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Volunteer enters fifth year of tending to Europa Foreshore

Local volunteer Bart Van Thienen has pledged to continue his work on the Europa Foreshore with the project seeing many re-introduced indigenous plants flourishing and spreading their own seeds.

In 2017, Mr Van Thienen concluded his work removing invasive plants at the Europa Foreshore, started to plant indigenous flora and assisted others in recolonising the area.

He has been carrying out his voluntary work in the exposed rugged corner of Gibraltar since 2013, clearing away over 20,000 square meters of invasive plants.

He also carried out work clearing these plants from the private gardens of the homeowners at the Europa Foreshore.

“At first they did not want me to do anything to their garden and then when they saw the work I was doing they were like Bart we would like you do our garden,” Mr Van Thienen said.

He notes that they have all been very appreciative of his work.

Bart Van Thienen at Europa Foreshore (7)

Due to the nature of plants and the fact some roots will stay in the ground, Mr Van Thienen has a continuous maintenance programme for the area where he removes any regrowth as soon as it visible.

He estimates that it could take five years before there will be no reoccurrence of the invasive plants, such as that from the Hottentot Fig.

Bart Van Thienen at Europa Foreshore (2)

Regarding the planting of indigenous plants, he has been assisted in this by Greenarc who propagated cuttings of plants such as Gibraltar Sea Lavender and the Alameda Gardens who re-potted them and tended to them before Mr Van Thienen could plant them.

At part of a test on the Gibraltar Sea Lavender, Mr Van Thienen watered one with normal water and another with seawater for six months.

“The difference in growth is significant and the ones watered with sea water have a much higher survival rate when planted out at the Foreshore,” he said.

Over the past two years, Mr Van Thienen has continued work on this indigenous plants reintroduction program. Some of the species he has planted aside from the thriving Gibraltar Sea Lavenders are Sea Daffodils and Ice Plants. He said, “the Sea Daffodils have really taken to the area and a growing, I was concerned they might not but they are adapting well.”

He also noted that he was happy at the rate the Ice Plants were growing.

In November last year it was revealed that a new species to the area the Autumn Squill was found, bring the total to 137 species in the Europa Foreshore.

When he is not ripping out invasive plants or planting indigenous ones, he is working with Greenarc propagating more plants.

At present at the Greenarc premises he is growing, Sea Hollies, Sea Heath, Gibraltar Sea Lavender and Shrubby Sea-blite and Sea Heath. Some are from seeds and some from cuttings.

Bart Van Thienen at Europa Foreshore (8)

Many of the plants that are being propagated from cuttings, the Shrubby Sea-blite and Sea Heath, have roots and will be ready to be planted at the Europa Foreshore in the coming weeks. He feels that without Greenarc support he could not carry out the work he does so effectively.

“There are some areas where there is a decline in some of the plants for whatever reason, construction, loss of habitat, more people and plants get trampled,” said Alan Brownbridge, director of Greenarc.

“If these plants are lost it is not just the plant but also what goes with it such as all sorts of insects and bugs, butterflies and birds.”

Bart Van Thienen at Europa Foreshore (1)

“We are trying to keep up with the pace of anything that is lost, any species that we see is on the decline we propagate them and put them in certain areas where we know we will not cause any disruption or damage to them.”

Mr Van Thienen also works closely with GONHS and the Department of Environment.

While also down in Europa Foreshore, Mr Van Thienen takes a large bag with him and collects the rubbish left by those using the area.