such a perspective as highlighted in this draft policy. The more similar initiatives the better, so that holistically with other initiatives, The Centre and other similar eco/agri- enterprises may fulfil a comprehensive holiday for such eco/agri- tourists. Such concepts will also continue to increase the winter and shoulder months’ tourism, whilst helping the rural community to prosper.
Orchid Heaven at Dingli Cliffs (28/03/2018)
Earlier today, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre collaborated with Greenhouse Malta, a local NGO in organising a Free Orchid walk, focused on spotting orchids.
The activity consisted of the Audiovisual at The Cliffs Centre’s lecture room followed by the accompanied walk with personnel from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre and Greenhouse Malta. Several orchids were spotted and recorded, including even the Maltese Spider Orchid (Ophrys melitensis, Brimba sewda), one of the two endemic species. This scarce species flowers between March and May, first forming a rosette of leaves, with the flowering stalk growing from the centre of the rosette. The flower pattern of the lip is hairy with a bright blue pattern.
Other species that were today recorded include the Serapias parviflora (Small-flowered Tongue Orchid, Orkida ta’ l-Ilsien iz-Zghira) and the Anacamptis corophora subs. Fragrans (Fragrant Orchid, Orkida tfuh) all of which are indigenous Mediterranean species. The fragrant orchid is quite interesting since the flowers are fragrant. All such orchids are often found in garrigue habitats, characterised by shrubs and grasses in pockets of soil within rocky terrain.
For other interesting encounters with wild flowers, join us in one of our FREE eco-walks organised every week by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. More info on our website http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/
Springtime wild local edible produce at The Cliffs Centre (14/03/2018)
The garrigue environment of Dingli Cliffs is home to over 1100 species of wild plants, and springtime is a good time to be foraging in the countryside. One of the edible plants that can be harvested is Mediterranean Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus), a very common shrub. This plant is adapted to the dry Maltese summer, with spiny shoots instead of leaves. The new shoots appear during a couple of weeks from February to March as juicy, soft tips. The young sprouts are edible and these may be foraged for culinary purposes. Cooking with asparagus shoots dates back to Ancient Egypt times, in fact the oldest recipe for cooking asparagus is found in the oldest surviving book of recipes dated 3rd century AD.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has innovated the “New concept…local produce” since its opening six years ago. It innovated thinking outside the box to amalgamate local food produce with environmental awareness about the area and the traditions maintained by the locals. In fact, wild asparagus is featured in the seasonal specialities such as side dish or with risotto dishes. Other produce processed at the kitchen of The Centre include the edible borage and mallow plants, which have also been traditionally used in the past for medicinal purpose, apart from their edible value.
Information about local produce is also disseminated through The Centre’s free tours, consisting of an informative audiovisual in The Centre’s lecture room and the accompanied eco-walks organised weekly with several schedules.
Completion of the latest mediator task between The Cliffs Centre, ERA, research and local stakeholders (08/03/2018)
The largest network of protected areas in the EU is Natura 2000, comprising of sites where rare species listed under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive thrive. Dingli Cliffs are part of “Rdumijiet ta’ Malta” Natura 2000 sites, comprising both Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA).
The management plan which was finalised in March 2017, identifies conservation objectives and management actions that are required to maintain and conserve the site, all with stakeholder involvement. In the management plan, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, is mentioned in relation to it being an educational site.
One Code of Action is the lobbying with site stakeholders and users for the conservation management of the site. The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) leads the effort, however requiring the input of local mediators between the different landusers and stakeholders. Hence, “other entities that should be utilised for the success of this action are…The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, all present and operating within the site.” (ERA, 2017, p. 300). With regards to the management structure for the site, the overall management of the site is with ERA, the lead authority, however The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is considered as one of the competent partners for the management of the cliffs area (ERA, 2017, p. 312).
The Centre is a major stakeholder at Dingli Cliffs, striving to ensure a continuation of informative educational services and to maintain a positive balance between landowners, land users and stakeholders. A recent endeavour by The Centre completed just this week was its role as a stakeholder, contacted by ERA to identify landowners of Dingli Cliffs, provide access to the sites and join scientists from the University of Malta and a local environment services research company for a survey commissioned by ERA on a type of Annex II fauna species, listed in the Habitats Directive.
Apart from the regular eco-walks organised by The Centre, it has managed to bring together different landusers together. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre represents all types of stakeholders in the area, and thus it is always willing to act as a stakeholder intermediary.
ERA, 2017, Natura 2000 Management Plan (SAC/SPA), Rdumijiet ta’ Malta – Ir-Ramla ta’ Ghajn Tuffieha sax-Xaqqa, Environment and Resources Authority
Dingli Cliffs – Nature and Culture Combined (03/03/2018)
Dingli Cliffs offer one of the best panoramic spots in the Maltese Islands throughout the entire day and the whole year…offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Cliffs themselves. The views from Dingli Cliffs differ according to the weather, from dramatic waves to calm seas.
Dingli Cliffs is an ideal place for everyone. Nature enthusiasts can encounter several of the 1100 different flowering plants, more so during springtime. Visitors interested in history and culture may encounter several places of interest, from the Radar building with its underground structures that were used in World War II to St. Mary Magdalene Chapel on the edge of the cliffs dating back to the 1600s, and more. Walkers and trekkers may enjoy the various scenic walking routes, strolling amongst rugged garrigue countryside landscape and agricultural areas. Forage enthusiasts can also find different wild and semi-wild edible produce according to the season.
All this may be enjoyed during a walk along Dingli Cliffs. One of the trails is that set up by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, and is the centre of the free eco-walks organised by The Centre throughout the whole year.
Spotting the delicate Orchids & Orchid Talk at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (28/02/2018)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre hosted Greenhouse Malta for a talk on Orchid Surveying as part of a citizen science initiative to record wild orchids in the Maltese Islands on Sunday 25th February. Following the talk, volunteers went out in the field to spot orchids.
Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research. A local initiative is the photographing and recording of orchids found in the garrigue environment in a project aiming to identify the status of wild orchids in the Maltese Islands. The project is being managed by Greenhouse Malta who have contacted The Cliffs Interpretation Centre for a talk to be held at The Centre, made last Sunday at the lecture room of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The Centre is doing its utmost to help monitor such flora species. The weekly organised free walks, involve strolling along footpaths within the natural garrigue habitat and whenever orchids are spotted, we do our utmost to educate all types of visitors. Despite being seen as open rocky ground with few patches of soil, this main habitat type is home to over 500 of the indigenous plant species of the Maltese Islands including orchids. Perhaps one of the interesting features of orchids is their reliance on highly specialised pollination systems and their use of shape, colour or scent to attract pollinators, including bees and wasps.
Recently, two of the earliest indigenous orchids to flower in the Maltese Islands, the Fan-lipped Orchid (Anachamptis collina, Orkida Ħamra) and the Milky Orchid (Orchis conica, Orkida tat-Tikek) were spotted during our regular eco-walks, spotted as individual plants or in isolated clusters. Browse through our website for more information about The Centre’s initiatives of awareness-raising – http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/
Local produce in season at Dingli Cliffs (19/02/2018)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, located in the middle of the Special Area of Conservation within the Natura 2000 network of protected sites is dedicated to the dissemination of innovative information about the area’s biologic diversity, history, archaeology, gastronomy and also local produce.
The Maltese Islands are home to about 1100 species of wild plants, many of which are indigenous. The Concept of The Centre, “A new concept…local produce” attests to the initiative to amalgamate gastronomy with innovative information dissemination to educate all types of visitors on local produce and past traditional aspects. Amongst the local produce that are seasonally available during this time of the year are the Mediterranean Asparagus, Borage and Mallow, all of which have edible properties.
Tender shoots growing out of the common shrub of the Mediterranean Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus) are usually typical of springtime, however this year we have encountered the asparagus shoots as early as beginning of February. The flowers of the abundant Borage (Fidloqqom, Borago officinalis) and those of the Common Mallow (Ħobbejża, Malva sylvestris) are edible and may be used for garnish. Both the Borage and the Mallow were traditionally used in the Maltese Islands due to their medicinal properties.
By thinking outside the box since its inception, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has managed to amalgamate informal education with gastronomy. More direct education means to promote Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings’ and to instil environmental consciousness include the authentic and innovative free eco-walks, organised weekly all year round. These activities offer a hands-on and informative experience of Dingli Cliffs by professional local personnel. Click here to learn more about our free eco-walks and to join us!
Almond blossoms and the winter countryside (27/01/2018)
The spectacular Almonds are now just blooming – a symbol of promise for the new year. Along The Cliffs Trail, whilst in our free weekly walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, we encounter several blooming Almond Trees (Prunus dulcis, Lewża), one of the oldest naturalised trees and domesticated since the Bronze Age. The Mediterranean climate is optimal for the almond, with Maltese gastronomy often including the almond nut, rich in Vitamins, calcium and iron.
Whilst meandering through country paths and along the garrigue plateaux of Dingli Cliffs, we encounter a plethora of flowering plants, seeing the contrast between the green colour of the countryside and the shimmering blue of the sea. An authentic way of discovering the surroundings of Dingli Cliffs through an invigorating walk, featuring nature and views, but also, history, archaeology and local produce!
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s gastronomy features several local produce and wild edible flowers, always according to the season. More on our concept at http://thecliffs.com.mt/
Ending the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development – #IY2017 (29/12/2017)
The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to raise awareness on the importance of sustainable tourism practices and to encourage stakeholder participation. Designation of the International Year has strived to promote tourism’s role in the key areas of Economic growth, Social aspects, Environmental protection, Cultural values and Understanding.
In the local context of the Maltese Islands, the environment links to the International Year’s key areas especially in the designated protected sites of natural importance – the EU’s Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – which have resulted in more awareness on species distribution and habitat protection. Dingli Cliffs are part of the largest SAC in the Maltese Islands, covering 15km2 out of the total 316km2 of land area. Although our SACs are small when compared to other SACs at the European scale, the SAC of which Dingli Cliffs is part of – called Rdumijiet ta’ Malta: Ir-Ramla ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa sax-Xaqqa (MT0000024) consists of several landscapes, supporting habitats and rare species which require enhanced conservation and awareness.
Indirectly, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been relating to the key areas of economy, social aspects, environment protection, cultural values and understanding by its daily gastronomical, educational and innovative practices. For almost six years, The Centre has strived to maintain its aim of reaching all types of visitors, which practically make up almost all that visit Dingli Cliffs. Combining education provision with gastronomy has been an effective way by which The Cliffs Interpretation Centre highlights what is important about Dingli Cliffs, thereby convincing visitors of their value.
- Inclusive and sustainable economic growth – Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing socio-economic sectors, able to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and improve locals’ livelihoods. The creation of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre by the local company from Dingli has resulted in positive socio-economic returns such as the creation of new environmentally-friendly jobs. The operations of The Centre empower local employment since the majority of staff come from the village. Minor perishable items are bought from local grocery stores, thereby facilitating the vitality and viability of local food producers to benefit the economy.
- Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction – Considering that Dingli Cliffs are quite remote, the presence of The Centre has meant the creation of jobs for locals, indirectly related to social inclusiveness. Encouraging women’s employment has been on the agenda of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre since 57% of the full-timer staff are female, indicating integration and non-discrimination. The free tours aim at providing tourism experiences for all types of visitors, hence suiting all type of budgets.
- Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change – Continuously being deeply invested in the idea to enhance the environmental education of visitors of The Cliffs, The Centre has strived to provide innovative recreational activities, with the most recent updates related to making the tours free of charge. Located in a SAC, The Cliffs Centre strives to promote conservation along with a sense of responsibility for the environment. The eco-tours offer a sustainable form of tourism, throughout the year with no dependency on seasonal tourism, hence helping to distribute tourism demand not just in peak summer but throughout the year.
- Cultural values, diversity and heritage – The concept of The Centre, “A new concept…local produce” attests to the initiative to amalgamate gastronomy with innovative information provision to educate people on wild local produce and past traditional practices. Food served is local with certain traditional aspects that have either been lost or are under threat. Wild edible plants are used as a means of recording and preserving past knowledge systems. The running of The Centre is self-sufficient and self-sustainable, with economic diversification being key in merging production and serving local food with educational activities.
- Mutual understanding, peace and security – Since tourism has the potential to further the sense of global citizenship, there is reaffirmation of global values, such as the greater initiative to be responsible for global issues such as environmental degradation. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre also promotes stakeholder dialogue and several activities attest to this.
The edible Borage plant (02/12/2017)
The Maltese Islands are home to over 1100 recorded plant species. With the extensive stretch of cliffs and the rupestral communities, the coastal landscapes are magnificent. The garrigue community is the most characteristic vegetation assemblage in the Maltese Islands and each community has unique plant species. Along the garrigue of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings, one may find the typical plant of the Borage, with several culinary and medicinal values.
The Borage (Borago officinalis, Fidloqqom), whose tiny blue star-shaped flowers with five petals are edible, is abundantly found in the Maltese countryside. This plant is actually native of the Middle East and has spread over the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, North Africa and more.
The medicinal value of this plant has been recognised since Ancient times, as a brew from the borage was given to gladiators and crusaders before battles and long journeys. In ancient Roman Times, the borage was used to lower fever and treat bronchitis. This plant has also been traditionally associated with good well-being. In Malta, old medicinal traditions of the borage include its use for treating coughs, however it is also beneficial as a tonic and anti-inflammatory.
The flavour of borage resembles that of cucumber. Leaves can be eaten raw in mixed salads, whilst stems can be cooked. The Cliffs Centre makes its utmost to promote this herbal plant using both the leaves and flowers depending on the season. The borage soup is made with fresh borage leaves when in season, whilst the Ravioli Borage are a pasta dish filled with the borage leaves. Through such gastronomical dishes, The Centre is fulfilling its aim of instilling awareness about the natural environment of Dingli Cliffs. Gastronomy is used as a means to educate people on local produce and traditions, representing the unique menu “A new concept…local produce”.
Furthermore, The Centre is first to offer free rural eco-walks, consisting of free audiovisual and free guided walks all year round with seasonal schedules, as an authentic, hands-on, informative and enjoyable experience, whilst showcasing the surrounding places of historical and environmental interest. http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/
Cherishing the panoramic cliffs and biodiversity (23/11/2017)
Dingli Cliffs are undoubtedly renowned for their spectacular plunging sea cliffs, showcasing the rock layer sequence of the Maltese Islands, shaped by the different resistances of the rock layers.
The plateaux consist of karstic limestone characterised by garrigue vegetation in rocky ground, the most typical natural vegetation in the Maltese Islands. Rupestral assemblages grow on cliff faces, whilst at the foot of inland cliffs, small trees and large shrubs may be encountered. The landscape of the Maltese Islands is often deemed impoverished, however the Maltese Islands harbour a diverse range of habitats and species. Natural wild plants are adapted to the Maltese climate, often surviving the harsh summers, as a form of adaptation to the climate. The seasonality of the climate affects the resultant seasonality of the terrain, with sparse vegetation during the dry summer and contrasting lush green during the wet period.
Whilst the peak blooming time for the flora in the Maltese Islands is in the springtime, now is a good time to be enjoying the countryside….with several wild flora including the Yellow-throated crocus, Mediterranean Heather and Autumn Buttercup.
Dingli Cliffs offer some of the most stunning views…from the panoramic cliffs plunging into the sea to the lush green of grasses and wild plants. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, found just 100m away from the Dingli Radar, offers the first free eco-tours in the Maltese Islands, making the utmost of the surroundings for an invigorating walk, passing through notable historical, archaeological, cultural and environmental sites and features. We organise the eco-walks every Wednesdays and Fridays, starting with an audio-visual at The Centre, and followed by the hands-on walk. The Centre combines gastronomy and local food products with information dissemination, so you may join us for local food upon return from the walk!
Local produce and traditional practices at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (30/10/2017)
Local culinary traditions that have passed through generations have characterised Maltese Cuisine. The gastronomical experience offered at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre complements the walking trail routes and The Centre’s aim to provide an authentic visitor experience, focusing on the use of local produce, with a highlight on wild and semi-wild produce. The Centre has effectively innovated “A new concept…local produce”, by combining the provision of local food products with direct information dissemination measures to promote all that Dingli Cliffs have to offer in terms of the natural environment, history and gastronomy.
Cheeselet production is a local tradition in the Maltese Islands, evocative of past traditional practices associated with the cottage industry practices involved in the rearing of sheep. The Maltese cheeselet was once part of the typical Maltese dish, with the production of cheeselets dating back to several centuries, indicating the importance to highlight such traditional product. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre buys the cheeselet from the last local shepherd who roams Dingli Cliffs with his livestock. Another historical traditional practice which is used by The Centre is the Qanniċ, a ventilated box to air dry produce. Fresh cheeselets are placed in the qanniċ for a couple of days and turned daily until dried and ready for a covering of crushed black pepper.
Other local food that are utilised to highlight the area include several wild and semi-wild fruit and products. The food offered complements The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s aim to provide diverse innovative and informative communication to effectively reach visitors.
Innovation to facilitate sustainable development (18/10/2017)
The investment in infrastructure and innovation are important for economic growth, however social and environmental aspects have to be considered in the global goal to achieve sustainable development. SDG9 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda is to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has effectively innovated “A new concept…local Produce”, that of combining the provision of local food products, together with direct information dissemination measures to promote the area’s environment and biodiversity, history, and local aspects. The Centre pioneered such information dissemination by providing the only services in the entire stretch of Dingli Cliffs, found in the middle of the designated Natura 2000 site, part of Rdumijiet ta’ Malta. Living in the village of Dingli and being one of the landusers of the cliffs, The Centre managed to blend the environment, tourism and local aspects together whilst offering a service for arriving visitors.
The gastronomical experience offered at The Cliffs complements the walking trails and The Centre’s aim to provide an authentic visitor experience. This is because the gastronomical aspect of The Centre is based on the sustainable use of local wild and semi-wild produce for cooking.
The educational displays at The Centre and the provision of walking tours are another form of innovation to promote the area and its conservation. All visitors, ranging from stakeholders, locals, students and tourists are encouraged to attend one of our eco-walks, offering a hands-on experience of all factors shaping Dingli Cliffs. This is also beneficial to the Maltese Islands’ tourism product, dedicated to the shoulder months and hence sustainable.
The Cliffs Interpretation has strived and will continue to drive the way forward to make visitors aware that although relatively small when compared to other designated and protected areas in Europe, the area has much to offer. The Centre is the first to offer free rural eco-walks in the Maltese Islands, all year round. The hands-on tours include audiovisual, presentation and accompanied healthy walk in the surrounding areas…More info here!
September return of the migrating birds (27/09/2017)
Dingli Cliffs are located in the middle of the largest Natura 2000 network of designated sites in the Maltese Islands. As a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), this site, part of Rdumijiet ta’ Malta: ir-Ramla taċ-Ċirkewwa sal-Ponta ta’ Bengħisa, supports several habitats and species. Also being a Special Protected Area (SPA), this site is important for the conservation of several breeding seabirds along the cliffs.
There are other bird species which visit The Maltese Islands whilst migrating, such as the Pernis apivorus (Honey Buzzard, Kuċċarda) and the Circus aeruginosus (Marsh Harrier, Bagħdan Aħmar). Both these species are directly listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive, meaning that they are in requirement of special conservation to ensure their reproduction and survival.
The Honey Buzzard feeds mostly on insects, but also small mammals and birds. Soaring on flat wings, the sexes are quite easily identified by the plumage colour. As a long distance migrant, the Honey Buzzard uses magnetic orientation and visual memory to find its way, whilst avoiding large expanses of water. Instead, it often prefers to soar on thermals – rising air over land.
The Marsh Harrier, also feeding on small birds, mammals and reptiles, is another migrating raptor, often associated with marshlands and wetlands. Both the Honey Buzzard and the Marsh Harrier can be sighted in the Maltese Islands during autumn and spring, with Buskett being one of the best birdwatching spots.
Another bird which is of least concern at the global level and not listed in the Birds Directive, is the European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster, Qerd in-Naħal), still worth mentioning due to its predominance during autumn migration in the Maltese Islands. In the Maltese Islands, its status changed over time from very common in the early 19th century to rare in the 20th century, but nowadays it is commonly sighted in early autumn. This exotic-coloured passerine bird is migratory and regularly heard or seen in flocks.
Birds in Europe breed in spring, and then they travel to their African wintering ground in autumn. The birds which migrate over the Maltese Islands follow the Africa-Eurasia Flyways, connecting the breeding grounds with wintering grounds, and including stop-over points in the Mediterranean. Although the Maltese Islands are not a major stop-over point, several bird species such as those noted above, may be seen migrating. A good place to glimpse migrating birds is the semi-natural woodland of Buskett, found about 2km from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. Buskett provides food and shelter for birds, many of which roost overnight before continuing their journey.
Education is the way forward to continue protecting and conserving the environment and its biodiversity. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre acts as a continuous education source, such as hosting the first seminar, organised by a local ornithologist to hunters (link) The aim of such seminar was to enhance the local hunters’ knowledge and education on birds by taking photographs.
Furthermore, bird species that breed, visit or winter in the Maltese Islands may be sighted along The Cliffs Trail, devised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. A good spot to spot birds near Dingli Cliffs is the Clapham Junction area, which overlooks Buskett Gardens. This is one of the landmarks along The Cliffs Trail, and one of the sites visited during the FREE guided tours, organised by the Centre. From 1st October onwards, the winter schedule of our tours apply, where both Tour A (Free Audiovisual) and Tour B (Free Audiovisual and Free Guided Walk) are More information on our free tours can be found in our website here.
Innovating local summer produce at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (22/09/2017)
Summer in the Maltese Islands is characterised by the sweltering sunshine and high temperatures, but it is also reminiscent of bountiful fresh local fruits. During the summer months, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been active in creating local products from wild and semi-wild produce of the Dingli countryside.
The concept of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre relates to the provision of innovative means of communication to promote the area’s natural, historical and traditional aspects. One means of providing informative communication is by the range of gastronomical products, tied to knowledge systems of the past, with various culinary and medicinal values. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s saying “A new concept…local produce” is represented by the numerous local produce which have recently been produced during the summer. The food menu and the free tours organised by The Centre also continue to add value to the local produce of the area, amalgamated to informative and recreational visits.
Typical of the Mediterranean region and the early days of the Maltese summer is the Fig, one of the oldest cultivated fruit species. Figs are a good source of protein and fibre. Available at The Cliffs Centre is the Fig Conserve.
Mid-August is the time for the harvest of the carob fruits. Characteristic of the Maltese countryside, the Carob tree often grows without care or cultivation. During World War II, carobs were sold to people to fight off famine in times of need, however now, they are only harvested to feed cattle and horses. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre produces Carob Syrup, traditionally used in the treatment of coughs and sore throats (by adding the syrup to warm water and lemon). This syrup is traditionally prepared from well-selected juicy carobs without any preservatives. Apart from this, the carob is a good source of vitamins, fibre and potassium, whilst containing twice as much calcium as milk. Of interesting note is that carob seeds were used in antiquity as an effective measure of the weight of gold.
Although not indigenous to the Mediterranean, the Prickly Pear tree adapted very well to the climate of the Maltese Islands. The trees act as good boundary between fields, while the fruit contains anti-oxidants and vitamins. The Prickly Pear jam is also produced by The Centre to make the public and visitors appreciate this often neglected fruit. Another way by which The Centre promotes the prickly pear fruit is by including it in the food menu, as a chutney served with fresh salad.
All the above produce, together with local dried herbs and spices, are available for sale at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. For our wide range of produce, kindly visit our website here.
To learn more about the gastronomy and local produce of Dingli Cliffs, as amalgamated to the environment, history and archaeology, we invite you to join us in one of our free walking tours. Visit our website to learn more about our tours and to book online here. Learn about the surroundings while engaging in a healthy walk around Dingli Cliffs… for free!
Look who came to visit The Cliffs – The Mediterranean Chameleon (02/08/2017)
The Mediterranean Chameleon was introduced in the Maltese Islands in the 19th century in a private residence in St. Julians, but it then spread all over.
The Chameleon can grow up to 30cm and it can change its colours. The change in colour is not to camouflage itself but it changes its colour as a response to light and temperature and to express its emotions…the chameleon’s own body language! When in danger, it puffs up its body to appear fiercer!! As can be seen in the below photo, the chameleon feeds on insects, and it has a full 360 degree arc of vision, meaning that its eyes can be rotated separately from each other.
The photos show the two common habitats for chameleons in Malta (photos taken by staff of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre), living in trees such as the nearby Buskett Gardens, but also common in garrigue habitats, which is the most common type of habitat along the Natura 2000 stretch of Dingli Cliffs!
Visit The Cliffs Interpretation Centre for one of our Free walks to learn more about Dingli Cliffs’ fauna and flora and so much more.. – http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/
History and Archaeology – A stone’s throw away from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (03/07/2017)
The geographic location of the Maltese Islands has been of strategic importance for human influence. Despite their small size, the Maltese Islands have a rich history, dating back to 5200BC when man first arrived during the Neolithic Age. Close to Dingli Cliffs lies the important archaeological site – called Clapham Junction, offering a way to return to Malta’s past, especially by the presence of cart ruts, tombs, a troglodytic cave complex and more.
The Cart Ruts, paired grooves within the rock surface are the major points of interest at Clapham Junction, named aptly so to recall the highly networked train station in London. Of 200 sites in which the cart ruts may be seen in the Maltese Islands, Clapham Junction has the densest intensity of cart ruts and is the most famous. However, the age and purpose of the cart tracks are still a mystery. What is known for sure is that the cart ruts predate the Punic Tombs that are found in the area, implying that these tracks were made before. Notions for the formation of the cart ruts vary from the transport of goods on sledges, irrigation systems, and even alien marks!
Nearby to the cart ruts is the natural depression of Għar il-Kbir, forming a cave complex of interconnecting caves, which was inhabited by people from Neolithic times till 1835. In 1637, a total of 117 people used to live inside the caves, with the caves having partitions to separate families, and places where animals used to be kept. There are also three Punic tombs in the area, identified by the shape of the chamber and the shaft. The Phoenicians used to colonise Malta from 7th Century BC to 3rd century AD.
To see for yourself the impressive Clapham Junction site and learn more about what’s known on this area, join us at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre for one of our “Pay-what-it’s-worth” tours. Tour B, consisting of an Audiovisual and Guided walk. Book by calling on 79642380, sending us an email at [email protected] or filling in the booking form in our website at http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/book-now/. Then, when you join us for a tour, you first enjoy the tour, and at the end decide if and how much you want to tip. No hassle….no pressure!
Goals of sustainability 3 – Supporting sustainable economic growth, both through gastronomy and the informative free tours (12/06/2017)
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a total of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to guide the role of the public and different sectors to achieve sustainable global development.
Goal 8 of the SDG deals with the aim to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre seeks to sustain economic growth with diversification, whilst promoting the idea of innovation. Its daily operations favour sustainable tourism to promote local culture and local produce, whilst empowering local employment to benefit the economy.
The use of local products in the gastronomic endeavours of The Centre, continue to make a viable contribution to the socio-economic value of the Maltese Islands. The Centre empowers local employment both directly and indirectly. Apart from the staff that work at the Centre, the majority of which have links to the village of Dingli, the Centre favours vitality and viability of local food producers, benefitting the local economy. An example is the daily purchasing of bread from the local bakery, and perishable items from local grocery stores.
The Centre promotes a form of tourism that is sustainable, especially during the shoulder months, by blending the environment with tourism and offering services to visitors arriving at Dingli Cliffs. This is especially done in the free guided tours. Positive socio-economic returns of this venture include the creation of new environmentally-friendly jobs, cooperation and collaboration between stakeholders and landusers, etc… The updated tours, which have been been offered on a ‘pay-what-it’s-worth’ basis, provide an enjoyable and informative experience of Dingli Cliffs with the authentic input of local personnel.
Now, during the summer, the tours are ideal to watch the sunset – in, fact they run on Thursdays at 18:30 starting with an audiovisual presentation in The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s lecture room, followed by an accompanied walk along Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings to discover important areas of historical and archaeological value. Tours are subject to booking, and hence it’s very important to book in advance by calling on 79642380, filling in the online form at our website or sending an email to [email protected]
Goals of sustainability 4 – Promoting well-being for all (28/05/2017)
A theme inherent to sustainable development is the safeguarding of healthy lives and well-being.
The 70th United Nations General Assembly in 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, listing several sustainable development goals (SDGs) to achieve sustainable development. Whilst certain issues related to SDG 3 to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” are relevant for less developed countries, well-being should be promoted for all. Environment, health and well-being are closely related and in the Maltese Islands, the threats of pollution and environmental degradation are particularly significant. Green areas for recreation enhance good health and protection of the environment.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is continuously contributing to the promotion of the well-being of its visitors, especially through the tour activities that it organises. Primarily, the free tours promote well-being since they are based on a walk along the panoramic Dingli Cliffs. The walks provide a recreational and healthy activity to all types of visitors. Hence, the informative act of exploring the areas’ environment, history, archaeology and local produce is agglomerated to active walking, indirectly a form of exercise and enhancement of fitness.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre also promotes indirect health and well-being through its gastronomical practices. The Mediterranean diet, which is a healthy eating plan based on typical foods of Mediterranean-style cooking, incorporates essential foods of healthy eating. Vegetables prepared at The Centre are often brought from local vegetable producers, and local herbs and spices are used to flavour food. The diet promoted at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is based on a number of skills and traditions of food and local produce, whilst promoting conservation and enhancement of the traditional knowledge systems.
The Wild Artichoke in full bloom at Dingli Cliffs (17/05/2017)
Did you know that the garrigue in Dingli Cliffs is now covered by the bloom of the Wild Artichoke, which is the wild variant of the Globe Artichoke?
The wild artichoke (Cynara cardunculus, Qaqoċċ tax-Xewk) is a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family. The presence of the wild artichoke is natural in the Mediterranean region, related to the history of domestication of the globe artichoke since ancient times. The wild plant is easily identifiable from the cultivated globe artichoke because the former has a spiny appearance.
The plant can grow up to 1m in height, and the leaves have rigid spines to protect it against grass-feeding animals. The flower heads, violet-purple in colour are often solitary or on branched stems. The flowers attract a large number of pollinating insects, ranging from wasps, bees, beetles and more.
Both the flower buds and the stems of the wild artichoke can be eaten. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans used the wild artichoke for food. It has also been said that in the Maltese Islands, the leaves of the wild artichoke have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes and used as a tonic, to combat high fever and more. The wild artichoke is also used a digestive or in liquors. Another interesting use of the wild artichoke abroad is in cheese production.
To learn more about the seasonal flowering plants and the gastronomic use of certain local produce, book now and join us in one of our two free tours!
Goals of sustainability 2 – Conservation and protection of the environment (13/05/2017)
Human life and livelihood rely on healthy ecosystems, which ultimately protect the planet. Terrestrial ecosystems are crucial contributors to biodiversity with the provision of a myriad of ecosystem services. Open green spaces provide clean air, combat biodiversity loss and mitigate against climate change.
The 15th Sustainable Development Goal, which focuses on life on earth, goes beyond conservation of the environment and is directed towards the sustainable management of natural resources. SDG 15 aims to “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.
The environment has a high priority on the agenda of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. The environmental dimension that is promoted in SDG 15 is also aligned to the work of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The Centre is located in a Special Area of Conservation and makes its utmost to create awareness on the protected land area in terms of the designated habitats and species. The designated SAC is the largest of the Maltese Islands, supporting thirteen different habitats including vegetated sea cliffs, salt meadows, salt steppes, garrigue, steppe, cliff communities and forest. Numerous endangered species of flora and fauna are also found especially in cliff and garrigue habitats.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is identified in the Natura 2000 management plan of the SAC as an educational site due to its community and conservation services, and for its role in lobbying for conservation management of the site. The Centre is also a major stakeholder at Dingli Cliffs, striving to ensure a continuation of informative educational services on the surrounding areas’ natural and cultural heritage in relation to environmental management. Through several means, The Centre helps the public to appreciate the importance of conserving the surrounding protected area. Several landusers of Dingli Cliffs were brought together by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, ranging from farmers, landowners, visitors, hunters, trappers, locals, etc…
The Centre records, preserves and instils knowledge systems related to the use of local produce for both conservation and education. Some of the 1100 species of wild edible plants and semi-wild fruits are processed at The Centre according to the season. Tackling biodiversity loss is also indirectly considered since The Centre promotes the cutting and not pulling out of plant species, hence the parent plant may be retained for further propagation.
The Cliffs Centre is not a non-governmental organisation, but it is a self-sufficient entity based on conservation and management. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has maintained its autonomy, it doesn’t ask for financial capital to continue preserving the environment. The following quote by Edward de Bono, in his latest published book ‘Thinking To Create Value – Bonting’ (2016), is very relevant to the way of looking at an idea and challenging it. “‘Challenge’ means looking at a satisfactory idea, and then blocking that idea hence making room for other ideas. It is very important to realise that challenge is never directed at ideas that are wrong or inadequate, but at the best and strongest ideas. Challenge never suggests that an idea may be wrong. Challenge suggests that there may be other ideas which are blocked by excellence of the existing idea. That idea may be excellent and possible also the best one, but for the moment we will challenge it in order to see if there might be other, even better ideas”.
Goals of sustainability 1 – Promoting sustainable education at The Cliffs Centre (27/04/2017)
Sustainable development relates to various aspects of life by linking the environment, society and the economy together. The latest published Environment for Europeans magazine, in March 2017, whose copies are also now available for free at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, connects the regional vision of sustainable development to global goals and local actions. It is clearly identified that despite the policy level, additional actions and the engagement of stakeholders are necessary for the full implementation of policies to attain sustainable development.
The European Commission advocates that sustainable development has to be smart, sustainable and inclusive. The EU’s policies have integrated within them, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which were put forward in the 2030 Agenda by the UN. Further actions are necessary “to fully implement the 2030 Agenda “in partnership with all.” (Article in Environment for European Magazine, March 2017, p.11).
Several of the SDGs are directly related to the daily activities of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, which is located in the middle of the largest SAC in the Maltese Islands. The Centre has put sustainability to the forefront of its operations since its beginning. This article tackles Sustainable Education (SDG4), however further upcoming articles will consider the other related sustainable development goals.
Sustainable Development Goal 4, aims to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all ”.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has, is and will continue to enhance the meaning of an Interpretation Centre, indirectly complying with SDG 4. The Centre strives to ensure a continuation of education of the surrounding areas’ heritage through visual displays, the offered free walking eco-tours, etc… The Centre is an arena for raising awareness on the environmental, social and cultural importance of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings, whilst striving to ensure a continuation of education of the surrounding areas’ heritage. This is done through several informative lectures and walks to school students in outings. The Centre has even created its own children’s character based on a donkey to promote learning about the surrounding environment of Dingli Cliffs.
On an informal education level, the free tours are recreational, but they are also indirectly creating public awareness on the surrounding environment, archaeology, gastronomy and local produce.
Even the food that is served at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has an educational role of informing visitors on the biological diversity at Dingli Cliffs and the wide range of local wild and semi-produce that can be sustainably used. Other local products can be found such as local cheeselets from the only shepherd in the area. A selection of jams and delicatessen products are also a reminder of past medicinal and culinary uses of local produce.
The environment and well-being at Dingli Cliffs (17/04/2017)
The direct relation between human wellness and the environment means that the environment plays a major role in influencing well-being. People establish their state of well-being according to the environment in which they live in. Living in an environment with more green spaces is often linked to a higher level of well-being and improved physical activity, reduced air pollution and also more recreational activities.
The recent Maltese conference related to environmental health and well-being, was held on Wednesday 5th April 2017, based on the influences that the environment has on human health. Issues such as pollution, climate change and the connection to nature are crucial aspects that must be considered. Environmental well-being refers to the awareness of the interactions between the environment, local communities and human activities. One way to achieve environmental wellness is through responsibility, such as by being aware of natural resources, considering both the present and the future, etc…
The high population density, low natural resources, large number of vehicles and associated threats of pollution are particularly relevant to the Maltese Islands. Air pollution, noise pollution and environmental degradation, related to urbanisation and other human activities, are major causes of negative health impacts. Long-scale changes such as climate change and biodiversity losses have wide-ranging and irreversible effects on human health and well-being. The presence of green countryside spaces means that the environment can be appreciated by human populations. In turn, those in good health have a larger likelihood to look after and protect the environment. The presence of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre in the middle of the largest Special Area of Conservation, continues to promote the idea of green countryside spaces, characterised by a wide variety of landscapes, ranging from cliffs, plateaux, agricultural land and more. The free tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, updated throughout the years, focus on delivering a recreational and informative way of discovering the area of Dingli Cliffs, whilst walking along The Cliffs Trail.
Ultimately, human health and well-being depend on well‑functioning ecosystems and the way that natural resources are used. Since there is interaction between the environment and well-being, it is important to consider them together – hence, a change in our mind-set is required for a positive way forward.
Springtime and the bountiful wild flowers (13/04/2017)
One of the best time of the year to appreciate the plentiful presence of the different species of wild flowers in the Maltese Islands is spring time. Several of Malta’s 1100 different types of wild plants bloom during the spring. The garrigue environment of Dingli Cliffs with pockets of soil, allows the establishment of typical local plants. Some of these flowering plants have culinary value, and The Cliffs Centre aims to foster more awareness of the surrounding environment and local produce, both through gastronomy and the informative free tours (Check website link here).
Among the edible wild flowers currently in season, are the wild garlic, borage, asparagus and the mallow. The Wild Garlic (Hairy Garlic, Allium subhirsutum, Tewm Muswaf) can easily be recognised by its smell, signifying a pleasant combination of sweetness and astringency. The whitish to pink-coloured flowers and the leaves are edible. The fragrance of the garlic has made it a useful ingredient in cooking for hundreds of years, and the garlic was also even used for its antibacterial properties.
Another prolific species found throughout the surrounding countryside is the Borage (Borago officinalis, Fidloqqom). The bluish flowers of the annual borage, with prominent black anthers are edible, and the leaves can be boiled and used in cooking. Medicinally, the plant has been used since Ancient Greece time, and in the Maltese Islands, an infusion of the plant was used in the treatment of coughs. The Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris, Ħobbejża) is another wild flowers, whose pink to purple flowers are edible. Traditionally, the leaves of the mallow were even used for cooking and for medicinal purposes.
One way to appreciate the various types of wild flowers in the surrounding countryside is through walking in the area. The tours offered by The Cliffs, on a ‘pay-what-it’s-worth’ basis allow visitors to gain an added-value experience of their visit to Dingli Cliffs. More information on the concept of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre can be found in our promotional video trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah7dnM-pue0&t=107s.
Goal to achieving Sustainable Agriculture (07/04/2017)
Sustainability implies the capacity to endure, diversify and maintain efficiency for an indefinite period of time, in relation to the three core elements – environment, society and economy. The latest published Environment for Europeans magazine, in March 2017, tackles the concept of a sustainable future in the long-term. At the regional level, sustainability needs to be considered as a global vision, as highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders in the 70th UN General Assembly in 2015. The environment has to be seen hand-in-hand with themes related to agriculture, education, health, social protection, climate change, etc… Despite the policy level, additional actions and stakeholder engagement are necessary for the full implementation of policies.
Sustainable agriculture is part of the focus of the second goal of the 2030 Agenda, which can only be tackled through the sustainable management of natural resources. The EU Commission’s communication also identifies that “Agriculture plays a substantial role in the 2030 Agenda and in any sustainable future as it is intrinsically linked to issues such as jobs, food, air, climate change, water, soil and biodiversity.”  Agriculture is sustainable when it becomes an integrated system of production lasting in the long term, whilst satisfying needs related to human consumption, economic viability, protection of natural resources and adaptation to climate change.
One way by which agriculture may be sustainable is if it is based on small-scale food producers, who are also locals. Sustainable food production with increased productivity may also be possible if agricultural practices are resilient. The EU’s “Sustainable agriculture for the future we want” specifies that the EU is making its utmost for a greener agriculture. Sustainable management is also considered in the proposed core objectives for the EU’s CAP 2014-2020. One of the identified challenges for which the CAP reform was made, is related to the importance of enhancing the sustainable management of natural resources including water, air, soil and biodiversity, and to consider the increasing pressure brought by ongoing climatic changes.
In the local scenario, sustainable agriculture is important for several environmental benefits – ranging from protection of water quality and soil functionality, preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and reduction of pollution:
- Soil functionality – the threat of soil erosion in the Maltese Islands associated with reduced soil quality and low levels of organic matter, needs to be reduced by securing soil functionality. The degradation of soil can be prevented through maintenance of soil structure and organic matter. Soil has a function as a carbon sink, meaning that it has an important role in mitigating climate change. Farming practices have to be appropriate and directed at utmost soil management. The repair of dilapidated rubble walls and the construction of new rubble walls is a good practice to maintain soil management of the Maltese Islands with various other environmental benefits.
- Water management – Water resources are already threatened in the Maltese Islands. whilst the practices of installing systems of drip irrigation are necessary if water is to be effectively and efficiently utilised. Over abstraction of groundwater and the reduced use of surface runoff for irrigation, coupled with the effects of drier seasons are major threats to the agricultural sector. A good practice of irrigation, which should be promoted is the use of drip irrigation systems that use water effectively and efficiently.
- Biodiversity protection – The importance of local species is crucial for the maintenance of genetic diversity. The planting of local trees and sequestering carbon in soil will mitigate against the negative consequence of greenhouse gases, whilst contributing to other positive environmental benefits related to enhanced biodiversity. Biodiversity and agriculture are also linked, since biodiversity e.g. soil organisms and plants contribute to enhance soil fertility. In turn, agriculture is able to create habitats, enhancing biological diversity.
Hence, the conservation of natural resources means effective soil management and water conservation, and this may be seen in relation to adapting to climate change. The fragmentation of land and land abandonment has continued to threaten agricultural land. Promoting agricultural production and land consolidation will deliver valuable ecosystem services including the retention of water and nutrients, soil conservation and carbon storage.
An important consideration is that rural development consists of three roles, related to production, wardens of the environment and conservation of biodiversity, and finally the embellishment of the countryside for visual purposes.
 European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Next steps for a sustainable European future – European action for sustainability, 22/11/2016.
 European Union, DG AGRI/DG Development and Cooperation (EuropeAid), Sustainable agriculture for the future we want, 2012, 8p.
 European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of the future, 18/11/2010.
Dingli Cliffs appreciated through touch and smell – Activity for visually impaired persons (01/04/2017)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre welcomed members from SPERO, a specialised training and activity centre for blind and visually impaired persons for a free tour on Thursday 30th March. This recreational outing was focused on creating more environmental awareness on the natural heritage of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings.
An explanation of the varying local produce that is currently found in season was followed by a short walk to St. Mary Magdalene Chapel. Whilst enjoying the fresh air of Dingli Cliffs, the participants who took part in the walk could appreciate the touch and smell of certain wild plants and their valuable use for cooking or medicinal purposes.
Upon visiting the countryside, especially during this time of the year it is clear that Dingli Cliffs cannot only be enjoyed solely with the sense of sight…Smelling and touching wild plants continue to remind us of the importance of appreciating the countryside even more. The Free tours organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre offer a unique local experience of the unique blend of ecology, history, culture and local produce of Dingli Cliffs.
Discover Dingli Cliffs wins Eco-friendly tour operator of the year by LTG Awards (30/03/2017)
Discover Dingli Cliffs tours have won “Eco-friendly Tour Operator of the year 2016” under the category for Holiday & Tour Specialist Awards. Each year, the Luxury Travel Awards (LTG Awards) identifies and celebrates various sectors of the travel industry each year. Discover Dingli Cliffs tours were firstly nominated by subscribers of the Luxury Travel Guide.
The LTG Europe awards are focused on innovation, design, service excellence and gastronomic achievements. The Holiday and Tour Specialist Awards focus on excellence and recognise tour options at different levels such as local knowledge, cultural understanding, service excellence and diversity.
The eco-friendly tours organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre promote the environment, history, archaeology, local produce and gastronomy of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings. The tours are based on a ‘pay-what-it’s-worth’ basis to suit everyone’s budget. At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, we strive to develop and maintain environmental awareness, provide an engaging visitor experience, connect with local stakeholders and more…so Discover Dingli Cliffs and explore the scenic beauty of Dingli Cliffs!! For more information click on this link http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/.
The approaching spring at Dingli Cliffs (17/03/2017)
Spring is fast approaching, bringing with it an abundance of greenery and blooming flowers. This time of the year is longed for, especially because spring is a balance between the winter and summer months. Spring is one of the best times for walks in the country side!
March to May are the best months to appreciate Malta’s display of wild flowers…ranging from the frequent Cape Sorrell, to the edible Borage, the Greater Snapdragon and the Crown Daisy. Despite these common plants, spring time is the best time of the year to encounter one of the most refined flower species – the orchids.
In the Maltese Islands, more than 30 species of orchids have been recorded. Amongst them is the Yellow Bee Orchid, an indigenous species with a threatened status. The orchid looks like a bee, this attracting male bees who attempt to copulate the flowers. No true copulation takes place, but the male bees end up collecting pollen on their abdomen, transferring pollen from one flower to another.
Join us on one of the free guided tours to explore the surrounding Dingli Cliffs countryside, with the blooming flowers and the varied landmarks. More information can be found at http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/
Informative and innovative ways of learning about edible local produce of Dingli Cliffs – Wild Asparagus (17/02/2016)
The Maltese Islands boast about 1100 species of wild plants, and amongst them is the Mediterranean Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus). This species is a wild relative of the cultivated asparagus, native to southeast and southwest Europe, north Africa and western Asia.
The Mediterranean Asparagus is adapted to the dry conditions of the garrigue environment in the Maltese Islands and it has found a way to adapt to the harsh summer months. The plant is branched and woody, with spiny shoots. This plant reduces its leaves to spiny scales. It can be found in various types of landscapes including garrigue, maquis, along rubble walls, etc… Every year, from February to March, the Asparagus plant produces new stems that sprout vertically.
These young sprouting stems are edible, and hence may be harvested for culinary purposes. The slight bitter flavour of the asparagus is often the basis of several gourmet foods. The tender shoots can only be harvested when in season, since throughout the rest of the year, the wild asparagus is a spiny bush. Cooking with asparagus has been practiced since Ancient Egypt times, and the oldest recipe for cooking asparagus is found in the oldest surviving book of recipes, dating to the 3rd century AD. Other uses of the asparagus includes for popular medicine, and also as firewood.
One way of innovation that is practiced by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is through the promotion of local produce both in gastronomy and in the organised free guided walks. In fact, when in season, the local wild asparagus is harvested from Dingli Cliffs area, cooked and served alongside to the seasonal specialities. In the free guided walks, participants also gain a hands-on experience of local products. During the walks, all visitors enjoy the panoramic Dingli Cliffs whilst seeing how wild plants grow and their culinary and medicinal uses.
Interpreting the Heritage of Dingli Cliffs (08/02/2017)
Heritage refers to the social role and ethical involvement that should be promoted by everyone to forward a healthy environment. Heritage is intricately linked to sustainability and it may be divided into cultural and natural heritage. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, located in one of Malta’s designated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) has aimed to promote the natural and cultural heritage of Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding areas from its inception i.e. for the past five years.
Dingli’s Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage is made up of the landscapes, structures and relics that the present has inherited from past generations, to be upheld and preserved for future generations. Cultural heritage is related to the archaeological and historical aspects of a setting.
At Dingli Cliffs, there are several landmarks of cultural heritage. The trails supported by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre promote the surrounding landscape. Specifically, the trail map developed by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre highlights the surrounding areas of cultural heritage, which can be encountered whilst walking along the trail.
The Radar, just 100m from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is the first historical landmark of Dingli Cliffs. St. Mary Magdalene Chapel is another spot of cultural heritage at Dingli Cliffs, attesting to the religious traditions of the local community throughout the years.
Several archaeological features are also found in the surrounding areas and include cart ruts, silo pits, caves, ancient tombs, remains of a troglodytic wall, etc… All these locations, highlighted through The Cliffs trail map can be found within a couple of kilometres from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The natural environment and its value for heritage
Natural heritage is made up of biodiverse life forms and the natural environment, including geology, geomorphological features, ecology, water resources, etc…
All five rock layers of the Maltese Islands can be seen at Dingli Cliffs, together with the landforms that are shaped by geology. The karstic plateaux on top of the cliffs are home to the garrigue vegetation community, with its diverse plant and animal life. The cliffs themselves host areas of rupestral vegetation, together with several boulder scree features.
There are over 1100 natural flora in the Maltese Islands, and many of them have culinary and medicinal purposes. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has rejuvenated certain past traditions and studied knowledge systems of the local trees and their indigenous fruits to promote the surrounding natural environment.
Several of the features of cultural and natural heritage at Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding areas are the highlight of the FREE audio-visual and FREE guided walks that are organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. Such free tours signify a sustainable approach, to provide the very best to all visitors regardless of their budget.
Attractive and edible…the common Borage plant promoted by The Cliffs Centre (01/02/2017)
Among the 1100 species of wild plants that we may encounter in the Dingli countryside is the Borage (Borago officinalis, Fidloqqom) with both culinary and medicinal value. The plant may be easily recognised by the tiny bright-blue flowers with five petals, which hang from the stem. The plant is abundantly found in the Maltese countryside from January to May. As an indigenous species, borage is found throughout the Mediterranean, but also Europe, North Africa, South America, etc… Nowadays, borage is cultivated for the production of borage oil, a healthy supplement.
This plant has a long historical record of medicinal use, dating back over two thousand years. In Ancient Greece, this plant was given to gladiators before a fight. The traditional use of ‘borage for courage’ suggests that the plant has a positive effect on the adrenal glands. In Malta, one way of using this plant is by making an infusion from the leaves to soothe coughs. Apart from being an expectorant, it is also said that the borage is a diuretic, tonic, sedative, etc…
The flower and plants are edible, with the flowers having a subtle cucumber-like flavour. As a centre focusing on innovative means of communication, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre promotes plants such as the Borage in two ways: Gastronomy and FREE walking tours. When in season, borage soup is made with fresh borage leaves, and the flowers are sometimes used for garnish, according to availability. Ravioli Borage, pasta filled with borage leaves is another way of instilling environmental awareness on such a local plant. In one gastronomical dish, The Centre is informing visitors about the borage, which is found in the natural environment of Dingli, and the history and traditions of the local pecan nuts, whose trees were planted by the British in Buskett Gardens over two hundred years ago.
The latest upgraded FREE tours by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, offer an authentic and innovative way by which all types of visitors learn about the environment through a hands-on experience, including current flowering plants such as the borage. The FREE Audiovisual and FREE Guided Walk along Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings promote a way by which visitors, together with a local personnel learn about nature, history, archaeology, gastronomy and local produce, whilst enjoying a stroll along the panoramic Dingli Cliffs.
Welcoming the new year – Almond blossoms, other flora and free guided walks (16/01/2017)
Almond trees at Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding countryside are now welcoming the New Year in their own particular way. The flowers of the Almond trees are now appearing, leading to glorious almond blossoms. The early flowering is often seen as a symbol of promise and watchfulness, with flowers blooming before the appearance of the new leaves.
The Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis, Lewża) is one of the oldest introduced and naturalised trees, and the early blooming of the flower is mentioned up to ten times in the Hebrew Bible as a symbol of watchfulness.
Other flora that can be noted during this time of the year includes the indigenous Borage (Borago officinalis, Fidloqqom) with its distinct bluish flowers. Infusion of this abundant plant has been traditionally used in Malta to soothe coughs. Borage also has culinary value since the blue flowers are edible, and the leaves may be eaten. Another edible plant that is found in the Dingli countryside during this time of the year is the Stinging Nettle (Urtica membranacea, Ħurrieq). Whilst touching the leaves leads to a sting, boiling the leaves has both medicinal and culinary purposes.
One way of innovating local produce at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is the making of soups and other gastronomical products from local plants, such as borage soup or nettle soup, always subject to availability and when plants are in season. Another authentic way of discovering the surrounding nature of Dingli Cliffs is to join us in one of our FREE tours, which promote the environment, history, archaeology, gastronomy and local produce of Dingli Cliffs in a relaxing and invigorating walk.
Innovating ideas at The Cliffs…including Christmas decorations! (09/12/2016)
What’s the meaning of an Interpretation Centre? An institution for the dissemination of knowledge of natural or cultural heritage. From its establishment, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has strived to provide a comprehensive experience to visitors, using innovative means of communication. In fact, the Centre is always upgrading its product to find novel ways of communication to help visitors get in direct contact with the natural environment, history, archaeology, local produce and views of Dingli Cliffs, amongst others.
During this festive season, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre continues to promote the authentic and innovative. Our version of the Christmas tree has been created to blend with the natural environment of the site, using dried branches of trees found in the surrounding areas. Decorating with dried branches is also an effective re-use of the materials, used in successive festive years.
Other ways in which The Cliffs Interpretation Centre actively promotes innovative communication, is through revitalising wild and semi-wild edible produce and fruits to inform visitors about the rich ecological diversity of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings. The organisation of guided tours is also innovative, aiding to promote the Maltese Islands as an off-peak tourism destination, whilst also engaging in an invigorating walk along Dingli Cliffs and their off-the-beaten track environs. Blending education with environmental awareness has also been one of the focuses of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, with the organisation of school outings. The Cliffs promotes the learning of authentic ways of local life together with other assets of the surrounding areas.
At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, we fully understand that the meaning of an Interpretation Centre is that of using innovative means of information dissemination, and strive to enhance the local environment as much as possible.
Hello December and greenery (01/12/2016)
We have now welcomed a cold December, yet the fair days still encourage us to wander along the surrounding countryside. The FREE guided walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, which are subject to booking, run on Wednesdays and Fridays, and visitors may enjoy the fresh air of Dingli Cliffs while discovering historical remains, learning about the environment and relishing a leisurely stroll.
This is a good time of the year to spot the blooming of several indigenous plants in the garrigue environment, amongst which is the Mediterranean Heath (Erica multiflora, Erika). This evergreen shrub with narrow pink bell-shaped flowers or more rarely whitish flowers, has several medicinal properties as an antiseptic, astringent and diuretic. It is thought that the name ‘Heather’ derives from the English name of this shrub. One of the honey making seasons in Malta is that of autumn, by which bees take nectar from the carob, mustard plants and the Mediterranean Heath, amongst others. The small needle-like leaves of the Mediterranean Heath are clustered around woody branches; this is an adaptation of the plant to be able to survive the dry summer months as an evergreen shrub.
After the last rains, the landscape has turned green overnight…it’s as if Malta is in its second spring. This is also beneficial to see the traditional practices of past local ways of life, for example Dingli’s last local shepherd who roams the surrounding countryside with his sheep can regularly be seen at Dingli Cliffs.
For more information on the innovative tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, take a look at our website at http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/tour-information/.
Foraging for mushrooms…after the rains! (16/11/2016)
Mushrooms are the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting of a fungus. The word ‘mushroom’ is often used to describe fungi that have a stem, cap, and gills under the caps. Amongst the mushrooms that can be found growing in the wild in the Maltese countryside, only one species is edible. This is the French horn mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii var. ferulae, Faqqiegħ tal-Ferla).
This mushroom can be found growing on the roots of the Giant Fennel plant (Ferula communalis, Ferla). Spores, produced on the gills, fall as powder from under the mushroom’s cap and the only place where the spores germinate for the growth of the edible mushroom is where there are the roots of the Giant Fennel. The mushroom has a relatively short stalk, and the cap diameter is often larger than 15cm. The French horn mushroom is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, and it is also found naturally in the Middle East and North Africa.
Eating mushrooms has several health benefits ranging from stimulation of the immune system to natural cholesterol lowering. Throughout history, humans have loved to eat edible mushrooms. For example, the ancient Egyptians regarded mushrooms as ‘sons of the gods’ and ‘plants of immortality’ and hence only the pharaoh could eat funghi, and the Greeks also wrote about their puzzling growth.
When the wild edible mushroom is in season, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre harvests it for two purposes – gastronomical and educational. Whilst this fungus can be used in innovative culinary dishes to promote its edibility, The Centre also educates visitors on the surrounding environment and how the edible mushroom signifies one of the hundreds of biodiversity forms in the Maltese Islands.
Reawakening Nature in Autumn – Walking with members of a Maltese environmental organisation (14/11/2016)
Autumn in the Maltese Islands comes after the hot and dry days of summer. The arrival of autumn is seen as a time of reawakening and growth in Malta, mainly since the rainy season commences with the onset of Autumn.
The first autumn rains are responsible for the germination of annual plants which remain dormant throughout the summer. Plants that survive summer as underground bulbs or tubers, also start growing in autumn.
Several of the flowers that start appearing along Dingli Cliff’s garrigue habitats in Autumn include the Stemless Atractylis, Autumn buttercup and Autumn narcissus. One of the most remarkable plants that can also be found during this time of the year is the Yellow-throated crocus, whose violet colour and orange stamens are reminiscent of the saffron spice. The wild crocus can be used for harvesting saffron threads, however its flavour and spice is less than the cultivated saffron in other countries.
Autumn’s ideal weather for outdoor activities is encouraged at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre through its FREE guided walks. The walks offer an innovative means of recreation, whilst also learning something new about the surrounding environment and biodiversity. Last Saturday 12th November, The Centre organised a guided walk to members of an environment non-governmental organisation. First, an audiovisual was shown, followed by an accompanied walk to explore Dingli’s surrounding areas – flora, fauna, history, archaeology, gastronomy, local produce…
Saffron…The Golden Crop (07/11/2016)
Saffron is golden-coloured, and quite as pricey, and its exquisite sweet scent may be enjoyed during these Autumnal days. The FREE guided walks by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre enable visitors to spot the yellow-throated crocus along specific sections of the walk.
Saffron threads are the dried stigma of the autumn-flowering, crocus species referred to as Crocus sativus. The saffron spice is harvested by hand from the three orange stigmas of each flower in a very meticulous and long process. To produce 30 grams of the spice, more than 13,000 threads are needed, meaning over 4000 flowers of the crocus. Saffron is thus worth more than its weight in gold.
Although saffron is produced in Greece, Iran, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Turkey and India, in Malta we may encounter the wild species of the Yellow-throated crocus, Crocus longiflorus (Żagħfran Salvaġġ), which grows in the wild, and is uncultivated. The plant grows from underground corns to a height of just 1.5cm, and it has no leaves. The same uncultivated saffron can also be found in mainland Italy and Sicily, apart from the Maltese Islands.
The stigma from the saffron also has medicinal value such as in treating asthma, coughs, insomnia, depression, pain, etc…
Glimpsing the elusive butterflies at Dingli Cliffs (31/10/2016)
Colour, pollination, delicate. Three words describing butterflies and their important role in the ecosystem. In the Maltese Islands, there are about 23 species of butterflies, and one of them is endemic. Some of the butterfly species are migratory, others reside in the Islands and the status of some of them is threatened.
Amongst the most common butterflies in Malta is the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), which often lives in open spaces. The caterpillars of this butterfly often feed on the cabbage, in fact in Maltese the butterfly is known as ‘Farfett tal-Kaboċċa’. This butterfly is a well-known migrant, in fact, in Malta it is most often encountered in spring and autumn.
Another common butterfly is the Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera, ‘Kannella tax-Xemx’) which is often seen basking on bare ground with wings two-thirds open. The wall brown is an avid nectar feeder, which feeds from any available flower. The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui, ‘Farfett tax-xewk’) is another butterfly which often migrates in large numbers. It often feeds on the nectar of thistles, borage and mallow flowers.
Perhaps the most special butterfly that we may encounter in the Maltese Islands is the Maltese Swallowtail (Papilio machaon subs. Melitensis, Farfett tar-Reġina), because it is endemic. This butterfly has an impressive wingspan around 8cm, and it relies on the fennel plant as food plant. Populations of the swallowtail have remained stable throughout the years since the wild fennel is common. This butterfly produces tree broods each season, and is seen in flight between February and November.
Autumn is amongst the best times to encounter 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. Otherwise, the trails at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre enable visitors to enjoy Dingli Cliffs at their own pace.
The inaccessible boulder screes (17/10/2016)
Boulder screes (locally called ‘Rdum’) are one of the striking features that characterise coastal cliffs.
The rock layers of the Maltese Islands, which are fully shown at Dingli Cliffs, are responsible for the formation of boulder screes. The Upper Coralline Limestone is the topmost rock of the Islands, found above the Greensands and Blue Clay. The Upper Coralline Limestone is weakened by erosion, leading to the collapse of sections of the cliffs. Boulders of different sizes slide down the clay slopes and rest at the base of the upper tier of cliffs.
Boulder screes are inaccessible and they create sheltered conditions for various flora and fauna species. One of the indigenous shrubs that can be found in the boulder screes of Dingli Cliffs is the protected Mediterranean Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus, Alaternu). This rare evergreen shrub is thought to be the fastest growing tree in the Maltese Islands. It uses several fascinating means to disperse its seeds, such as through ants that are attracted to the red fruit berries. The ants transport the berries underground and only then, can the uneaten seeds germinate.
There is also a particular species of snail, the endemic Maltese Door Snail (Lampedusa melitensis), which used to inhabit the Upper Corralline Limestone plateaux at the edge of Dingli Cliffs. This species was replaced by a competitor, and with the erosion of boulders the snail was moved further downwards with the falling rocks. The door snail is now limited to a few large boulders within the boulder scree at Dingli Cliffs at Rdum tal-Madliena. The population of this snail is only recorded at a few hundred individuals.
The landscape of boulder screes can be found along Dingli Cliffs, specifically along The Cliffs trail map, planned and developed by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. One of the best spots to observe such boulder screes is at the headland of Wardija San Ġorg, one of the landmarks of the trail. At the headland, one can also find several archaeological remains, namely silo pits and remnants of a huge wall constructed without the use of mortar during the Bronze Age.
Malta’s visiting birds from autumn…till the spring (13/10/2016)
Europe’s birds breed in spring, and by autumn, they travel from their breeding ground to their wintering ground. With the onset of autumn, various birds visit the Maltese Islands, whilst on their journey, directed further south. The majority of birds winter in Africa, however there are other species that spend their winter in the south Mediterranean. This time of the year is one of the best to encounter such birds, especially in the countryside, which is abundant in Dingli Cliffs.
Amongst the bird species that fly over the Maltese Islands for the winter is the Robin (Erithacus rubecula, Pitiross). The small bird, which only weighs about 19 grams, is territorial, and thus it often takes up residence in a patch of land to defend it against other robins. Its distinctive orange breast and melodious song has evolved so that the robin can maintain its territory. Often, year after year, the robin returns to its same territory. The bird often arrives at the end of September and stays through March. Whilst some stay for the summer in woodland areas with a sufficient water supply, the robin doesn’t breed in the Maltese Islands.
Another wintering bird, small in size as the robin, is the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata, Buxaqq tax-Xitwa). This colourful bird is named so in Maltese due to its raspy call. The bird is often spotted in open areas and cultivated fields. As a common autumn migrant, the stonechat often arrives in the Maltese Islands at the end of autumn and remains until March. Similar to the robin, the stonechat often returns to its same wintering spot. The Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos, Malvizz) is another common bird that spends winter in Malta. Its short call is often heard, especially in wooded areas and valleys. Whilst migrating song thrushes fly over the Maltese Islands in October, only few overwinter in Malta until March. Snails often form part of the diet of the song thrush – the bird smashes them against the ground with a flick of the head.
These three bird species have several common properties, particularly because they come from the same order and can be described as passerine birds, since the arrangement of their toes facilitates perching. Moreover, these small birds, have similar feeding patterns since feeding mainly takes place from the ground. In fact, they may be seen on the ground in search of food including, insects, worms and seeds.
These birds, and other species that breed, visit or winter the Maltese Islands can be seen along the trail of the The Cliffs map. The best spot to watch birds near Dingli Cliffs is the Clapham Junction area, which overlooks Buskett Gardens. This is one of the landmarks along The Cliffs Trail map, and one of the spots visited in the FREE guided tours, organised by the Centre. More information here.
Dingli Cliffs and the blue-gray Clay slopes (08/10/2016)
The soft marls of the Blue Clay can be seen along the coastline of the Maltese Islands as either exposed close to sea-level or else within the five rock layer sequence.
Perhaps the most well-known of the exposed clay slopes is the Qarraba headland, found within the same Special Area of Conservation as Dingli Cliffs, and The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. Il-Qarraba is composed of an Upper Coralline Limestone cap rock, and Blue Clay which extends to sea level.
Weathering within the Blue Clay has formed the typical 45° thallus slopes. During the mild wet winter months, these slopes are covered with landslide debris. Gullying is a common feature, indicating that water moves through the gullies instead of percolating within the Blue Clay.
At Dingli Cliffs, the Blue Clay and the Globigerina Limestone separate the two-tier vertical cliffs characterised by the Upper and Lower Coralline Limestone. Soils derived from the Blue Clays are often recognised by their clayey characteristics and deep cracks which occur especially during the dry summer months. Such soils can be found in the north of the SAC of coastal cliffs from Ġnejna Bay, further south to Dingli Cliffs and reaching the coastal sections of Siġġiewi.
Nowadays, the large stretches of the clay talus are uncultivated, however evidence from 1920s photographs indicates that Dingli Cliffs used to be divided into terraced fields till the lowest extent possible. Thus, in the past, the local community was actively involved in the management of the fields down Dingli Cliffs. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre focuses on promoting the area due to its environmental value and agricultural potential, even in the latest updated FREE tours (More information here).
Here comes the spectacle in the skies (05/10/2016)
The autumn migration picks up in September and October, and certain areas in Malta become ideal spots to watch birds of prey that gather in the sky and hover over particular areas. One of the best spots to watch such migration is the woodland of Buskett, found circa 2km from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. The wooded area of Buskett provides food and shelter for birds to roost overnight before continuing on their way.
Typical species that visit the Maltese Islands during the autumn migration include the Honey Buzzard, Hobby and the Marsh Harrier. The Honey Buzzard (Pernis aviporus, Kuċċarda) is another migratory raptor that soars using hot air currents. Sexes can be identified by their plumage since males have a blue-grey head while females’ head is brown. This buzzard is a specialist feeder, which preys on larvae of wasps, small mammals and even other birds. The Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo, Seqer tal-Ħannieqa) is a falcon, with long pointed wings and square tail. This bird of prey feeds on large insects and small birds, which it transfers from its talons to the beak and eats whilst soaring. The Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus, Bagħdan) is the largest harrier with the shortest tail, which spends much of its life hunting around marshes for waterside birds and animals.
During the autumn migration, migrating birds travel from Europe to Africa, their wintering ground. In the Mediterranean region, these birds use three main travel routes (flyways), namely crossing between Spain and Morocco, Italy and Tunisia, and Israel and Egypt. Malta is spatially close to the central flyway, and that is why migrating birds may be watched.
Another migrating birds of prey is the Black Kite (Milvus migrans, Astun Iswed), a regular migrant, which is often common in autumn. This bird spends a lot of time soaring in the skies in search of food. Its forked tail is easily distinguished, together with the brown upper plumage and pale head. In the Maltese Islands, the Black Kite is usually seen in singles or small flocks, however on 7th September 2016, one of the biggest flocks in Malta’s ornithological history was recorded in which over 55 Black Kites flew over Buskett to roost. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre would like to thank Mr. Kevin Francica for providing the photographs of the kites, taken at Buskett on 7th September.
Autumn migration often starts in mid-August and ends in early November, with peak numbers recorded between mid-September and early October, and birds of prey as especially observed in the afternoon.
Turtles in the Maltese Islands (03/10/2016)
Within the marine environment of the Maltese Islands, five marine turtle species have been recorded – Loggerhead turtle, Leatherback turtle, Green turtle, Hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley turtle.
Out of these species, the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta, Fekruna Komuni) is believed to be the most abundant species, despite its global vulnerable conservation status. The Loggerhead Turtle, is a long-lived species, which spends the majority of its life in open ocean and shallow waters. The Mediterranean Sea is a nursery for juvenile turtles, whilst during spring and summer, adult turtles may be found. This migratory species, measures over 70cm in length, and is more common in the eastern Mediterranean. The loggerhead has a distinctive large head, hence its name, and powerful jaws since it often feeds on hard-shelled crabs and sea-urchins.
Females only come ashore to build nests and deposit eggs at the same location in which they were born from late May to late August. The sea turtle digs into the sand, laying the eggs into an egg chamber, and covering them with sand using her rear flippers. The eggs incubate for about sixty days, then the hatchlings break out of their shells, re-surface from their covered position, and go to the sea.
Few loggerheads are sighted in Maltese waters. In June 2012, the first confirmed sea turtle nesting event in the Maltese Islands in a century, occurred in Ġnejna Bay. The female turtle laid 79 eggs close to the waterline and these had to be relocated. The eggs never hatched since they probably became water-logged in the sand. This year on 2nd August 2016, a loggerhead visited Golden Bay to lay eggs in the middle of the night, about 5m up the beach. On the night of 27th September 2016, 66 turtles hatched in pitch darkness after 56 days of incubation. The surviving female turtles would be able to return to nest in Malta in about 25 years, provided that adulthood is reached.
Marine turtles face several pressures, not only at sea (e.g. incidental catch, habitat degradation) but also on nesting grounds such as human disturbance through recreational beach use and coastal development. Marine turtles are protected by both EU and national legislation. The EU’s Habitats Directive which protects several habits and species lists marine turtles as strictly protected species, and the loggerhead turtle is listed is a priority species. The Habitats Directive has also been transposed into local legislation.
Last year, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, located about 12.5km from the nearest sandy beach at Ġnejna Bay, hosted a talk on marine turtles, their nesting habits, and issues related to the endangered status in the Mediterranean. The illustrated talk, organised by Ms. Annalise Falzon and delivered by Mr. Charles Sammut focused on marine turtles and the direct contact of working with these protected and endangered species.
Locals, landuses and stakeholder responsibility (29/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is located in the middle of the largest Special Areas of Conservation (Natura 2000 network) in the Maltese Islands. As a significant stakeholder within this protected areas of several endemic species and habitats, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has always had an educational role in protecting the environment.
As a stakeholder within the area, The Cliffs Centre has aimed to create environment awareness and guarantee the education of the surrounding natural and cultural heritage since its inception. The Centre provides regular information on the surrounding environment and the nature laws which protect the SAC. It also provides frequent updates on seasonal flowering plants, and other environmental information monitored on the area. Continuous environmental monitoring is also important to enhance real-time understanding of the nature surrounding us E.g. The Cliffs identified the Museum of Natural History about a recorded bat species, later discovered to be roosting at Dingli Cliffs, The Centre notified an environmental officer at MEPA on two migrating sperm whales seen from Dingli Cliffs, etc.. The upgraded ecotourism tour packages, offered by the Interpretation Centre offer an educational and recreational excursion of learning about Dingli Cliffs’ environment, history, archaeology, landmarks and culinary potential of seasonal wild local produce.
The Centre is grateful for the invitation by EU’s REFIT programme for an input as a private stakeholder and Interpretation Centre (http://www.thecliffs.com.mt/13-may-2015-invitation-to-attend-a-stakeholder-meeting-with-ecs-refit/). As part of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), the European Commission has organised meetings in 10 Member states with the competent authority and private sector (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/legislation/fitness_check/index_en.htm) to evaluate and review the Birds and Nature Directives that protect habitats and species.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has also managed to bring together various local landusers such as landowners, farmers, hunters, trappers, together with environmentalists and sports-related entities. It has been involved in providing lectures and walks to school students, foreign environmental planners, professional photographers and the general public. The Centre also hosted the first public seminar on bird photography to enhance hunters’ education on birds by taking photos, together with several Natura 2000 workshops to bring together all related stakeholders to discuss issues related to the protected areas. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre represents all types of stakeholders in the area of Dingli Cliffs and thus, it has been and will be willing to continue acting as a stakeholder intermediary.
Hence, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre strives to enable visitor access, combined with beneficial outdoor activities of walking to promote ecological conservation. This is also done with various local and foreign related bodies such as ERA and the REFIT programme, in harmony with the Habitats Directive that sets protected areas.
All this in line with the Project Description Statement which was kept as a bible and also improved when it comes to ecological issues.
Managing Protected Areas (29/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is located in the middle of the largest stretch of Natura 2000 in the Maltese Islands. The stretch entitled ‘Rdumijiet ta’ Malta: Ir-Ramla ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa sax-Xaqqa’ occupies 15km2 and supports several rare habitats and endangered species. In 2015, the management plan of this Natura 2000 area has been established to formulate a management approach of the site, with the aim of involving stakeholders and ensuring sustainable natural resources.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is described as a mixed land use since it “is a community and conservation service due to its didactic value” (Pg 82). The Cliffs Centre is listed as one of the educational sites within the Natura 2000 area, together with other centres and schools. The Discover Dingli Cliffs tours offered by The Centre serve as both educational and recreational services.
The management plan also observes the related historical ties of The Cliffs Centre to the British Navy, since the interpretation centre is built on the already committed site of the TACAN, a British military structure build in the 1960s and left unoccupied with the departure of the British. Two rooms within the original building were restored to retain the structure of the previous use.
One of the actions proposed for the site is the “Lobbying with site stakeholders and users for the conservation management of the site.” The involvement and engagement of local farmers, land owners, site visitors and the tourism sector is encouraged so as the protected site is better protected. “Other entities that should be utilised for the success of this action are…the Cliffs Interpretation Centre, all present and operating within the site.” (pg. 300). The Cliffs Centre has already been involved in acting as a stakeholder intermediary and neutral ground for several meetings. In fact, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been selected as an ideal location for two (2013, 2014) stakeholder workshops related to the N2000 site in which it is located, and it was invited for another stakeholder event (2013).
All this in line with the Project Description Statement which was kept as a bible and also improved when it comes to ecological issues.
Biodiversity at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre and CEPA (29/09/2016)
Biodiversity is often defined as the “variety and variability of life on Earth…an essential component of nature.” Malta is one of the signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which aims to conserve biodiversity and use its elements sustainably.
The latest “Fifth national report to the CBD” (MEPA, 2015) has updated the Maltese Islands’ progress in the efforts to achieve Biodiversity Targets. Amongst the targets set up by Malta is that related to Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) to contribute to the decade of biodiversity (2011-2020).
National action included the organisation of various initiatives to promote biodiversity through education. Malta celebrated the International Biodiversity Day on 22nd May 2014. The day before, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre hosted the media conference by MEPA, the then national authority to showcase the major achievements, challenges, and ongoing efforts to safeguard biodiversity and generate more awareness.
The National report also identifies and encourages the work done by the centre as “Other CEPA-related activities include those undertaken at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre in Dingli Cliffs, which is managed by La Pinta Ltd. and provides the public, particularly visitors and tourists with information about Dingli and the surrounding countryside” (pg. 137). On a national basis, the collective approach by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre to promote the natural environment and its biodiversity, has been accepted and appreciated.
All this in line with the Project Description Statement which was kept as a bible and also improved when it comes to ecological issues.
Continued work of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (29/09/2016)
The European Union’s Habitats Directive is the nature legislation which identifies, protects and conserves protected areas of several species and habitats. The company which runs The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was formed in 2007. This corresponds to the same year in which the latest amendments to the Habitats Directive were made, and the initiation of the Maltese project for the establishment of management plans for Natura 2000 protected areas (complying to the Habitats and Birds Directive).
From the beginning, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre strived to promote the conservation of biodiversity through the dissemination of information, whilst contributing to socio-economic development of the nearby protected site. The Centre has thus been involved in several aspects.
As an entity of information distribution, the Centre has organised and led several lectures and talks to local clubs, non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and students (Link). It has also corresponded with persons regarding several environmental issues at Dingli Cliffs e.g. newly recorded bat species, migrating sperm whales, pairs of Peregrine falcons breeding at Dingli Cliffs, etc… As a stakeholder, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has hosted several events including the 2014 media conference of World’s Biodiversity Day by MEPA, the then national authority, environmental book launches, together with two stakeholder workshops for the development of the Natura 2000 management plan of the area.
Within last year, The Cliffs Centre has upgraded its eco-tour packages that highlight the surrounding areas’ ecology, history and gastronomy. Headmasters of secondary schools have been notified of school outings both in scholastic year 2015-2016 (Link) and 2016-2017 (Link) organised to enhance general knowledge about the ecological interconnections at Dingli Cliffs, together with other learning institutions such as Institute of Tourism Services (ITS) and the University of Malta. The tour packages have also been devised to attract different tourists and visitors interested in the area. The Centre has also met with various tourist Destination Management Companies (DMCs) to encourage tourism, together with local companies to organise educational and recreational activities for employees.
Malta’s national Tourism Authority has also been informed of the upgraded packages to encourage tourism during the off-peak months. The Centre has also been featured as one of the natural attractions (MTA Website link) of the Maltese Islands. The Cliffs was also invited and participated in various workshops and meetings, including the EU’s REFIT programme on the EU’s Habitat Directive which protect habitats and species, training workshops on eco-tourism and sustainability, etc…
Most recently, in September 2016, The Centre has updated its eco-tour packages to offer something for every type of visitor. The tours are now offered for free, and are based on a pay what you feel it’s worth basis. This enhances the sustainable approach of the Centre.
As an agent of information dissemination, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre uses its website and social media to regularly update web visitors about the surrounding environment. Monitoring of certain fauna species is also related to increasing general knowledge of the natural diversity at Dingli Cliffs. Several educational material is available at The Cliffs Centre for visitors who arrive at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre such as published magazines by the European Commission and children’s educational colouring pages, together with a selection of environmental books and post cards for sale.
The Cliffs Centre aims to provide a comprehensive experience to visitors, using innovative means of communication. Even the food that is served gives an educational input – that of informing visitors of the biological diversity at Dingli Cliffs and the wide range of local wild and semi-produce that can be sustainably used.
All this has been in line with the Project Description Statement which was kept as a bible and also improved when it comes to ecological issues.
Check out our promotional trailer on our recently updated tours (28/09/2016)
DISCOVER DINGLI CLIFFS the authentic local way, with the free tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. These tours have been recently updated after about five years of offering innovative means of communication on Dingli’s environment, history, local produce, etc…
The FREE tours are offered on a ‘Pay what it’s worth’ basis to suit everyone’s budget. When you book and join our audiovisual and/or tour, you first enjoy the tour, and at the end decide if an how much you want to tip. No hassle…no pressure!
The first FREE eco-tours in Malta!!
New updates to the Discover Dingli Cliffs tours offered since 2010! (23/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has just updated its tours, which have been offered at The Centre for the last 5 years. Our tours, which are offered by a private company with a focus on innovation have become updated in order to accommodate visitors’ needs. In fact, today, Friday the 23rd September, our most recent updates to the tours have been made.
The concept of sustainability is continuously being evolved at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. To meet the needs of all visitors, The Centre is now offering the tours on a Pay-what-it’s worth basis to suit everyone’s budget. We want to provide the visitor with the most enjoyable FREE tour, and at the end the visitor decides if and how much to tip. This is a sustainable approach, to provide the very best to all tourists, regardless of whether they afford it or not.
The tours are innovative, and the local guides offer something for everyone. Visitors will discover Dingli Cliffs, the wild flowers and fauna, history, views, agriculture and gastronomy.
All comes at a cost…including related professional staff, the production of leaflets, the maintenance of ancillary facilities, the setup for the tours, and the website. Free updates on ecology, history and gastronomy of local produce at Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding areas can be regularly found on our website here.
Visitors are also welcome to visit our unique catering area. We fully understand that the meaning of an Interpretation Centre is that of using innovative means of information dissemination. The unique kitchen and our menu highlight the culture, past traditions, gastronomy and seasonal environment of Dingli. Thus, the gastronomical experience offered at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre complements the trails and the centres’ concept of sustainability, innovation and authentic visitor experience.
Invitation to local Dingli groups (18/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has just finished the organisation of educational packages to local groups of Dingli. The groups included Dingli Scout Group, Ghaqda Muzikali Santa Marija and the Ghaqda Talent Dingli.
These packages were organised with the collaboration of the local council of Dingli and sponsored by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre to generate more local awareness of the issues that surround Dingli Cliffs, ranging from ecology, archaeology, local produce, etc..
These packages were organised in the third week of September to coincide with Jum Had-Dingli, the annual day celebrating the village of Dingli, which is celebrated today, Sunday 18th September.
From Local to Local 3 (18/09/2016)
On the third day of organised packages to local entities by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre with the collaboration of Dingli Local Council, Ghaqda Talent Dingli visited The Cliffs, to coincide with Jum Had-Dinli. Such tours were sponsored by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
From Local to Local 2 (17/09/2016)
On Day two of the organisation of educational packages to local Dingli groups, on Wednesday 14th September, the local entity of Ghaqda Muzikali Santa Marija, visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre for the engaging audiovisual, presentation on seasonal local produce, accompanied walk to one of the major landmarks along The Cliffs Trail and return for local food platters.
From Local to Local 1 (16/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has organised educational packages to local Dingli groups, with the local council of Dingli. In Day 1, leaders from the Dingli Scout Group were present for an audiovisual, guided walk and return for local food platters.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre featured in local newspaper (16/09/2016)
“For the last four and a half year, The Cliffs has fulfilled its meaning as an interpretation centre, that of distributing knowledge on natural heritage, through different and interactive means of communication to stimulate understanding and raise awareness..”
A fruit of many colours and uses – The prickly pear (15/09/2016)
The fruit of the prickly pear, covered all over by minute spines offers much more than what meets the eye. Careful peeling of the thick outer skin exposes the edible fruit with a bright red, wine-red, green or yellow-orange flesh containing many tiny seeds.
Like all cacti, the Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica, Bajtar tax-Xewk) actually originated in the American continent, and it was brought to the Mediterranean by Columbus in the late 1400s. The tree thrives in the warm Mediterranean climate of the Maltese Islands. The fruits, locally differentiated by colour, as Aħmar-Ingliż (red), Abjad-Franċiż (white) and the Isfar-Malti (yellow) is often harvested in late summer.
The prickly pear is also useful in terms of its health benefits. The fruit, which is often eaten by itself is rich in anti-oxidants and Vitamin C. In the past, the prickly pear has been traditionally used to provide relief from stomach ache, bone pain, insect stings and even burnt skin.
The fruit is also produced in several food items and local produce. At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, the fruit of the prickly pear is produced into jam and is available for sale, together with other seasonal wild and semi-wild produce. Moreover, the prickly pear chutney is served with local food platters to highlight this often neglected fruit.
Farewell Dr. Trump – Reminder of Malta’s important archaeological remains (01/09/2016)
Today, media reported the death of Dr. David Trump today, a renowned archaeologist who has led several excavations to unearth Malta’s pre-historical remains.
Dr. Trump’s career in Malta spanned sixty years, including excavations at Ġgantija Temples, Skorba and the Xagħra Circle. Between 1958 and 1963, Dr. Trump was also Curator of the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. During this time he used carbon dating to discover two new phases of Maltese prehistory linked to Skorba.
Dr. Trump published several books on Malta’s Archaeology. Malta is rich in its unique archaeological heritage, with a timeline starting from around 5200BC. Malta’s megalithic temples are the world’s oldest free-standing temples. Skorba, excavated by Dr. Trump, was occupied long before the temples were built and date back to about 4850BC.
Closer to Dingli Cliffs and one of the landmarks of The Cliffs Trail map by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is the area of Clapham Junction, the most well-known of about 120 sites in the Maltese Islands where cart-ruts can be noted. David Trump had believed that the cart ruts, parallel grooves cut out of Malta’s rock, date back to the late Bronze Age to circa 1000 BC. In the same area, datable Punic tombs have been found cutting through the cart ruts, showing that the tombs were dug out when the ruts had already been present in the area. Another nearby zone that offers the possibility of turning back time is the promontory of Wardija San Ġorġ with its remains of a troglodytic wall and several silo pits.
Visiting such archaeological sites, such as through The Cliffs trail map – which highlights these sites – will continue to increase awareness of Malta’s rich pre-historical heritage.
Garrigue vegetation along karstic plateaux (01/09/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is located within the largest Special Area of Conservation in the Maltese Islands. The most typical terrain is dominated by karstic plateaux, which forms relatively flat bare rock, composed of the Coralline Limestone landscape and bounded by escarpments.
Much of the natural vegetation of the plateaux consists of garrigue vegetation, which is the main natural habitat in Malta. The landscape seems barren and the word “Xagħri” in Maltese, comes from the Arabic ‘sahra’, to refer to the arid conditions of the Sahara Dessert. However, over 500 indigenous plant species can be found in garrigue habitats in the Maltese Islands. Each community has its own variety of plants, rendering it unique. Garrigue vegetation is highly adapted to the typical climate of the Maltese Islands. Leaves are drought-resistant, small and needle-like to reduce water loss. Many of the herbaceous shrubs are aromatic and oil is exuded to act as a waterproof film. Perennials are evergreen throughout the years, while annuals survive the harsh summer months as seeds or bulbs under the soil surface.
One of the priority habitats listed in the Natura 2000 Draft Management Plan for the SAC “Rdumijiet ta’ Malta” is the Thermo-Mediterranean and pre-desert scrub, which occupies 9.9% of the SAC and occupies a variety of landscapes such as the karstic plateaux. Typical vegetation that is found in such habitat is the Wild Thyme (Thymbra capitata), Yellow Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis hermanniae), Mediterranean Heath (Erica multiflora) and Tree Spurge (Euhorbia dendroides). Several of such species can be found depicted in The Cliffs Trail Map, produced by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The making of pumpkin jam (26/08/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is producing the Pumpkin and Maltese Orange marmalade, full of sweet yet tangy flavour. Pumpkins are full of potassium and Vitamin A, while oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C.
Along the Dingli countryside and other rural areas, one may spot pumpkins stacked on roofs of farmhouses. Pumpkins are harvested in late summer, and placed carefully next to the others in rows on roofs as an effective means of space saving storage and to protect them against the action of mice.
Did you know that name pumpkin originated from a Greek word ‘pepon’, meaning ‘large melon”?
The local community makes up an integral part of the environment. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre makes its utmost to enhance the participation of different members of the local community.
Cheeselet production is a local tradition, reminiscent of traditional practices associated with sheep rearing and related cottage industries. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre buys this fresh produce from the last local shepherd who roams Dingli Cliffs with his livestock. First preference is also given to agricultural products available in the area, by local vegetable growers according to the season.
Local employment is also empowered at the centre in terms of the staff that work at the Centre. Moreover, certain products such as bread and minor perishable items are daily bought from the local bakery and local grocery stores found in the village of Dingli.
The Centre has also involved the local community through hosting several Natura 2000 workshops to group together local entities and persons. Since the centre is a neutral stakeholder within the area, it has also been selected as the venue for the first seminar on bird photography delivered by an ornithologist to a group of hunters and trappers, who have taken up photography as a hobby.
The Centre was also chosen for a one-month ongoing art exhibition from a local artist with ties to the village of Dingli. The art focused on the dynamic landscape of Dingli Cliffs and the interaction between humans and nature.
The Centre also contributes to activities organised by the Local council of Dingli. The latest involvement of The Cliffs Centre has been in welcoming a group of resident diplomats to gain more knowledge on the surrounding environment and the locals’ way of life (Link). It has participated in the EDEN award competition, which promotes sustainable tourism and its linkages to gastronomy.
We would like to thank Fr. Eucharist for giving us for free the space of the local centre when large groups that cannot be catered for in the centre arrive at our village, (2014, 2015, 2016). The above and other measures are all taken by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre to involve the local community as much as possible.
Of Carob pods and Gold (18/08/2016)
One of the Mediterranean’s oldest and mature trees is the Carob (Ceratonia siliqua, Ħarruba), which often grows without care or cultivation. The evergreen tree is also resilient to drought and tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. The carob tree starts to bear fruit – carob pods – after six to eight years of growth.
The carob pods start developing in November, however they take till August to mature, turning to a glossy dark brown colour. The hard seeds are not edible. The pods are often collected after the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (15th August) as fodder crop to feed livestock. During the times of World War II, the carobs were valued for human consumption. The term “a penny a pod” was common, attesting to the high prices of the carob, which would give protein and carbohydrates in times of need.
One of the traditional local products of the Maltese Islands is the Carob Syrup. Diluting a teaspoon of the syrup in a glass of hot water is often used as a natural remedy in the treatment of sore throats and coughs. Anther traditional recipe that involve the carob include the ‘Karammelli’, a sweet treat often sold on Good Friday. The carob is also frequently used as a chocolate substitute for baking; since it doesn’t contain caffeine it is often considered as a healthier option.
Biblical stories attest to the Mediterranean nature of the carob – it is also called St. John’s Bread since it is thought to have been consumed by St. John the Baptist in the wilderness.
The weight of the carob seeds varies so little – each weighs approximately 0.02 grams. In the past, such seeds were used to weigh gold. In fact, the word ‘carat,’ a unit of measurement for gemstones and of purity for gold, takes its names from the Greek word ‘keration’ meaning carob seed. An ancient practice in the Middle East involved the weighing of gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob. The system was eventually standardised and now, one carat is fixed at 0.2 grams, meaning you need ten carob seeds to have the same worth in weight of gold!
Environmental Education at The Cliffs (13/08/2016)
Blending education with environmental awareness has been one of the focuses of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. In fact, The Centre promotes its activities to school students at different ages and curricular development. Whilst school visits have been offered for quite some time at The Centre (Website Link), these have been upgraded since the last scholastic year 2015-2016. Such school visits offer an authentic and innovative experience of learning about the ecological diversity, history, archaeology, culture, gastronomy and local produce of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has blended the environment with tourism in several school outings to ITS students. Lately, it has updated its outings to be in agreement with the learning expectations of students. The outings, offered to ITS in different courses range from Foundation to Certificate levels and enable students to gain a better foothold on their long-term career paths. They also teach students on the importance of promoting tourism during the off-peak months, together with day-to-day practices of the industry and the visitors. School visits (Website Link) are also offered to university students as an out-of-the-classroom experience, amalgamated with a healthy invigorating walk along Dingli Cliffs.
Other school outings are offered to secondary school students to improve their knowledge and understanding of the interconnections between nature and humans within the protected area of Dingli Cliffs. Students learning subjects such as Geography, History, Biology, Integrated Science, and Home Economics are encouraged to appreciate the surroundings.
Apart from curriculum-related activities, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been involved in several educative sessions to children and youths (2014, 2015, 2016) including lectures on Dingli Cliffs and its varied environmental and historical features.
These activities, organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, all aim to enhance the environmental awareness of what Dingli Cliffs have to offer, whilst enhancing the learning experience of visitors for both curriculum-related and recreational activities.
Tourism and The Cliffs Centre (11/08/2016)
Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in the Maltese Islands, with a significant contribution to the gross domestic product. The latest draft document of the Tourism Policy 2015-2020 has been planned to enhance the tourism product of the Maltese Islands in line with the concept of sustainability. The three guiding principles of the draft policy are directed at managing tourist numbers, increasing quality tourism and reducing the effects of seasonality in tourism. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is also contributing to the needs of tourism in the Maltese Islands.
Seasonality and visitor numbers
The Tourism Policy aims to decrease the dependency on summer mass tourism, whilst promoting Malta as a hub for active tourism, by which nature and culture are put to the forefront. “The winter months present the greatest financial strain for tourism operators and the economy. The key challenge is how to successfully stimulate more demand during this period of time” (pg. 11). Seeking new markets segments during the off peak months is crucial. In fact, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been factoring for the low season tourism by offering such packages during the winter months, promoting sustainable green growth in the economic and environmental sectors. By promoting shoulder month tourism, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is helping to spread tourism demand, not just during a few weeks in summer but also throughout the year.
“This Policy specifically outlines managing visitor numbers as the process for sustainable tourism development on the Maltese Islands” (pg. 10). The Cliffs Interpretation Centre ensures visitor numbers in its upgraded tourist excursion package. The maximum number of visitors that can interact in the tour packages factors for the environment and aims to reduce any negative impacts associated with large number of visitors at any one time within the countryside along Dingli Cliffs.
“With tourists placing more emphasis on destination distinctiveness and uniqueness and as increasing quantities of discerning travellers seek travel experiences with a difference, the issue of quality takes centre stage” (pg. 11).
Since its inception in 2012, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has focused on providing an innovative tourist experience that highlights the environment, history and archaeology, gastronomic potential and the local produce at Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings. The Cliffs promotes the learning of authentic ways of local life together with other assets of the surrounding areas.
Blending the environment, tourism and local aspects has always been seen as crucial for the day-to-day running of The Cliffs Centre. The upgraded tour packages provide a recreational and informative experience of Dingli Cliffs, with the input of authentic local personnel. The visitors can enjoy to choose from two trails amongst other activities.
Innovative means of communication through gastronomy (08/08/2016)
An Interpretation Centre is an “institution for the dissemination of knowledge of natural or cultural heritage…different means of communication to enhance the understanding of heritage.” From its inception, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre at Dingli Cliffs, has and will continue to be dedicated to the innovative means of spreading information on the local flora and fauna biodiversity, history and archaeological landmarks and local products in a pro-active manner.
The Centre is always upgrading its product to find novel ways of communication to aid visitors in getting in direct contact with what Dingli Cliffs have to offer. At The Cliffs Centre, the art of cooking is linked to the natural heritage and the local economy of Dingli.
Revitalising wild and semi-wild edible produce
Unlike other interpretation centres around the island, gastronomy is part of the concept within The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, this is well established in the Dingli Sustainable Plan, Environmental Project Description Statement and EU funding application of which the Centre got high marks, this could be attributed to the fact that it is in line with the Tourism Policy. One of the initial aims of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was to study past traditions related to edible local plants and fruits, and incorporating them into the daily means of communication about the rich biodiversity of the area. Among the 1100 species of wild plants that can be found in the Maltese Islands, many are edible. The Cliffs Centre has amalgamated the use of local plants in its education related to gastronomy. Seasonal variations in local food are promoted through the culinary arts such as the wild plants of the Asparagus, Stinging Nettles, Borage, etc…
Several fruit species are often ignored in the Maltese Islands, and to this end, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has rediscovered the potential of these fruits in jam making, whilst generating more environmental awareness. The prickly pear is often ignored since the species is not native to the Mediterranean, however chutneys and jams are made to promote this product. A past local tradition that has been rejuvenated at The Cliffs is the making of quince jam, a fruit which is not eaten raw, but which has valued medicinal properties, also acknowledged by our ancestors.
Jams, marmalades, olive oil, savoury delicatessen and dried herbs are available at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. The Centre focuses on traditional produce and also finds innovative ways of jam production, such as by combining various local products e.g. Loquat & Wild Fennel Jam or the Pumpkin & Maltese Orange Marmalade.
Past culinary traditions
Past practices of air-drying local food are also continued at The Centre, such as the use of a traditional ventilated box to air-dry cheeselets and sun-dried tomatoes. This structure is housed within a miniature herb garden, from which numerous herbs served at The Centre grow. Other seasonal produce at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre include jars of traditionally pickled onions and harvested pumpkins. Wild fennel seeds are also harvested during the summer months, as a traditional practice at Dingli Cliffs.
In line with the EU Nature policy, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre highlights socio-economic and environmental aspects. The gastronomical experience offered at The Centre continues to promote the area to visitors. The catering area is part of a holistic plan including two trails leading to the main landmarks of the area. This is the first plan working holistically and sustainably in the islands.
Sustainable Development, education and planning (06/08/2016)
Sustainable development highlights the interconnections between different domains in that “Specific environmental issues together with the varied socioeconomic conditions that characterise the Mediterranean had – and are still having – a significant impact on sustainable development in the region” ( pg. 3). Development should not only be environmentally sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Development is socially sustainable when it creates liveable communities and supports social and cultural life. Interconnectedness and diversity are other pillars of social sustainability that aid in ensuring a good quality of life.
The involvement of the local community in environmental issues will lead to a better understanding of the environment. Local farmers have the best knowledge of the area they manage and its habitats and species, acquired through experiences of their predecessors. Hunters and trappers are unfortunately infamous for some illegal practices, however they often record and collect reliable data on migratory birds, not because they have an obligation, but because they follow generations of basic monitoring and custodianship. People that forage for certain wild produce are other local land users. The first seminar organised to educate local hunters and trappers on how to photograph birds by a local ornithologist, was held at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The Cliffs Centre also acts as an education source; in promoting cutting and not pulling out of plants, it still has allowed continued practice of long-lived traditions; albeit to a small environmentally-friendly adjustment. The otherwise imposition of more daily management laws, prior to education, require daily enforcement and a drain on the economic resources of the country.
Planners have an important role in Sustainable Development. They concentrate minds on how best to invest resources in planning and provide stronger leadership across both public and private sectors. This includes politicians. This is what will allow us better to protect and enhance our environment and manage the change to a sustainable environment for the future. But we must also innovate, seeking to identify actual needs and prioritise public or private spend accordingly.
The concept of sustainability comprises “citizenship…democracy and governance… justice…cultural diversity, rural and urban development, economy, production and consumption patterns, corporate responsibility, environmental protection, natural resource management and biological and landscape diversity” (, pg3).
Adaptive reuse, the process of reusing buildings or sites for another purpose other than that for initial construction, is crucial for conserving land and maintaining sustainability. Through adaptive reuse, old unoccupied sites become appropriate areas for different landuses. In the context of the Maltese Islands, The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development also highlights the principle of re-use of existing developed land and buildings, such as by “identifying degraded areas for integrated regeneration” (Thematic Objective 1) and “setting out a policy framework for culture-led regeneration programmes and projects” (Thematic Objective 8). “Encouraging the reuse of existing structures worthy of conservation” is also highlighted (Rural Objective 4).
The regeneration of historic environments is based on understanding the character and value of the historic environment, whilst enhancing social sustainability and economic growth, such as through leisure, tourism and economic development. Regeneration is not only employed on the national level, but the local authority and private sectors also ensure long term conservation. Regeneration of historic environments encourages heritage tourism.
The building which houses The Cliffs Interpretation Centre had been a derelict 1960s building built by British RAF as a Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN). In the construction of The Centre, the socio-cultural characteristics were respected since the creation of The Centre did not take ‘new’ land but was incorporated into a totally committed area. The original characteristics of the building were retained in the currently existing sustainable economic use of the Centre, such as in the restoration of the remaining rooms.
Planning and sustainability should be environmentally-friendly by considering the importance of conserving biodiversity in environmental regeneration projects. Such regeneration may also act as a source of education on the habitats and species found within the specific environment. Planning has to promote long-term sustainability such as of construction, siting of the development into already committed areas and direct involvement in the management of the important areas.
The planning system of the UK is similar to that of Malta, and there has been emphasis to use planning in delivering sustainable development, such as through the RTPI Education for Sustainable Development, A Manual for Schools. Moreover, Policy HE3 in Planning Policy Statement 5 in the UK, states that “Local development frameworks (LDF) should set out a positive, proactive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment…by virtue of…its potential to be a catalyst for regenerations in an area, in particular through leisure, tourism and economic development.”
In the long run, running costs exceed by far the construction costs. A simple example is a small tree…planting costs only €2 to €5 whilst taking care of it and watering it for at least three years will exceed by far the primary purchasing and planting costs.
Using past experience from countries with the same planning system is important. In the UK, the reuse of derelict buildings into sustainable projects is the key. Why not consider the same approach in Malta? Lateral thinking would thus become the solution, by solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious.
Another indirect and innovative way in maintaining sustainable development is through education. For example, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre aims to enhance the meaning of an Interpretation Centre; that of disseminating information through innovative means of communication. Its concepts are aligned to the principles of Education for Sustainable Development which “is a lifelong process spanning from early childhood to adulthood….a life-wide process” (, pg 4). The Centre strives to ensure a continuation of education of the surrounding areas’ heritage, such as through several informative lectures and walks to school students in outings. On an informal education level, The Centre offers ecotourism packages. These packages are recreational and promote healthy living through walks, but they are also indirectly creating public awareness on the surrounding environment, archaeology, gastronomy and local produce.
Lateral thinking can be also employed in generating environmental awareness through thinking outside the box. Moreover, lateral thinking can also generate efficient collaboration and diversification between different entities, with the purpose of conserving the environment.
NSESD, 2016. Nurturing a Sustainable Society – A National Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development for Malta
 MEPA, 2015. Strategic Environmental Assessment, Environment Report, July 2015
 Royal Town Planning Institute, 2004 Education for Sustainable Development: A Manual for Schools
 TSO, 2010. Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment
Sustainable Development – Involving NGOs, private entities and a pilot project (04/08/2016)
The principle of sustainable development merges living conditions and the use of resources for both current scenarios and the long term. The concept links the need of conserving the environment with society and the economy. It also implies the capacity to endure, diversify and maintain efficiency indefinitely, not just within the environmental domain but also the economy.
Contributing to sustainable development moves from understanding the concept of sustainability to actively promoting it. Non-governmental organisations, local communities and the private sector all have a role to play in this active approach to sustainability.
The important role of NGOs
Around 650 registered voluntary organisations are found in Malta, that “besides playing a leading role in the provision of non-formal and informal learning, are usually the link between civil society and the government” (ESD consultation document, pg5). Environmental non-governmental organisations are important entities that have brought about environmental awareness and social consciousness on the need to protect and conserve the environment.
Many of the NGOs are small and medium-sized entities, and need funds under various programmes managed by national, regional and local authorities and the European Commission. NGOs depend on the presence and involvement of volunteers which are needed to maintain the funded projects in the long term. Already, huge amounts of money are being inputted into a large number of voluntary organisations, raising concerns of exhausted available resources and insecurities over the division of funding. The extent and duration of self-sustainability without the need of external support, are two other issues of concerns. The difference in the financial sustainability between NGOs and private entities, is that NGOs have to access new funds and diversify income, while private entities have a lower reliance on the inputs of investors and they do not receive funds for the maintenance of their long-term operation.
One mechanism that may ensure a sustainable way forward towards a specific environmental objective is through the social collaboration between NGOs and the private sector. Acknowledging an environmental problem and the required solution involves a stakeholder approach which benefits both the NGOs and the private sector that are engaged in open dialogue and strategic partnerships.
The local community
Members of the local community and local stakeholders are directly engaged in the land of the surrounding environment and feel a sense of belonging to it. The involvement of locals at the regional level will also lead to a better understanding of the environment. NGOs have been actively involved in awareness raising, and positively engaged in the management planning process of Malta’s Natura 2000 sites. However, most of them are nationally-based and can be viewed as external actors by the local community. Thus, imposing collaboration between locals and NGOs without an intermediary is often difficult. In several holistic seminars, organised to gain stakeholder input to the management of Natura 2000 sites, numerous important aspects were not discussed, since people did not show up or were not looking forward to express their views and experiences with other entities.
One example of good practice was when The Cliffs Interpretation Centre acted as a source for outreach, in the first seminar that was organised by a local ornithologist to teach hunters and trappers how to photograph birds.
Small businesses are not only a source of local employment, but they provide consumers with services that aid in long-term sustainability. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is not a NGO, however, it is a self-sufficient entity which focuses on the conservation and management of the protected Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation, in which it is located. The Centre has ensured positive socio-economic returns such as the creation of new environmentally-friendly jobs, and cooperation and collaboration between stakeholders and landusers.
The Private Sector
The private sector can be an engine of inclusive growth by generating decent jobs, contributing to public revenue and providing affordable goods and services. If it invests in suitable innovation and business models, it can also improve our surrounding environment in a sustainable way.
The impact that private sector actors can have on sustainable development is now widely recognised, and donors around the world are seeking new ways to effectively engage with the private sector in creating jobs, providing income, goods and services, advancing innovation, and generating public revenues essential for economic, social and environmental welfare.
Given the private sector’s potential for generating inclusive and sustainable growth, private stakeholders are needed as ever more active in the sustainable development field, both as a source of finance and as partners for governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and donors.
Through the years, some of our NGOs have been impeccable for our current state of the surrounding environment, and various achievements in our environment are merited to these environmental NGO. This does not mean that such entities are sufficient on their own, instead, there is a need to look ahead and seek a better way forward to manage resources to the benefits of all, being a NGO, a private entity, the community and the surrounding environment. If both NGOs and other entities are directed to the idea of self-sustainability, they would achieve by far more.
Lateral thinking can thus be employed in generating environmental awareness through thinking outside the box. Lateral thinking can also generate efficient collaboration and diversification between different entities, with the purpose of conserving the environment. One approach to move towards sustainable development is to reduce the negative factors that often undermine the self-sufficiency of NGOs by creating or amalgamating them with other self-sufficient entities, without being at the discrepancy of the government or vice-versa.
‘Challenge’ means looking at a satisfactory idea, and then blocking that idea hence making room for other ideas. It is very important to realise that challenge is never directed at ideas that are wrong or inadequate, but at the best and strongest ideas. Challenge never suggests that an idea may be wrong. Challenge suggests that there may be other ideas which are blocked by excellence of the existing idea.
That idea may be excellent and possible also the best one, but for the moment we will challenge it in order to see if there might be other, even better ideas.’
Edward De Bono: “Thinking To Create Value – Bonting” (2016, Kite Group Ltd)
Maintaining Dingli’s Sustainable Development Strategy at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (29/07/2016)
The focus of the report entitled ‘Sustainable Development Strategy: Dingli 2020’ has been to set up a policy action plan to establish the concept of sustainability in the day to day practices of the local community at the village of Dingli. The notion of sustainable development set within this document favours a ‘think globally, act locally’ approach.
The idea of setting up an Interpretation Centre is complementary to this strategy for promoting rural tourism in Dingli. In fact, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, found along Dingli Cliffs in the middle of the largest stretch of protected special areas of conservation, of Natura 2000, has aimed to implement the meaning of interpretation centre, “that of using different means of communication to enhance the understanding of heritage”.
The provision of catering services at the Interpretation Centre is thus a part of a holistic plan to promote Dingli and what it has to offer in a sustainable manner. In fact, the strategy refers to “local traditional food…can form part of an audio-visual culinary experience” (pg. C8-82).
Financial sustainability is crucial to maintain rural tourism, to which The Cliffs Interpretation Centre complements the strategy. In fact, the strategy mentions that “The most important aspect is that the centre is financially viable. This can be done by the provision of a number of services including serving food, selling information (booklets, leaflets, maps, binoculars, souvenirs, etc.) and displaying and selling traditional local products from Dingli.”
The full strategy, which can be accessed at https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/handle/123456789/1434, aims to promote the socio-economic growth of the local community, whilst generating awareness on the environment.
The fossil record of The Maltese Islands at The Cliffs (25/07/2016)
The Maltese Islands started forming circa 30 million years ago, during the Oligo-Miocene epochs as sediments deposited under the sea. All sediments are marine in origin, made of skeletal remains of the animals and plants that lived in the sea during the time. The horizontally layered rocks are mostly made up of limestone, since most of the particles were rich in lime.
Dingli Cliffs show the full rock sequence of the Maltese Islands. The oldest rock layer, the Lower Coralline Limestone, forms the base of cliffs in the Dingli Cliffs area. This layer is made up of a large number of fossils especially corals, coralline algae, worm tubes and bivalve sea shells. One large snail fossil that can be found is this rock layer is that of the Conus species, whose fossilised internal cast dates back to more than 25 million years.
The softer Globigerina Limestone is a fine grained limestone full of tiny microscopic fossils and scallop shells. It weathers into gentle slopes in the interior of the Maltese Islands and in sea-cut cliffs such as at Dingli Cliffs. Sand Urchins (Schizaster parkinsoni, Saqajn ix-Xitan) and Sea Urchins (Echinolampas lucae, Rizza tal-Ħama) and other crustaceans used to inhabit the sea floor. Fossil shark teeth may also be found indicating that this layer was formed in deeper water where wave action did not reach. One type of fossil scallop, which used to live during the Miocene was the Chlamys lattissima (Arzella), which is closely related to the clams.
The Blue Clay, which often forms low slopes, is the softest rock type. Some molluscs, such as bivalves, snails, and coiled shells may also be found fossilised in this impermeable layer.
Although the Greensand is the thinnest layer, and it is only found exposed in few areas in the Maltese Islands, it is a very fossiliferous layer comprising fossils of large thick-shelled urchins such as the Domed Sand-dollar (Clypeaster altus, Rizza tar-Ramel).
The topmost Upper Coralline Limestone, which forms the upper plateaux such as at Dingli Cliffs is made up of marine sediments that used to live in shallow seas, and thus the fossil remains are similar to those of the Lower Coralline Limestone. Fossil scallops that have been found in the most recent layer, formed circa 15-10 million years ago and include that of the Chlamys latissima (Scallop, Arzella).
Some of the fossilised remains found in our rock lithology, are found in an exhibition at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. These items have been provided by the National Museum of Natural History, found at Vilhena Palace in Mdina.
Time for the Wild Fennel seed harvest! (18/07/2016)
The scorching temperatures during this time of the month is ideal for the harvesting of the seeds of the wild fennel. Wild fennel seeds are also harvested and can be found in small packets at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The fennel (Bużbież, Foeniculum vulgare) is a common plan, with very aromatic leaves and it is indigenous to the Mediterranean region. It often attracts the endemic Swallowtail butterfly, which is also called Farffett tal-Bużbież in Maltese. The fennel is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine – the bulb, shoots and seeds are edible.
It is also said that fennel has medicinal properties and has been traditionally used to treat indigestion and coughs. The Ancient Romans had also used the fennel to treat cloudy eyes. The seeds are a rich source of protein, dietary fibre, calcium, iron magnesium and manganese. Apart from this, leaves may be placed amongst clothes in drawers to deter insects.
Characteristics of the Maltese agricultural lanscape – Stone Hut (14/07/2016)
The Maltese countryside is characterised by fragmented agricultural holdings. One feature which attest to the role of agriculture, and which involve a certain level of craftsmanship is the Stone Hut, locally called Girna.
The stone hut is a single room, built using the typical coralline limestone rock of the Maltese Islands. Its wall is double, made of stones placed on top of each other without the use of mortar. The interior ceiling is dome-shaped, however the outside shape varies. Square or rectangular stone huts used to serve practical purposes of animal rearing, whilst circular huts are more common in the countryside because they are straightforward to build. Most of these huts were not used for human habitation, although air drying of local produce on the roof e.g. sundried tomatoes, carobs, figs was common.
At first glance, the stone hut is a simple feature, however further inspection expresses the great skill involved in its construction. Only one horizontal or arched slab is required for the entrance. Even the position of the entrance required knowledge of weather patterns, since the door usually faces east to gain maximum sunlight. The stone hut is not built on a foundation, and thus, the sturdiness of the whole structure reflects its construction.
The presence of the stone huts in the Maltese countryside is especially evident in the north and west of Malta, particularly because of more intensive agricultural practices.
The spectacular coastal landscape of Fomm ir-Riħ (09/07/2016)
Circa 10km from Dingli Cliffs, one may encounter the beautiful landscape of Fomm ir-Riħ. Fomm ir-Riħ is not only ‘off the beaten track’, but also secluded from the otherwise developed coastal zones of northeast and south Malta. The beach is only accessible by land via a narrow winding footpath cut into the coastal cliffs.
The Great Fault, which runs from Madliena in the northeast of the island to Fomm ir-Riħ, is clearly defined by Ras ir-Raheb headland. This sharp cliff face is Malta’s westernmost headland. Other features in the area include two pebble beaches, clay slopes, and the scree slopes of Ras il-Pellegrin headland. The name of Ras il-Pellegrin is a testimony of the historical links that the Peregrine Falcon (Bies) has to the Maltese Islands and its breeding habitats within coastal cliffs. Further southwards along Dingli Cliffs, pairs of peregrine falcons have been recently recorded breeding at Wardija San Ġorġ, along one of the landmarks of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s trail map.
A small pebble beach lies to the south of Fomm ir-Riħ, bordered by the cliffs of Ras ir-Raheb on one side. Multiple cliff collapse episodes occurred from 2012 to 2013, when sections of the cliffs fell down to the beach. Another large pebble beach is found further north of the small beach. As all Maltese beaches, this beach is defined as a ‘pocket beach’, because it is found between two headlands. It is highly exposed to the prevailing northwesterly wind, and ave action often reaches the back of the beach to the clay slopes.
The pebbles at Fomm ir-Riħ have different sizes and shapes, as a response to surrounding geology and wave action. Geology is an important factor which also influences beach sediments. The scree landscape to the north of the beach erodes by waves, and material is transported into the beach. The colour and shape of the shingle sediments (locally called ‘caghaq’) indicate that the original source of the pale-coloured beach sediments was the Coralline Limestone, which is easily eroded into discs.
The entire area of Fomm ir-Riħ has been scheduled as a Marine Protected Area since 2004 and as a Special Area of Conservation as part of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites. Designations have also been given to the coastal cliffs and the two valleys that find their way to Fomm ir-Riħ.
Discover Dingli Cliffs Tours in Magazine (02/07/2016)
The tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre have been featured in an article in the yearly Incontri Magazine, on board the Virtu Ferries, published in both English and Italian.
Meeting a Nature Writer at The Cliff Interpretation Centre (27/06/2016)
A couple of days ago, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre hosted Ms. Annamaria Weldon as a tour participant in our Discover Dingli Cliffs – Bylocal tour.
Ms. Weldon is a nature writer, and her remarkable way of seeing the interconnections in nature are expressed in her writings. She has published several books, focusing on literary material, with some having a natural scientific point of view.
Ms. Weldon was born in Malta, however she lives in West Australia. Her latest comprehensive book of essays, poems and photos, published in 2014 and entitled “The Lake’s Apprentice” features the Yalgorup National Park located on a coastal plain characterised by different lakes. The flora of the National Park are different than those typically found at Dingli Cliffs, however similarity in plant adaptation can still be noted, for example, many indigenous plants in the Maltese Islands are halophytic, with different adaptations to salt conditions. Similarly, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is located within the largest stretch of Natura 2000 protected sites in Malta, with protection offered to several flora and fauna species as per the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.
Recreational Excursion for Environmental Experts of CEPI (25/06/2016)
Environmental experts of CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre on Friday 17th June on a social activity, linked to getting to know more information on Dingli Cliffs and its natural environment.
CEPI is a non-profit-making organisation, based in Brussels which groups together European industries involved in pulp and paper making. CEPI represents about 23% of the world production of pulp, paper and board. CEPI also factors for the sustainable development of the environment, circular economy, forestry and production. This year, the Spring Meeting of CEPI’s Environment and Safety Committee was held in Malta on 16th and 17th June.
Several members of CEPI watched the audiovisual on the landmarks and ecology of the area within The Cliffs Trail map. Following this, they enjoyed a short walk along The Cliffs Trail, with the major focus being the environmental factors affecting Dingli Cliffs and its vegetation. Following the short walk along Dingli Cliffs, the guests enjoyed a local food platter and a glass of wine.
Bathing areas close to Dingli Cliffs (20/06/2016)
Sun, sand and sea seekers who arrive at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre during the hot summer months are often interested in the nearby beaches. The area of Dingli is dominated by coastal cliffs, however on opposite sides of Dingli Cliffs, there are two coastal areas which offer the possibility of enjoying the clear blue Mediterranean Sea; Għar Lapsi in the south and Ġnejna in the north.
Għar Lapsi is a small rocky inlet, nestled below a stretch of the Dingli Cliffs. The cove is like a natural swimming pool, surrounded by a rocky shoreline and divided into two inlets. The bathing area is very popular with the locals who come for a short swim, and with snorkelers and divers, due to the underwater shallow caves and the stretch of shallow reefs which lead to the open waters. The waters have a designated status as a Special Area of Conversation. The area of Għar Lapsi is not only known for its bathing zones, but the Magħlaq Fault occurs at the area as an outcrop of more than 2km along the coast.
The closest sandy stretch to the area of Dingli Cliffs is found at Ġnejna Bay. A rocky outcrop is amenable to bathers that are less keen on sand. The bay area of Ġnejna is separated from Għajn Tuffieħa Bay by the Karraba headland, whilst the protected beach at Ġnejna is surrounded by scree and clay slopes. At the back of the beach is Ġnejna Valley, whose freshwater course can be seen across the bay area especially during the rainy winter months. As Għar Lapsi, Ġnejna Bay is mostly frequented by locals especially during the hot summer months. Apart from being part of the SAC, the coastal cliffs along Ġnejna are designated areas of ecological importance and areas of high landscape value. The Ta’ Lippia Tower, which overlooks the bay area, had been built in 1637 during the times of the Knights of St. John as a coastal watchtower for communicating with other towers along the coastline of the island.
The coastal configuration is dependent on geology and forces that have shaped the Maltese Islands. Whilst Dingli Cliffs do not offer spots for bathing, Għar Lapsi and Ġnejna Bay are often frequented by locals and a few tourists.
Down memory lane Part 2 (04/06/2016)
Malta during the British Period…down memory lane (Part 1)
Two retired British servicemen visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre within a span of a few days in the last week of May 2016. They used to work in the Maltese Islands in the 1960s, the same time during which the TACAN building was constructed. The building was left in the 1960s and became dilapidated until The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was built within the already committed site of the TACAN. The generator room used in the 1960s is still in place as the Centre’s lecture room.
Malta during the 1960s
Mr. Arthur Garnet James Little first came to Malta in 1961, and stayed for twenty months in the Islands. He also worked in the Islands from 1968 to 1970. He arrived via the anti-aircraft frigate of the British Royal Navy on HMS Suprise, which was in commission from 1946 till 1965. The ship was used by Queen Elizabeth II, and HMS Surprise contained two boars and two cars on board, for the Commander-in-Chief Admiral’s use.
When not on board the HMS Surprise, the work onshore was at the Lascaris Communication Centre, which was taken over by NATO to intercept Soviet submarines in the Mediterranean. The work was based on identifying flashing lights and decrypt codes. Mr. Arthur Garnet James Little remembers that working with the NATO was a pleasant life, due to the duty-free cigarettes, spirits and coupons for petrol.
Margaret, his wife, remembers Malta as primarily characterised by her pushing the pram around. One of their children was born in the Royal Navy Hospital Mtarfa, which was a former British naval hospital.
Playing squash and snorkelling were among the hobbies of Mr. Arthur Garnet James Little, also known as Tiny Little by his colleagues. He is nowadays the Chairman of the Lascaris-Malta Association, an association formed to re-unite Communicators who worked at the Communications Centre in Lascaris buildings.
Malta during the British time…down memory lane Part 1 (29/05/2016)
Within a span of a few days in the last week of May 2016, two retired British servicemen who used to work in the Maltese Islands visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. It was really interesting to hear about Malta in the 1960s and the work they were involved in.
The 1960s was a crucial time for the location of The Centre, since the TACAN, the older part of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was built during the time to serve as a Tactical Air Navigation System.
The Islet of Filfla before becoming a Nature Reserve
Mr. Richard Pearce remembers that he first visited the Maltese Islands in 1961 by the ship HMS Albion, which berthed at the Grand Harbour. The fighter-bomber took off from the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) at Ħal-Far armed with bullets for target practice. Within about a week, they fired at Filfla about 2 or 3 times from the Fighter-bomber called Sea Venom, which was based on board HMS Albion.
Such target practice occurred regularly by the British Royal Air Force and NATO Forces from 1941 to 1971, since from a distance the shape of the islet of Filfla looks like a ship. This small, barren, uninhabited island, which is found 5km off the coast is now only 6 hectares in area. Filfla became a bird reserve in 1980 due to three species of sea birds (European storm petrel, Cory shearwater and the Yellow-legged Gull) which breed there. On June 1988, Filfla became a Nature Reserve since apart from breeding birds, this islet is a host to several endemic species such as of that of the Filfla Wall Lizard, a type of door snail and a large wild leek.
The name ‘Filfla’ originates from the word filfel in Arabic, since the shape of the islet looked like a pepper. This name still evokes the initial form of Filfa, before human intervention completely altered this islet.
Diplomats’ Visit to The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (26/05/2016)
On Saturday 21st May, a group of diplomats resident in the Malta visited The Cliffs Interpretation Centre to gain more insight on the village of Dingli, and the cliffs that have shaped the surrounding environment and the locals’ way of life.
This was the 1st Cultural Tour for Diplomats on 2016, organised by the MFA and the Dingli local council. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was the first item within the programme of the day, whereby the visitors watched an engaging audiovisual on Dingli Cliffs, the historical and archaeological importance of the area and the use of local seasonal produce at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
Other visits of the day included the Dingli war shelter, the parish church, the Dingli Band Club and the local council premises.
Malta’s oldest industry…Salt production (14/05/2016)
The practice of salt harvesting is also related to Malta’s history, and it may be Malta’s oldest industry. Some of the salt pans (‘Salini’) date back to Roman Times, however salt production reached its utmost during the times of the Knights of St. John. Large scale production commenced in the nineteenth century especially in Salina Bay. Unfortunately, salt has lost most of its use since perishable foods are no longer preserved in salt.
The season of salt production is open from May to September, depending on the weather. Sea water fills the pans along the coastline. This water is channelled to other pens and left to settle for about a week. The water dries up and salt crystals begin to form. The weather controls salt production, for example northerly winds dry up the water faster.
Although the Special Area of Conservation in which The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is situated, is dominated by cliffs, there are other often hidden spots which are closer to the sea. Il-Blata tal-Melħ is one of these features; this shore platform has developed on the relatively soft rock of the Globigerina Limestone close to Fomm ir-Riħ Bay. The isolated Blata tal-Melħ, literally translated into ‘Salt Rock,’ shows how the wind and the sea have worked together to shape the landscape. The area is secluded and untainted by human hands, except for several salt pans which had been excavated.
The salt pans at Blata tal-Melħ, would have made maximum use of the salt pens through their location, since the area is exposed to the prevailing northwesterly wind. There is also a dug well-head and rock-cut stairs, which lead directly to the sea. Whilst the salt pans are nowadays abandoned, this area is still sought after especially by local fishermen.
Nowadays, only a few salt pans have continued to be harvested such as in Marsascala in south Malta and Xwejni in Gozo. Obsolete salt pans, such as those of Blata tal-Melħ, still show us the important role that salt had in the Maltese Islands.
Eliminating waste – The 3R’s at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (09/05/2016)
The 3Rs of the Environment are remarkable ways to eradicate waste and protect the environment. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre encourages a sustainable way of life based on reducing waste and ultimately, the carbon footprint.
The best way to manage waste is to not produce it in the first place. If there is less waste, then there is less to recycle or reuse.
One way of reducing waste that is employed at The Cliffs Centre is the use of cotton bags. The use of such re-usable environmentally-friendly bags reduces the waste which is otherwise created if plastic bags are used. Another very efficient way of reducing the carbon footprint at Dingli Cliffs is through the innovative tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. The practice of walking, whilst enjoying the countryside, and learning about the surrounding areas and their historical importance doesn’t cause any environmental damage.
Energy is also reduced through the use of electricity. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre saves energy through its green structure. Since the building is surrounded by glass apertures, there is a reduced need to turn on artificial lightning. All bulbs used at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre are energy efficient bulbs. Other methods incorporated within the building to reduce energy used include its design and seasonal sun orientation, shafts that carry cool air under the structure during the hot summer months
Reusing products is an efficient method that is not only economic but also environmentally friendly.
Water re-use is employed at The Cliffs through water that is collected, used, purified and reused on site. Apart from recycling material, the Cliffs Interpretation Centre also encourages direct re-use of materials. Empty wine bottles are collected directly from local winemakers, who then fill the glass bottles with their produced wine.
The last resort to manage waste is by recycling, which uses material that is re-manufactured into a new product, such as glass, plastic and paper for recycling at the centre.
Practices of the 3Rs at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre are aligned to the directions that the European Commission is following. Environment for Europeans is a regularly published magazine by the European Commission. The latest published magazine of February 2016, which is currently available at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre discusses the economic model that Europe has to take; which is based on transforming the idea that resources are abundant, to one which favours the 3Rs of the environment to ultimately reduce waste. The EC also establishes that better eco-design and waste prevention bring savings for businesses, whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Latest issue of magazine (06/05/2016)
This quarterly published magazine is available in five different languages and deals with environmental issues including protected areas, environmental threats such as climate change and sustainable development.
Flying mammals in a cave (04/05/2016)
The Maltese Islands are home to seven species of bats whilst five other species are irregular migrants. Bats are often found in caves, however the disturbance of their habitat, and direct acts of aggression and capture, have led to decreased numbers in the Maltese Islands.
Unfortunately bats have often been associated with darkness and black magic since they often come out of their roosting habitat after sunset to look for food. However, the presence of bats is advantageous to humans, since most often, bats eat insects that are harmful to humans and to agricultural practices, or feed on decaying fruit. Bats with elongated snouts collect nectar from plants before moving to other plants and hence aid the process of pollination. In the Maltese Islands, all local bat species are insectivorous.
The Lesser horse-shoe bat, Maghrebian bat, Grey long-eared bat, Savi’s pipistrelle, Kuhl’s pipistrelle, Common pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle are the seven species of bats that reside in the Maltese Islands. Each bat is able to eat about 20,000 moths every night, rendering them more effective than insecticide sprays!! All are protected by the Environment Protection Act and the EU Habitats Directive.
Bats court and copulate during autumn whilst they undergo short periods of sleep during winter. When temperatures get warmer and insects are available, the bats wake up and pregnancy is effected.
The Lesser Horse-shoe Bat is one of the smallest bats, which mates from late summer to early autumn. The offspring, which is born between May and June, becomes independent after a maximum of six weeks, with roosts being individual and solitary. Caves within the Dingli Cliffs are perfect roosting spots since this species often prefers fresh water, present in the area through the upper water table. Most of the cliffs are sheltered from the prevailing north west wind too, leaving ample time for bats to continue feeding even in windy days.
Another sub-species that has been identified in the Islands is that of the Rhinolophus hipposideros minimus or the Lesser Horse-shore Bat (Rinolfu żgħir/Farfett tan-Nagħla ta’ Żiemel Żgħir), which is smaller than its European relative. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre identified an individual of this sub-species in March 2013 in the Dingli Cliffs area, confirming that this species does inhibit the cliffs areas. This was later confirmed by John J. Borg, curator of the National Museum of Natural History.
The first fruit of the season (23/04/2016)
The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica, Naspli) is a flowering plant whose fruit, is the first fruit of the season in the Maltese Islands. The tree has originated in China and it has been growing in Japan for over a millennium. It is found naturalised in the Mediterranean region.
The small evergreen tree bears sweet and slightly acidic fruit. The oval fruit is a thin yellow-orange rind enclosing a whitish pulp. In fact, the loquat has a high sugar, acid and natural pectin content. The tree thrives in deep well drained soils, and it can live up to 80 years.
The loquat trees that are currently found at Buskett Gardens, close to the walking trail formulated by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre are the direct descendants of the original trees that were planted in 1811. 1
Whilst the leaves and fruit are astringent, they also are also anti-inflammatory and have been traditionally used to treat throat infections. The Cliffs Centre produces the authentic Loquat and Wild Fennel jam every year when the fruit is harvested in April.
1 Borg, J., (1922) Cultivation and Diseases of Fruit Trees in the Maltese Islands. Malta Government Printing Office.
Cooking Wild Asparagus at The Cliffs (15/04/2016)
Did you know that the Asparagus can be harvested in Malta? The actual plant is called the Mediterranean Asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki, Asparagus aphyllus) and it is one of the circa 1100 species of wild plants that can be found in the Maltese Islands. The shrub is native to the Mediterranean Sea and is found in rocky places. At Dingli Cliffs, it is a very common shrub which is found within the garrigue ecological communities.
Tender shoots of the Wild Asparagus can be snapped from the growing shoot and then served in food dishes. The slight bitter taste is often the basis of many gourmet foods. The shoots can only be harvested, when in season, mostly during March and April. Throughout the rest of the year, the wild asparagus is a spiky, prickly bush with needle-like leaves.
The plant rhizomes also have medicinal diuretic and sedative properties and also reduce high blood pressure. The Asparagus has been used in gastronomy since Egyptian times, and the oldest recipe for cooking asparagus is found in the oldest surviving recipe book.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has focused on thinking outside the box from its inception to amalgamate education with gastronomy. In fact, during the Asparagus season, the local wild asparagus is harvested from the Dingli Cliffs area and cooked at the kitchen of the Centre to be served as a side dish to the seasonal specialities, such as this Wild asparagus served with rack of lamb.
Waiting for drops…of rainfall – The impacts of the driest year on record (09/04/2016)
This winter was the driest on record in a time span of 50 years. In the Maltese Islands, only 76.3mm of rainfall occurred from December to February, while we had only 2.3mm of rain in February. Whilst the absence of rain has several primary impacts on crops and more emphasis on our already scarce water resources, the secondary impacts have often longer-term negative consequences.
Late and early blooming
Untimely blooming of flowers puts undue pressure on trees and the potential for fruit harvest. Earlier last year, citrus trees bloomed as late as December, whereby often they stop blooming in early November.
Often trees rest during the winter months to prepare for spring time, but this year several trees have started blooming earlier. Fruit trees such as plums and peaches often bloom in spring, however the mild winter conditions resulted in the blooming of flowers earlier in February 2016, with negative consequences on the resulting harvests.
This unexpected change in normal patterns significantly affect pollination by bees, because they are having reduced availability of nectar. For example, usually the Wild Garlic flowers in March, but it has only been in the last couple of days that the garlic blooms were encountered along the garrigue of Dingli Cliffs.
A number of typical Maltese fruits that are harvested during the summer, such as the watermelons and melons require constant irrigation, and the minimum rainfall will lead to a shortage in such fruit.
In other fruit such as strawberries, or vegetables such as marrows, the warm temperatures have led to the faster growth of crops. The large harvests of such fruits and vegetables, by warm temperatures will then lead to a different set of secondary impacts such as increased competitiveness and resultant unprofitability.
Irrigation requirements and effects on soil
Although this winter was characterised by dryness, when it rains, relatively short periods of heavy rain results in erosion, a secondary impact that is well noted up here with the sea water turning to a brownish colour.
Other threatening matters include the requirement to irrigate crops, resulting in greater demands on the water sources of the Maltese Islands; and extra costs incurred to water crops.
The warm weather also has a negative impact on the spread of diseases. In fact, cold temperatures that are often experienced between December and January kill pests that would ultimately bring more diseases during the coming Spring. Since this winter was ultimately characterised by warm weather, the threat of pests and diseases is even more pressing.
Most often, the impact of secondary factors is stronger than the primary effects of reduced crop harvests. They have the potential to lead to a risk of immortality and hence the demand for pesticides is amplified. Moth caterpillar infestations often threaten leafy vegetables such as cauliflowers and cabbages and hence, more pesticides are required. Maltese farmers have been facing such threats brought about by pests over the past two decades as a result of warmer weather and more regular droughts.
But this becomes a vicious cycle…often higher temperatures reduce the effectiveness of certain pesticides…so does it seem that despite our efforts, drought and high temperatures will prevail, with negative consequences?
Climate Change…and the impetus for winter tourism in the Maltese Islands (04/04/2016)
Climate change is a highly contested phenomena, but it is still affecting our daily lives and the vital resources that we depend upon for continued existence.
The Second Communication of Malta to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010) outlines that climate change in the Maltese Islands threatens our already dwindling water resources, land use, infrastructure, natural ecosystems, agriculture and even human health.
Tourism is a crucial industry within the Maltese Islands and many of the locals’ livelihood depends on the economic returns of the tourism product offered. The tourism industry is also a climate-dependent one. The Maltese Islands’ favourable destination as a summer resort will be negatively affected if drought conditions and high temperatures persist throughout the summer months. The majority of tourists visit the Maltese Islands during the peak summer season, and this results in a greater strain on our threatened resources.
At both the regional and national level, environmental dialogue has been focusing on the role of the private sector in tackling climate change. This has been mentioned in the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Green growth, economic growth using natural resources in a sustainable manner, is also encouraged since it creates new jobs and redirects investment in an eco-friendly manner. Within the local context, whilst the Climate Action Fund was being launched in 11th March 2015, the Environmental Minister highlighted the role of the private sector and the promotion of environmentally friendly knowledge.
Promoting shoulder months’ tourism
The weather of the Maltese Islands, especially during the hot dry summers, will put off a large number of tourists who would be otherwise seeking a summer holiday destination. Northern Europe, with its attractive climate will appeal to holidaymakers to the detriment of Mediterranean tourism. The Mediterranean climate has thus become more amenable to spring, winter and autumn tourism.
Promoting winter tourism and the off-peak months in the Maltese Islands is a form of green growth. At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, the innovative and authentic tours that underline nature, history and gastronomy promote sustainable tourism, whilst minimising the use of resources and providing a entertaining and healthy activity to all types of visitors. Moreover, the tours are a form of innovative development of quality niche tourism markets aims at creating environmental awareness.
By promoting the shoulder months tourism, we are also aiding in the spreading of tourism demand, not in just a few weeks during the summer peaks but throughout the year. The environment, cultural heritage, charming landmarks, authentic ways of life and gastronomy are other assets that the Maltese Islands’ have, and which are being promoted to the fullest at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, whilst also ensuring tourism sustainability.
77 years of Radar at Dingli Cliffs (01/04/2016)
Just 100m from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is one major landmark that has characterised Dingli Cliffs for 77 years – The Radar.
The Dingli Radar was the first station in the Maltese Islands, mounted at Dingli Cliffs on 27th March 1939 to plot aircraft in the vicinity of Dingli Cliffs.
The Radar also has an underground radar complex that was used by the British in the Second World War. This system was part of a triangulation arrangement, connecting Dingli Cliffs to Tas-Silġ and Wardija. Obtained information passed to the filter room at Lascaris War Room in Valletta, then forwarded to plotters who placed counters on a map. RAF fighters would then have been able to intercept enemy formations.
A book launch by Major Tony Abela, accompanied by an opening event at the Radar, was hosted at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre on 29th March 2014 to commemorate the 35th Anniversary, when the Maltese took charge of the Air Traffic Systems from the British RAF. In fact, nowadays, the Technical Station of Malta Air Traffic Services Ltd. caters for all the technical needs of the Radar.
The Radar is one of the landmarks along The Cliffs Trail’s walking route, devised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. Self-guided or guided walks, part of the innovative tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre pass in front of this major landmark.
Restoring Maltese traditions at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (24/03/2016)
Maltese customs and traditions are rooted firmly to history. The Cliffs Interpretation promotes traditional activities, whilst respecting current landusers and stakeholders.
One such activity that has dominated Malta’s history especially since the 15th century is related to the rearing of falcons. The Knights of Saint John had to pay annual rent to the King of Spain in the form of two Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus, Bies). Several place names especially along coastal cliffs, such as Rdum il-Bies and Ras il-Pellegrin are attributed to the majestic bird, which also happens to be the fastest animal in the world, reaching speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Since 2015, in the area of Wardija San Gorg, which is a section of The Cliffs Trail, produced by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, two pairs of the Peregrine Falcons started breeding. There has been a very positive move to protect this species by various landowners and hunters, who have spread the word between them to keep monitoring their breeding status, whilst enjoying their free state. Till this week the resident Peregrines were still observed along the lower coast of Dingli Cliffs.
Falconry entities in the Maltese Islands also favour awareness raising and the importance of protecting species of birds of prey. The two local falconers clubs in Malta have kept up practising the traditions of falconry whilst also researching birds. Fridericus Rex Malta Falconers Club hosted an event at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre in the beginning of March 2016, whereby renowned falcon breeder Mr. Bob Dalton, who has travelled the world, practices falconry for about fifty years and written several books on falconry, was invited to share his experiences on falconry to locals. Mr. Luca Stocchi, an Italian veterinary and falcon breeder was another guest in the event held at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
A means to enjoy the majestic birds of prey is through the traditional practice of falconry. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre supports such an activity, which has almost become a lost tradition. The practice of falconry shall respect the current landusers and stakeholders by harmonizing this activity in line with current hunting and trapping seasons, whilst reciprocally, hunters, trappers and other related users keep on respecting this tradition.
Following the concept of Sustainability and the EU’s Nature Laws at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre (20/03/2016)
Conserving natural heritage and biodiversity at the European level is maintained by the EU’s Habitats Directive (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC), which focuses on the protection of habitats and species. From its establishment, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has strived to promote the conservation of biodiversity, enhance local land user input, contribute to socio-economic development and disseminate information.
Natura 2000 and The Habitats Directive
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is found in the middle of the largest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), as per the Habitats Directive. “Rdumijiet ta’ Malta: Ir-Ramla ta’ Għajn Tuffieħa sax-Xaqqa)” stretches to 15km2 and consists of several landscapes. At Dingli Cliffs, we encounter karstic plateaux characterised by the typical garrigue vegetation, coastal cliffs and rural countryside. A substantial number of protected habitats and species are found in this SAC.
Through its continuous on site information and its innovative tours, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is helping to inform the public of the flower species that are in bloom during the particular season and the need of conservation. The tours are also recreational, allowing a pleasing and relaxing time whilst still gaining knowledge on Dingli Cliffs’ surrounding environment.
Gaining environmental consciousness is crucial to locals, foreigners and the general public. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre strives to enable visitor access, combined with the outdoor activity of walking, whilst promoting ecological conservation. This has also been highlighted in Article 22 of the Habitats Directive which identifies the prerequisite to “promote education and general information on the need to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to conserve their habitats” (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, p. 13).
Amalgamating the interconnections between the needs of the environment, socio-economic potential and the input of local practices has been one of the continuous priorities of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, in its quotidian activities. The importance of integrating socio-economic concerns with environmental values is highlighted in Article 2 of the Habitats Directive, “Measures taken pursuant to this Directive shall take account of economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics” (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, p. 2).
Offering wild and semi wild produce of the area to the visitors was an innovative means of communication that proved to be successful. People who visit the area just for the panoramic views are being made aware of our surrounding environment through such means of communication; hence always adding value to their visit at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. Thinking outside the box and creating such a concept will definitely continue to help not only by educating people of the surrounding environment and its main stakeholders, but also by making the visitors aware what the environment is made of and why they shall respect it.
Living in such environment inherited through generations made us aware that many visitors are coming up here just for views, sunset, to collect snails and to leave heaps of rubbish every weekend. Gastronomy was the key to make them aware of what we have, and appreciate it in line with the Habitats Directive.
The Cliffs Centre – Green construction and building (16/03/2016)
The building which houses The Cliffs Interpretation Centre had been a derelict 1960s building built during British rule as a TACAN.
The Habitats Directive identifies the importance of Sustainable development, and the need to “make a contribution to the general objective of sustainable development” (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC).
Primarily, in the construction phase of the building, the socio-cultural characteristics were respected since the creation of The Centre did not take ‘new’ land but was incorporated into a totally committed area which houses the 1960s building. When La Pinta Ltd. took responsibility of the site, an official outline permit for two floors existed. However, the full development application submitted by La Pinta Ltd., was for one floor as suggested in the Environmental Study. This is rare, if not the only such case in these Islands.
Moreover, about 15% of the previously concreted land was converted into productive soil; this now houses the small vegetable and herb garden.
Back to the drawing board…sun, wind and humidity
In the early planning phases of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, the climatic conditions of our country were taken into consideration, always in line with seasonality.
The Maltese Islands are windy and only about 7% of the days within a year are calm. The two prevailing winds are the Northwest and the Southeast and The Centre factors for these predominant directions by having two low windows integrated in the external walls, where wind is channelled through louver windows inside the lecture room, which used to be the generator room of the 1960s building.
Since the Maltese Islands receive a great deal of sunshine throughout the year, the cantilevers facing the south have been projected to a considerable span to gain winter sun, whilst protecting against summer sun. The building is surrounded by double-glazed large glass apertures which while reducing energy losses, they reduce the need for electrical lights. Apertures facing the North are in the shade all year round and hence, they were designed with small apertures accordingly.
To account for humidity, all new structures are elevated and with total void areas; during summer, the channelled wind acts to cool the mechanism.
Crucial resources – Stone and water
Most of the Globigerina Limestone used for the building was brought from rubble mounds dumped illegally in the countryside. The nine inch standard size of the building stone serves to stabilise internal temperatures, whilst the limestone forms a hard crust when weathered, thus insulting the building in the north-facing sides of the building.
Water is a fundamental but scarce resource in the Maltese Islands. To this end, water tanks have been placed in the stepping area of the building to conserve rainwater. To the maximum extent feasible, the building depends on water that is collected, used, purified and re-used on site. Water is not only collected from the roof but also from decking areas.
Waste and Light
The reduction of all waste was considered not only in the construction phase but also in the daily operations of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. In the construction phase, all material found on site were recycled including, rubble walls, remaining window apertures and iron railings. During its day-to-day operations, the Centre recycles material into waste separation bins.
All light fixtures are energy saving. Moreover, light pollution was considered during design. As The Centre is located next to the cliff edge, special attention was undertaken so as not to disturb the seabird colonies. Down lighters and cut-off systems are also employed.
Although the Centre is not a Non-Governmental Organisation, it is a self-sufficient entity which has been focusing on conservation and management of the protected area from its inception. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre does not ask for financial capital to continue preserving the natural environment and providing means of education and recreation to visitors; instead it has maintained its autonomy.
The Cliffs: Eco-friendly education and tourism products (13/03/2016)
Education is a key element of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre’s sense of responsibility; using wild produce without damaging the source, the Centre is an arena for raising the awareness on the environmental, social and cultural importance of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre acts as continuous education source. Visitors to the area of Dingli Cliffs are being continuously updated on the ecological importance of several of the 1000 wild flora species and habitats in the Dingli countryside, even if they initially visited Dingli Cliffs for the panoramic views.
Whilst the information panels and regularly published free European Commission magazines provide information on both the local and regional environment, and the website is being continuously updated, the upgraded tour packages blend the environment and entertainment into a comprehensive visit. Whilst promoting the protection of our natural environments as per the Habitats and the Birds Directive, respecting the local scenario and gaining more knowledge on the archaeological significance of Dingli Cliffs, gastronomy and local produce, the Discover Dingli Cliffs tours include a pleasing invigorating walk. The tours add value to the visit not only by observing panoramic views but also getting in direct contact with nature, culture, and history.
Education should start early in life. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has formulated its own children’s character based on a donkey to promote learning about the surroundings whilst colouring. Education to school students is also put to the forefront at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. School visits by secondary school students and even gastronomically-related entities such as ITS have and will continue to occur at The Centre, enabling an engaging and hands-on out of the classroom experience whilst still learning about the multitude of factors which have formed and continuously shape Dingli Cliffs.
The tour packages offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre also stimulate sustainable tourism by enhancing the value of the Maltese tourist product during the shoulder months. The current extra input in the Discover Dingli Cliffs innovative packages, offered by the Centre will reinforce this added value, always in line with the recommendations of the Habitats Directive. Positive socio-economic returns of this venture by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre include the creation of new environmentally-friendly jobs, cooperation and collaboration between stakeholders and landusers.
Moreover, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre offers visitors with the possibility of buying local products that are convenient souvenirs such as local jams and delicatessen. Whilst local herbs and spices have been packaged in small concentrations to be as environmentally-friendly as possible; they also outline the ecological and historical importance of the plant species from which they are derived, in an innovative method of education.
Education at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is used to increase the understanding of the interdependency between tourism and our environment, whilst encouraging that people are responsible and accountable for their actions.
All this with no extra burden on the Government funds, a real continuous sustainable project. We give more than we take.
Linking the art of cooking with the natural heritage and local economy of Dingli (10/03/2016)
Gastronomy is often described as the study of food preparation and culture in a particular place. In its endeavour to promote innovative means of communication, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has amalgamated gastronomy with the environment and socio-economic issues, whilst informing visitors about the culture and traditions maintained by the locals.
The habit of using wild edible plants and other local produce for culinary and medicinal purposes is alive in the local village of Dingli, but at a disappearing rate. Recording, preserving and instilling the knowledge of the use of local produce to future generations is crucial. From its inception, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has been studying knowledge systems of past traditions, while incorporating them in its daily innovative means of communication. It also educates visitors on the importance of never uprooting plants, but cutting them, so that the parent plant remains.
In the Maltese Islands, there are around 1100 species of wild plants; many of them are not appreciated by locals and foreign visitors alike. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has found a way of incorporating such local plants in its gastronomical education. Local food that are processed at The Cliffs Centre include the Borage, Wild Asparagus, Stinging Nettles, Wild edible mushroom, etc…, always depending on the season.
The Centre has always strived to revive past traditions such as in the use of local fruit like Prickly pear, Pomegranate, Azalore and the Quince. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre produces its own local chutneys, including the Prickly pear and Quince chutney. The quince fruit is often disregarded since it is not eaten raw and few are the quince trees that can be found locally. Hence, the centre has explored such fruit and managed to produce a jam, which is high in natural pectin. The quince jam production at the centre has also revived past traditions, since in the past, locals used to dissolve a teaspoon of the homemade jam into boiling water to treat tummy ache. The restoration of such a local tradition could only be made possible by the direct engagement The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has to the Dingli Cliffs’ agricultural land, where the quince trees grow.
Local animal husbandry and other products
Many of the current cultural traditions of the Maltese people are on the verge of being lost. The local cheeselets served at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre are bought from the only shepherd living in the area, whose livestock can still be seen foraging for food regularly at Dingli Cliffs. The miniature herb garden housed within The Centre promotes the use of local products in gastronomy. Whilst adding to the culinary value of local produce, the Centre also provides education of historical traditions. The Qannic, a ventilated box used to air dry local produce such as the local cheeselets, and which is found at the centre, is reminiscent of Maltese rural culture. A selection of jams and delicatessen products are also a reminder of past medicinal and culinary uses of local produce.
Using local products as much as possible, aids the socio-economic value of the Maltese Islands. The Centre empowers local employment both directly and indirectly. Apart from the staff that work at the Centre, the majority of which have links to the traditional village of Dingli, the Centre favours vitality and viability of local food producers. Traditional Maltese bread is bought daily from the local bakery while minor perishable items are also bought from grocers in Dingli. Many of the fresh vegetables are bought from Dingli farmers and agricultural producers, whilst the last shepherd roaming Dingli Cliffs produces the local cheeselets served at the Centre. Hence, the current practices at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre are also beneficial to the local economy.
Involving the main stakeholders making part of the surrounding landuses is one of our objectives at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre. This involvement of the major stakeholders within the area is also in line with the Habitats Directive which strives “to take account of the economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics” (Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC)
The Cliffs Centre: Landuse and Stakeholder responsibility (07/03/2016)
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is located in the middle of the largest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the Maltese Islands; a protected area of several endemic species and habitats. As a significant stakeholder within this protected area, The Centre has always had an educational role related to protecting the surrounding environment.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre strives to promote the full meaning of an Interpretation Centre, that of providing innovative means of communication to all types of visitors, ranging from locals, school students, and foreign visitors. The upgraded ecotourism tour packages that are offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, highlight not just the environment, but also the historical and cultural heritage of the surrounding Dingli Cliffs. The understanding of the medicinal and gastronomical use of local wild edible produce, linked with traditions, provide an authentic experience.
As a stakeholder, The Centre strives to ensure a continuation of education of the surrounding areas’ natural and cultural heritage. It provides information on the surrounding environment and nature laws that protect certain flower and animal species (such as the EU Habitat’s Directive), along with the regular updates on seasonal flowering plants and other monitoring information. The Centre helps the public to be made aware of the importance of education in the conservation of the surrounding protected area.
The Cliffs managed to bring together various landusers such as landowners, farmers, hunters, trappers, environmentalists, visitors, locals and sports related, amongst others.
Quality tourism at Dingli Cliffs (28/02/2016)
The tourist sector is a large and rapidly evolving economic sector bringing about socio-economic and also environmental changes. The Maltese Islands have often been regarded as appealing to the mass tourism sector, however economic growth must be seen hand in hand with an improvement in the value of the touristic product.
The Draft National Tourism Vision 2015-2030 recognises the role that sustainable development has in the safeguarding of the country’s attractiveness for the benefit of both tourists and locals. Since its inception in 2012, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has focused on providing an informative and innovative tourist experience that highlights the environment, history and archaeology, gastronomic potential and the local produce that can be found along Dingli Cliffs.
Managing visitor numbers, Considering the issue of quality tourism and Reducing seasonality are the three guiding principles of the Draft National Tourism Vision 2015-2030. These have always been seen as crucial for the day-to-day running of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, that of blending the environment, tourism and local aspects, whilst offering services to visitors arriving at Dingli Cliffs. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre in 2014 has also upgraded its innovative tour packages that provide an enjoyable and informative experience at Dingli Cliffs, with the input of authentic local personnel.
The winter months often present a financial pressure in the local tourist industry, however the tours offered by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, as innovative means of communication, focuses on the off peak months, and hence provide not only economic but also environmental sustainability.
The Tourism Policy aims to decrease the dependency on summer mass tourism, whilst promoting Malta as a hub for active tourism, by which nature and culture are put to the forefront. Seeking new market segments during the off peak months is crucial. In fact, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has also been factoring for the input of local Destination Management Companies and Travel Operators, who wish to formulate quality tourism services for their clients.
Since 2014, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has put more importance on meeting numerous DMCs to delineate a way forward with providing an innovative tourist experience. Moreover, the Centre has been inviting representatives of DMCs to try out a familiarisation visit of the tours to that they gain a feeling of the highlights of the tours. The latest familiarisation visit was organised on Saturday 27th February 2016.
Reinforcing career education in the tourism industry at Dingli Cliffs (19/02/2016)
The Maltese Islands have long been seen as attractions for the sun, sand and sea seekers. Tourism during the shoulder months is often undermined in favour of mass tourism during the peak months to the detriment of quality and sustainable tourism. Promoting Malta’s rich natural and cultural heritage has the potential of reducing the negative environmental consequences brought about by huge number of tourists during the short summer months, whilst also promoting economical sustainability.
Earlier this year, Malta’s Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism have acknowledged that there is a shortage of skills in the tourism industry, that is however not keeping up to the fast growing industry. In fact, promoting the tourism and hospitality sector as feasible and worthwhile career paths has been put to the forefront of the agenda.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre has long seen the need of blending the environment, with the tourism industry in numerous school outings to ITS students. Lately, it has upgraded its school visits to be in line with the learning expectations of the students. The school visits offer an authentic and innovative experience of learning about the ecological diversity, history, archaeology, culture, gastronomy and local produce of Dingli Cliffs and the surroundings. The school outings, offered to ITS students in different courses ranging from Foundation and Certificate levels, enable students to gain a better foothold onto their long-term career paths, whilst understanding the importance of promoting tourism during the shoulder months. The outings also educate students on the important role of day-to-day practices that the industry has with visiting tourists. It also encourages students that the provision of tourist-related services which highlight the nature, history, archaeology, gastronomy and local produce, is not a fall-back carrier, but one which provides a level of excellence in the tourism sector.
Searching for Orchids at Dingli Cliffs (13/02/2016)
What’s the most ecologically refined flower species? Maybe, the delicate, spectacular and rare orchids!
Orchids have been desired since antiquity, and in the Mediterranean region, the Ancient Greeks associated them with virility. Globally, over 25,000 species exist, making the orchid plant family, one of the largest.
In the Maltese Islands, 38 species of orchids have been recorded. The earliest orchids to flower are the Maltese Early Rainbow Orchid (Dubbiena Bikrija) and the Fan-lipped Orchid (Orkida Hamra). Both are indigenous, whilst the Maltese Early Rainbow Orchid can only be found in the Maltese Islands. These orchids are small plants, often found as single specimens or in isolated clumps.
Not only are orchids refined, they also use spectacular mechanisms to enable pollination. The Maltese Early Rainbow Orchid disperses a scent, which is not detected by humans, but it resembles the pheromone of a female bee. The scent attracts male bees who attempt to copulate the flowers. While no true copulation takes place, the male bees end up collecting pollen, which is transferred from the flower to another one. The Fan-lipped Orchid uses another ingenious mechanism….since the orchid lacks nectar, it resorts to the use of sticky substances on the stigma which still end up attracting insects!!
Both can be encountered in the garrigue environments of Dingli Cliffs along The Cliffs Trail from December to March.
Weather bizarreness…El Nino and Malta’s weather (05/02/2016)
El Nino has shaken up the latest weather conditions all around the globe. Although this natural phenomenon has a period of average five years, the El Nino of 2015-2016 has been predicted to be the strongest in the historical record dating over 60 years.
The El Nino Southern Oscillation occurs when warm ocean water develops in the Pacific Ocean, leading to high air pressure in the eastern pacific and low air pressures in the west. Normally, the typical conditions of El Nino are characterised by warmer-than-average temperatures.
The effects of El Nino are often long-lasting. The spread of the Zika Virus in January 2015 is related to this phenomenon since the humid conditions created by rainfall over Latin America were ideal for the mosquito, from which the Zika virus is borne. Moreover, El Nino has several economic consequences, including an increase in the prices of certain commodities since demand exceeds supply.
The global average temperatures for 2015 were the highest since record keeping started 135 years ago. The Mediterranean remained hotter than usual in the winter of 2015 not only due to a motionless anticyclonic area of high pressure, but also due to the El Nino event. In the case of the Mediterranean Sea, including the Maltese Islands, temperature has risen by 1-3°, accompanied by little rainfall.
In the Maltese Islands, the effects of warm temperatures during the winter months lead to untimely blooming of flowers, which occurs prior to their normal flowering season. The blooming of the almond flower as early as November 2015 is a case in point. Several almond trees can also be currently encountered along The Centre’s trail. The minimal rainfall that has characterised winter 2015 has a negative effect on non-irrigated crops, whilst irrigated crops would require huge amounts of water, resulting in continued strain on Malta’s already threatened fresh water sources.
Latest Issue of Magazine (30/01/2016)
New Year Greetings by the Almond blossoms
The spectacular blossom of Almonds in winter, often welcomes the new year. The early-flowering white and pink flowers are visible when the tree is barren of leaves, often regarded as a symbol of promise.
The Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis) is one of the oldest introduced and naturalised trees, domesticated since the Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC). The early blooming of the almond flower is mentioned up to ten times in the Hebrew Bible as a symbol of watchfulness.
The almond fruit matures later on during Autumn, often celebrated in the traditional feast of St. Martin, which is commemorated annually on November. Maltese gastronomy often comprises the almond nut, which are rich in Vitamin and essential minerals such as calcium and iron.
The Mediterranean climate is optimal for the Almond and in fact, there are several Almond Trees that can be encountered along The Cliffs Trail.
Ruby red of the Pomegranate Jelly
The small tree of the Pomegranate is native to Asia, but it has become naturalised in Malta for a long time. It is in fact one of the most ancient fruits, even mentioned in bible writings. The name Pomegranate derives from French, translating to ‘seeded apples’. There is belief that the pomegranate is the forbidden fruit consumed by Eve in the Bible’s Garden of Even.
The well-branched tree often grows up to 5m, with green leaves; the bright-orange flowers are produced into the pomegranate fruit, consisting of dense arils embedded in a juicy pulp from which pomegranate juice is made.
Pomegranates contain several anti-oxidants, are a very good source of Vitamin C and potassium. Pomegranate juice has several beneficial effects including anti-cancer properties, cardio-protective properties, the treatment of diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and more.
The dark ruby colour of the pomegranate fruit has been found useful in the making of a red dye whilst other uses of the pomegranate has been in the making of medicines, perfumes and wine. Pomegranate Jelly is produced and packaged at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, with the latest pomegranate jam just produced in November 2015.
Spice, flavour and colour at Dingli Cliffs – Saffron
The exquisite sweet scent of the Yellow-throated Crocus flower (Crocus longiflorus, Żagħfran Salvaġġ) may be enjoyed during these Autumnal days. In the garrigue area of Dingli Cliffs, the yellow-throated crocus grows frequently.
The crocus plant, which grows from underground corms without any stalks, grows to a height of 150mm. The attractive lilac to violet colour of the six-petalled flower can be identified by dark coloured veins on the outer side of the flower.
The Saffron spice is hand-harvested from the three bright orange stigmas of the crocus flowers, 30 grams would require more than 13,000 saffron threads. That’s why saffron is the most expensive spice in the world!! Fortunately, only a little saffron would be required to colour and flavour food dishes.
The stigma from the saffron flower also have a medicinal value in the treatment of asthma, coughs, insomnia, depression, etc… Although the saffron crocus, from which saffron is often harvested is not found in the wild, the yellow-throated crocus, which is native to the Mediterranean is found abundantly in garrigue habitats close to Dingli Cliffs and can be found growing in the wild in Italy, Sicily and Malta.
The edible fruit of the semi-wild Azalore tree (07/10/2015)
Have you ever heard of the edible Azalore hawthorn fruit? The deciduous Azalore tree or Mediterranean hawthorn (Crataegus azalorus, Għanżalor) is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, and it can grow up to 3m high as a wild, uncultivated tree. The stunning alternate leaves are divided into three lobes, the clustered white flowers are visible between March and May, whilst the edible fruits appear later in Autumn. The historical work by Borg (1922) on fruit trees in the Maltese Islands lists the Azalore tree as thriving in all soils, and that whilst it matures in September, it also keeps for a long time.1
The Azalore tree was formerly cultivated as a fruit tree, even in the maquis vegetation community along Dingli Cliffs. However, it has been left in the wild and can still be scarcely found along Dingli Cliffs. The Hawthorn tree offers good shelter to animals such as nesting birds, due to its thick branching.2
Other similar shrubs, belonging to the same Rosaceae family and Crataegus (hawthorn) genus, include the Common Hawthorn (Crataegus mongyna, Żagħrun) and the Hybrid Hawthorn (Crataegus x ruscinonensis, Għanżalor salvaġġ). Some of the species of the Hawthorn genus have medicinal purposes including the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.3
The small fruit of the Azalore are bright red and resemble crabapple fruits. Whilst the refreshing fruit are very tasty when raw, they are also beneficial in the culinary arts. When the fruits are in season, The Cliffs Interpretation Centre serves them with game, including duck and quail. The azalore fruit also goes well with lamb dishes, and it can also be used as a cocktail garnish.
1 Borg, J., (1922) Cultivation and Diseases of Fruit Trees in the Maltese Islands. Malta Government Printing Office.
2 Jules, J. & Paull, R.E. (2008) The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts, International: Oxfordshire, UK
Latest issue of magazine (07/10/2015)
The Ancient Carob (27/08/2015)
The Carob Tree (Siġra tal-Ħarrub, Ceratonia siliqua) is one of the most characteristic species that defines Maltese maquis communities. It is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean region and its culinary use dates back to ancient times1. Late August, before the first autumn rains, is often characterised by the harvesting of the carob pods.
The typical carob trees in the Maltese countryside often reach 15m in height within a time-frame of half a decade. The Carob tree is adapted to the Maltese climate; despite its evergreen nature, leaves are shed all year round to act as dried organic matter for the cycling of nutrients within the soil. The Carob’s deep roots are also another adaptation to the hot Mediterranean climate. The longevity of the carob has also given rise to Maltese linguistic idioms such as “Xiħ daqs Ħarruba,” literally meaning as old as a Carob tree.
While Carob trees are sexually differentiated, they have a mutual interaction. Flowers produced by male trees are pollinated by insects and returned to the female flowers, whereby the latter produce carob pods.2 Carob honey, which is harvested in November, follows the blooming of the carob flower and is beneficial for foraging bees.
The Carob has an interlocking link to Maltese World War II history since instead of feeding them to livestock such as horses, pigs and sheep, the locals used to eat dried carob pods as a supplement to rationed food during the hardship of war.
The Cliffs Interpretation Centre produces and packages the traditional carob syrup (Ġulepp tal-Ħarrub) which has been used to soothe sore throats and ease coughs when diluted in hot water and lemon juice. The syrup contains thrice the calcium in milk, and is rich in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins and natural fibres1.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratonia_siliqua, accessed 26/08/2015
2http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20141204/environment/Plant-pollination.546811, accessed 26/08/2015
The aromatic, herbaceous fennel (07/08/2015)
Visit Dingli Cliffs during these hot summer days and count the number of fennel plants! The Fennel (Bużbież, Foeniculum vulgare) is an unmistakeable plant, which is common not only along garrigue ecosystems, but also in disturbed habitats and abandoned land. One conspicuous observation of the fennel, is that it is almost always found at the margin between land holdings. Despite its frequent occurrence, the fennel has ecological and gastronomical roles.
The perennial fennel herb, which grows up to 2.5m in height, produces flowers in terminal umbel forms that appear between May and October. The fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean region. The word “Marathon” is a Greek word, literally translating to fennel, whose plant has been regarded as a symbol of success for athletes’ stamina before the Olympic marathons. The ancient Romans cultivated the fennel for its aromatic fruit and succulent edible shoots. Its medicinal properties include diuretic, the treatment of infections and it also aids in the stimulation of milk flow in nursing mothers, including livestock.1
In the beginning of summer, the last local shepherd can be seen herding his goats and sheep in the early morning at Dingli Cliffs, whose livestock feed on the fennel. Ecologically, the fennel leaves supports the feeding habits of the larvae of the endemic Maltese Swallowtail butterfly (Farfett tar-Reġina, Papilio machaon ssp. melitensis), the largest butterfly in the Islands, often called Farfett tal-Bużbież in Maltese.2 Moreover, the Striped Shield bug (Spallut Irrigat, Graphosoma lineatum ssp. italicum), whose striped red-and-black pattern indicates that the insect is foul-tasting to potential predators, is often found on the fennel plant.2
In the Maltese Islands, mid-summer is the time for the harvesting of the aromatic fennel seeds, which then accompanies many traditional Maltese oven baked recipes such as roast potatoes, locally called ‘patata l-forn’. Small packets of wild fennel seeds can be found at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, whilst the foliage is served as a garnish in soups, pasta and meat dishes.
(Product of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre)
1 http://www.botanicagoatsoap.com/fennel.html, accessed 06/08/2015
2 Sultana, J. & Falzon, V. (1996) Wildlife of the Maltese Islands, Environment Protection Department: Floriana
Free magazines available at the Centre (15/07/2015)
The Environment for Europeans magazine, which is published by the Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission on a quarterly basis can also be found in several languages at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
The below are links to the latest published numbers of the magazine in 2015, that can collected from the Centre:
The dying fig and mulberry trees in Malta (06/07/2015)
Edible figs (Bajtar) were one of the first cultivated trees, while the Black mulberries (Tut) have also been cultivated for a long time. Both trees are non-native to the Mediterranean, but have become naturalised in the Maltese countryside. Mulberries are a source of protein and they have a high concentration of the antioxidant resveratrol, benefiting heart health, while figs are a good source of protein and fibre.
Invasive beetle species have been present for a long time, but their number has increased exponentially due to the globalisation of trade and the creation of new transport pathways. Whilst the establishment of certain invasive alien beetles was anticipated, the introduction of the Phryneta leprosa in the Maltese Islands was unexpected (Mifsud & Dandria, 2002). The beetles of Cerambycidae family, from which the Longhorn beetle derives, are characterised by an elongate body, long antennae, their vegetable feeding nature and profuse breeding.
The first specimen of the alien Phryneta leprosa (Longhorn beetle, Hanfusa tal-Qrun Twil tat-Tut) was recorded in 2002 after it has been accidentally introduced in Malta from Cameroon in Central Africa with wood of the timber industry (Mifsud & Dandria, 2002). After the accidental introduction, the pest spread over the Maltese Islands. It first attacked mulberry trees, decimating many trees and then started invading fig trees; it should be of note that both trees belong the Moraceae family. In Dingli Cliffs and the surrounding areas, mulberry trees have been attacked by the Longhorn beetle since 2008, while the invasive pest started destroying fig trees since 2012.
Human intervention is the only action that is able to reduce the extinction of such trees and control the damage done to Malta’s biodiversity. Larvae of the longhorn beetle bore inside tree trunks and feed until they reach adult stage, this behaviour referred in scientific terms as xylophagous (Mifsud, 2002). Adult beetles, which grow up to five centimeters in length, have also been observed to gnaw tenvironmhe bark of young mulberry shoots, despite their short life time (Mifsud & Dandria, 2002).
After damaging local mulberry and fig trees, the Phryneta leprosa is now threatening the White mulberry (Cawsli) tree species. Another invasive pest, focusing its attention on the fig trees, is the bark borer beetle (Hypocryphalius scabricollis), which despite its miniscule 3mm length, eats its way into the tree’s bark from under the main stem and leads to pronounced damage (Times of Malta, 2014). This beetle was probably introduced when species of the ficus family were exported from Asia in the 1930s and they have established themselves through the phenomenon of host-plant shift, by which the bark borer changed their preference of host plants by a change in their geographical distribution (Times of Malta, 2014).
(Product of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre)
Mifsud, D. (2002) Longhorn beetles (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) of the Maltese Islands (Central Mediterranean), The Central Mediterranean Naturalist, 3(4): 161-169.
Mifsud, D. & Dandria, D. (2002) Introduction and establishment of Phryneta leprosa (Fabricius) (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) in Malta, The Central Mediterranean Naturalist, 3(4): 207-210.
Times of Malta (2014) Pest annihilates fig trees across island, Micallef, K. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140729/local/Pest-annihilates-fig-trees-across-island.529693, Available 29/07/2014, Accessed 06/07/2015.