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Buskett Woodland

Ambjent Malta was entrusted with the task maintain, restore and indeed, rehabilitate the Buskett Woodlands, safeguarding thus this national treasure left to us by our forefathers.

 
General view of Buskett with Verdala Palace in the background 


Buskett visitors map 
 
 
Buskett, which is by and large owned by the Malta Government, has a total area of circa 473,694.50 m² (47Hectares). It is a small woodland area inland located in the Western / South Western coast of Malta.  It is also of special importance as a site of ecological and nature conservation owing to it being the only example of a semi-natural woodland in the Maltese Islands possessing a variety of endemic and rare species needing protection.


Footpath along natural habitat in Wied il-Luq

 
 Footpath along natural habitat at Wied il-Luq

 
Integrated within the precincts of Buskett are also areas of archaeological and historical interest. These include: Punic Catacombs, Bronze Age Cart Ruts in the limestone garigue, underground Flour Mills and a Hunting Lodge commissioned by the Grandmaster Jean De Valette (1557-1595.) This site is also considered as a special site of ecological and nature conservation importance, possessing a variety of protected endemic and rare species. It is designated as a Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Area (SPA)


Path leading to Wied il-Luq

 
Habitats Found at Buskett

Buskett is split by a natural valley which contains well maintained Citrus plantations. Further up one side of the valley slope consists of uncultivated, terraced fields, maquis and at the top of the slope, stands the woodland part of the site, dominated by Oak, Carob, Olive and Aleppo pine trees. On the opposite side is a garigue plateau providing microhabitats in the natural dips, in the limestone which house a variety of floral species, including the wild thyme, rare bulb and several orchid species. The deciduous woodland at Buskett is made up mainly of White Poplar, Ash and Elm. There are also a number of Holm Oak, Olive and Carob trees.


 
The watercourse at Buskett


Olive trees at Buskett


Citrus plantation at Buskett


Species of Special Importance that are found in this Woodland

  • Narrow leaved Ash – the only wild population of this species on the island.
  • Bay Laurel thickets, Holm Oak remnants, Mediterranean temporary ponds, Sicilian Aleppo Pine woodland and Populus alba galleries – EU Habitat Directive habitat types requiring special protection and management.
  • White Willow – used to exist in the area until it was eradicated due to anthropogenic impacts.
  • Fungus species, Sarcosphaera coronaria, recorded in the EU Habitats Directive (Annex IV.)
  • Painted frog, the only endemic subspecies amphibian found in the Maltese islands lives year round in the watercourses at Buskett.
  • Raptors – many bird species depend on Buskett as an area for migration and it has been designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.


Painted frog 
      Painted Frog - Photo credit: Eman Portelli


Populus alba 
pupulus alba - White Poplar

 
Actions undertaken by Ambjent Malta (MESDC)


  • Life+ Nature project for the value of €2.8 million to restore and consolidate existing rubble retaining walls thus reducing occurring severe soil erosion. Restoration of the existing arched buttress water culvert, restoration of existing paths to serve as nature walks plus the eradication of alien tree species and the replanting of circa 3,000 indigenous trees.
  • Restoration of a fourth historic farmhouse (Razzett tal-Għorof) funded by the Italia – Malta 2007 -2 013 funding programme. This farmhouse is going to be mainly used as an educational centre as an Oenology and vine cultivation informative centre and as a learning place re good agricultural practices.
  • We also prepared a Master plan forming a holistic program of works for Buskett Woodland and therefore the phasing of respective activities/works. In this regard, Ambjent Malta organised a number of meetings with MEPA to determine all application processes involved to execute fundamental works. Works will mainly include the upgrading and changing of all existing obsolete furniture, refurbishment and restructuring of the existing public convenience, restoration and upgrading of the existing picnic area, creation of a new picnic area, a tree regeneration program, plus the restoration of all existing water cisterns and reservoirs.
  • Day to day management of Buskett Woodland which includes rubbish collecting, site surveillance, general maintenance works such as the repair of existing timber gates / garden furniture repairs, repairs to existing lamp posts.
  • Restoration and rebuilding of collapsed rubble retaining walls in various locations at Buskett.
  • Liaison with  ERA and PA obtaining all necessary permits to cut dead and semi-collapsed trees. Presently all pruned trees are partially carted away from Buskett, however the larger parts of tree trunks are left on site to decompose naturally.
 

 

Project information sign at Buskett


Razzett tal-Għorof
Tal-Għorof Farmhouse


Characteristic trees planted at Buskett
Recently planted trees at Buskett


Restored arched buttresses
Restored arched buttresses  and engineered water culvert

 
History 

“I Giardini del Boschetto” or Buskett as it is known today were collated together by various Grandmasters of the Order of Saint John in Malta by purchasing additional land, thus forming the largest and maybe the most important garden in the Maltese islands. From period manuscripts it clearly emerged that 'il Boschetto' Buskett gardens and its woodlands owe its first origins mainly to various Grandmasters of the Order of the Knights of St. John's architectonic ambitions. 


Pathway at Buskett 
 
 
From period manuscripts it was established that Grandmaster de Vallette (1557-1568) was one of the first Grandmasters to commission a small hunting lodge built over the Fontana or Grotta. Other important buildings were added during the Knight’s 200 years stay in Malta. One of these includes the imposing Verdala Palace built as a fortified villa with the architect in charge of project being the famous Maltese Girolamo Cassar. Verdala Palace together with its daunting surrounding gardens were commissioned by Grand Master Hugues Loubenx de Verdalle (1581-1595), which building was intended to serve primarily as his personal fortified private summer residence and as a hunting lodge superseding the previous De Vallette's lodge built above the fontana. After Verdalle's death it was used, maintained, improved and embellished by other Grandmasters. This castle was skilfully located on higher grounds overlooking the vast private Boschetto gardens. Another important extension to this Palace was commissioned much later by Grandmaster António Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) with the architect being the famous French resident ar-chitect and military engineer Charles François de Mondion.


Old map of Buskett
Map dated 1866 – British Period Cabreo


Other small structures mainly used as stables and stores were added from time to time with most of these structures attributed to have been commissioned by Grand Master Giovanni Paolo Las-caris (1636-1657). Therefore one may point out that several projects commissioned by a number of Grandmasters contributed heavily in the transformation of this natural valley into a majestic Baroque garden.
 
Razzett tal-Bagħal commissioned by Grand Master Lascaris 
Tal-Bagħal Farmhouse lower gate entrance with GM Lascaris Coat of Arms


Razzett tal-Bosk commissioned by Grand Master Lascaris 
Tal-Bosk Farmhouse


The initial Baroque transformation can be attributed to Grand Master Lascaris' great vision through his multitude of commissions, morphing his determination to imitate European Barque garden building trends especially the newly built garden at Versailles. Amongst others the most fundamental transformation by Lascaris was the construction of an imposing Baroque stairway leading from the Verdala Palace to a straight walkway, linking the Palace directly to the Fontana and hence to the main gardens (still visible today).


Coat of Arms of different Grand Masters who left their mark at Buskett 
      Some Escutcheons of various Grandmasters still found at Buskett - Photo credit: Eman Portelli


According to Fra Giovan Francesco Abela's – Descrizzione di Monte Verdala col Boshetto, 1647, during the period of the Knight’s 200 years stay especially during Lascaris tenure, a substantial amount of fruit and other decorative trees were planted. These helped creating the much cher-ished Boschetto gardens alongside the existing Oak and Poplar woodlands. This transformation entailed also the construction of game enclosures, complex irrigation works, several complex wa-ter fountains and even large fish tanks. In this process Wied il-Luq was also extensively modified with its banks reinforced by dry stone and ashlar walls, converting the original valley into an artifi-cial engineered water channel throughout all of Buskett, more or less, as it is known today.
The water engineered water culverts and four farmhouses were recently restored to their former glory. However a few buildings including several fountains were unfortunately known to have been dismantled during the British period to make way for the metal shed and additional tree planting areas.

 
Pathway at Buskett 
GM Lascaris path leading from Verdala Palace to the Vaulted Grotto

 
Apart from the historic aspect of Buskett, this 47 hectare fully engineered garden and its wood-land is also an important habitat for wood-associating species as well as for leaf-litter and for crypto fauna in general. These include a number of insects, woodlice and spiders which are only known at Buskett. Today Buskett is scheduled as a Natura 2000 site, both a Site of Community Importance (SCI) and a Special Protection Areas (SPA), therefore considered as being of National and European importance as this site has a concentration of Annex I habitats that is unparalled in the Maltese Islands. 
 
 
 View from higher grounds at Buskett