Ray Vella was making his rounds through the nature reserve where he worked June 12 when he made a tragic discovery about the woodland’s olive grove.

“When I got there Monday I found all 36 trees had been chainsawed and were on the ground,” the Foresta 2000 Ranger told Olive Oil Times.

For every bad deed there is good and that the Maltese society will stand up to such ignorant and harmful acts.- Julian Sammut, Alfred Mizzi Foundation

“We were supposed to harvest them, but I guess now it’s going to be a bit of a problem.”

Some time over the weekend, vandals had destroyed the crop. The public reserve, located in Mellieha, Malta, believes the act was premeditated.

“This is not the first time we’ve had vandalism,” Vella said while describing some of the problems the relatively young reserve has had with locals.

“When we first started 12 years ago it was a sort of free-for-all. We had four-wheel drive vehicles using the area for illegal off-course driving. We’ve also had illegal hunting in there, because it’s an old hunting zone.”

In September 2004, about 100 trees were uprooted and damaged along with fencing and signs. On three separate occasions between July and September of 2006, there were arson attempts. In May 2007, an overnight attack cut down 3,000 trees. in April 2010, 104 trees were damaged, which led to the conviction of three hunters. They were fined about €12,300 each.

In addition to vandalism, a ranger was shot in April 2009 and had to be hospitalized.

The latest act caused an estimated €3,600 in damage.

After news of the olive grove’s destruction spread, donations poured in for the reserve from individuals and organizations, including The Alfred Mizzi Foundation, which is dedicated to safeguarding Maltese culture, heritage and environment.

“Perpetrators of vandalism like this must know that for every bad deed there is good and that the Maltese society will stand up to such ignorant and harmful acts,” foundation trustee Julian Sammut said.

There’s more good news. Vella has been working to preserve what’s left of the olive trees, which were planted using grafts, and the signs are positive.

“I dug a water catchment hole around them and I gave them a good dousing of water,” he said. “They’ve already started showing a bit of regrowth from last week. You can see already some of them are coming back out again.

“I think I’ll be able to save the majority of them.”

The first olive trees, 24 of them, were planted in 2009 and a further 12 were added in 2010.

“It’s a setback because we had reached a good height and a good girth, but we just have to start all over again,” he said.

Foresta 2000 is home to about 21,000 trees and shrubs, all planted within the last 12 years. The reserve’s goal is to fill the space with wild trees, with the exception of the olive trees, which were part of a donation.

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