Rubble walls – and why they matter

The traditional Maltese structure of rubble wall is gaining some attention lately. It is being appreciated like never before. Possibly due to its rural characteristics and increased awareness of its role in biodiversity. Perhaps because they look cool. But rubble walls are built to serve very important functions.  

The rubble wall was a structure that our fathers used to cross their fields but they were also crucial to safeguarding the soil and preventing erosion. It is a particular craft as each stone needs to find its place and be placed one by one. Without these walls, the soil would have been swept away by rainwater to the detriment of farmers.

Over time, this craft was lost as a consequence of a number of rubble walls being destroyed and replaced by modern means which while resembling the traditional wall but could never quite have the same impact — especially visually. Apart from this, the function of protecting soil is more important now than ever, as we can hardly afford to lose this important resource.

Without these walls, the soil would have been swept away by rainwater to the detriment of farmers.

The reality is that the framework for strengthening the local ecosystem could never be as strong as it could be when the rubble wall is skilfully built. The fact that it is being actively resurrected is benefitting the environment, and reversing a degree of environmental deficit that man has created over the years.

On Saturday, the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC) and the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change & Planning held an award ceremony for the completion of the course on dry stone rubble wall craftsmanship. The fact that this important craft is being kept alive is significant indeed.

The work of the awardees will be invaluable particularly in governments’ efforts to restore valleys and, wherever possible, even in urban areas, to build these walls to create biodiversity corridors that enhance the services that nature gives us, such as clean air, food and a better environment for our health.

A cared for and healthy environment contributes to a better level of health for the community. There is clear evidence that nature contributes to cleaning the air and thus reducing respiratory diseases. There is also evidence that nature, even in urban areas, gives a sense of peace and enjoyment that leads to a better quality of life — what we now refer to as wellbeing.

With heavier storms and heavier rainfall, rubble walls will be instrumental in our strategy to adapt to these effects.

A healthy ecosystem benefits pollinators that are crucial for food security. Rubble walls are also beneficial for reptiles and other important insects — not to mention the variety of flora that grows within and as a result of rubble walls. Such training provides the ability to build the framework for richer ecology and more resilient biodiversity.

This brings us to climate change. With higher temperatures than we are accustomed to as well as heavier storms with heavier rainfall, rubble walls will be instrumental in our strategy to adapt to these effects. This is because the rubble wall prevents the soil from being carried away by the waters while providing protected, shady, and lower temperature spaces where species can find shelter — a point in favour of our food chain.

The BICC has done an excellent job in providing these courses and having the vision as well as the perseverance that it believes in the regeneration of this craft and that it is being an instrumental institution to strengthen the skills in the construction sector.

The BICC, through the Skills Card is acknowledging skills in the sector as well as giving formal recognition to those who acquire them.

In today’s society, recognised skills give the worker a leap in his competitiveness in the world of work — and this craft is one that will undoubtedly be valued even in economic terms that will improve quality of life and create new opportunities.

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