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MT 8 May 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 40 This Week Malta is not a place we normally associate with owls, but thanks to migration we get lots of birds stopping by for short stints, and among these are two or three owl species. One of them is the rather scarce short-eared owl, a spectacular animal with large hypnotic yellow eyes. It's a bird of open countryside (hence its Maltese name kokka tax-xagħri) that, unlike most owls, hunts by day. Seeing one of these creatures sail by like a silent ghost, combing the garrigue and steppe for rodents and lizards is guaranteed to hold anyone's gaze. So imagine our delight when BirdLife announced last week that a pair of them actually decided to stop and raise a family! The question of course is: will the family survive? Like many other birds, short-eared owls used to nest in the past but, like many other birds, stopped doing so when human encroachment became too stressful. The last known breeding attempt was in 1983, which failed when one of the pair was shot by a hunter. Will history repeat itself? GREEN IDEA OF THE WEEK 408: DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT - http://www.foemalta. org/links/ttipreport2016 Visit Friends of the Earth's website for more information about our work, as well as for information about how to join us. You can also support us by sending us a donation - Text Victor Falzon Photo Aron Tanti 505. SHORT-EARED OWL Visual Noise THE concept of visual noise is an abstract one, but when see- ing the elements that surround us, it becomes clear that Malta faces not only strong elements of air and noise pollution, but sadly also disturbing visual pollution. Visual noise. Billboards line virtually every major road in Malta. Some of these were placed with a valid permit, others randomly erected without any form of consent by the Planning Authority. These billboards are placed at points which are meant to capture our attention while driving, walking or cycling, with little to no re- gard for their surroundings. Any surface lending itself to having a huge panel slapped on it gets precisely that, allowing every flat surface to display a prod- uct advertisers want us to buy. The call to buy overshadows all sense of design and proportion and has led to the installation of billboards of the largest format in every possible environment, regardless of how these would disturb the surrounding land and streetscapes. These billboards are then left to decay, and generally deteriorate their surrounding environment. Even the proportions of these massive boards do not respect their surrounding environment. Where once a beautiful row of trees pleased our eye, we are now forced to stare at an over- sized advertisement or Trans- port Malta mega-sign which disrupts beautiful landscapes or characteristic streetscapes. With advanced technology, billboards can now be lit up, adding to the visual noise. Not to mention that Malta has disturbing levels of light pollution. Another shock- ing highlight in this development was the recent attempt to place such billboards as floating is- lands into our pristine seascapes. A similar picture is present- ed in most villages and towns. Where once the architectural style of each street caught the eye, what now clutters our vi- sion are poorly maintained and badly designed and constructed shopfront signs and streetsigns, even in the supposedly protected Valletta World Heritage Site and Mdina. No regard is given to the overall impression: each shop or enterprise simply puts up what they see fit. With a most un- sightly result: pure visual noise. And let us consider this question carefully: do we actually read all these signs plastered every- where? Hardly. We have simply become used to this visual noise and ignore them. Our villages have partly lost their identity to a strong drive of commercial frenzy. The problem follows us every- where: from our favourite tel- evision shows being interrupted constantly by advertising spots, to a point where we become tense, to radio broadcasts with clips lined up to promote a ser- vice or product, to our letter boxes which find themselves mi- raculously filled with print mat- ter of every shape and format, begging us to buy something. Visual noise surrounds us. This should prompt us to become aware of what it is: junk. Junk that does not make for a better environment, but rather spoils it. One immediate reaction could be to point fingers at authori- ties. They should certainly set up stronger guidelines, as we are flooded with this visual pol- lution. Press reports in the last weeks have actually shown that a clamp-down on all illegal bill- boards did take place. But in a rather bizzare manner: by stick- ing notices on the affected boards and their structures. Fight vis- ual noise by adding more visual noise? We could rightly ask why such junk is not simply removed. But ultimately we also need to ask ourselves why we actually tolerate such disruptions in our environment. Does the quality of our environment mean so little that we just accept this aesthetic degradation? Our surround- ing environment, be it village or landscape, if it is to be of good quality, should be free of visual noise. TTIP trade deal poses a serious threat to EU farming The controversial trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the US could spell disaster for European farming, finds a new report from Friends of the Earth Europe. The report 'Trading away EU farmers' launched today in 14 EU countries, reviews modelling studies carried out in the EU and US on the impacts of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The report concludes that TTIP will massively increase imports from the US, with far fewer benefits for EU producers. Studies foresee a decline of up to 0.8% for EU agriculture's contribution to gross domestic product, while US agriculture's contribution will increase by 1.9% - a net trade benefit to US interests of over 4 billion Euro. This is predicted to result in many farmers across the EU facing stronger competition and lower prices, threatening farm businesses across Europe, as well as having negative impacts on rural areas and on consumer interests. The US Department of Agriculture is predicting falls in the price paid to European farmers in every food category. The report says that corporate lobby groups on both sides of the Atlantic are pushing for greater access to each others' agricultural markets, with the US in particular targeting Europe's generally higher safety and animal welfare standards. However, even if EU standards are maintained, increased imports from the US will still flood European markets, ensuring huge export opportunities and profits for food corporations and US factory farms at the expense of European farmers. Friends of the Earth calls on the Maltese government to keep to its promise to conduct and publish impact assessments on Maltese market sectors. Special interest should be given to highly vulnerable sectors such as Maltese agriculture. A recent study by the World Trade industry puts Malta as the only country to suffer economic losses due to TTIP, suffering -0.3% income and -0.7% investments. Jorg Sicot No regard is given to the overall impression: each shop or enterprise puts up what they see fit

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