Perhaps, a referendum on nature and ‘development’…

Perhaps one can join this campaign with another moratorium on planned development in pristine areas and on the need of a skyline policy

The other day I visited a very old friend of mine, a good man. He lay in bed, very sick and frail, a pale reflection of his former self. His beautiful eyes spoke volumes, as always. But alas, he could not talk.

I recall reading his articles in The Times of Malta forty-odd years ago. As a 13-year-old, I would rush off the school bus and buy a copy of the newspaper from the Three Church’s Bar, tucked away in a corner that joined Balzan, Attard and Lija. The bus driver, which I picture with impressive Freddie Mizzi sideburns, was then good enough to let me sprint down to the bar and return back up for the trip to school.

I remember sending a hand-written note to the author about his articles, asking him if I could join him on his trips and walks.

It would become a small awakening on the beauty of nature and of the dire state of our limited countryside and wildlife.

42 years ago, Malta was already under a building rampage, with its countryside a dump, hunters and trappers shooting at will at anything, sewage pouring out into our bays, and landfills burning round the clock.

42 years later I would have loved to sit down with the same man I knew and recount to him how Malta had changed, in some ways for the better and others for worse. How better Malta was looking, how kind and unkind its people were to nature, and how careful they were not to disfigure the surroundings around them.

It was not the time to tell this story, not with so the recent massacre of White storks.

My visit came a day or two after the majestic White storks had been gunned down from the sky, killed not by some stranger but one of many hunters who own a shotgun and who simply get a kick by seeing a bird, any bird, gunned down in front of their very eyes.

42 years ago, as I alighted from a pale-blue Mini Minor together with Joe Sultana in the early hours of the morning, I knew I was going to experience a brave new world. I discovered a small island home to a myriad of living creatures, habitats and biodiversity. I also learnt of the immense destruction of nature and the cruelty that Maltese and Gozitan hunters and trappers meted out to birds and nature.

I remember listening to Joe’s dreams to have laws to control hunting, nature reserves, protected islets such as Filfla and of stopping the barbaric killing. He managed to achieve many of these dreams. It was a challenging time, when laws did not exist, and neither did the conscience to sound off one’s ideas and beliefs.

But some things did change.

42 years later, Malta has changed, but only because we were able to drag this little country into the European Union and with that the obligations to protect our nature, and declare land as protected. Without EU accession we would have had no rules. That was the first step.

There has been a widespread reluctance in all major political parties to take green issues seriously. And most people, though they may be more aware, are generally reluctant and unwilling to cross the line and take on the politicians for what they do not stand for.

The killing of White storks has been sacrilegious, but it also shows that the vast majority of hunters are willing to break the law given the smallest of chances.

Joseph Muscat continues to believe, even though he has an unprecedented electoral majority, that the hunters are a lobby to be respected and reckoned with. And he has no qualms in seeing that they are given the space to operate.

So it is time to shake the system again.

Last time in 2015, a referendum to block spring hunting was lost by a few hundred votes and only because Muscat intervened to save the day.

The reckless and criminal behaviour of those who think they own the countryside needs to be stopped once and for all. We need to stop hunting.

Perhaps one can join this campaign with another moratorium on planned development in pristine areas and on the need of a skyline policy. Because it is obvious that we need to take the referendum to new heights – a vote that will be bring red, blue green and orange votes on one side against the lethargy of the political class.

For years now we have been blackmailed by a group of men who argue that they have a right to plunder nature because hunting is a natural pastime and is natural.

Well in this dynamic economic motor called Malta, which boasts of a modern society, the answer should be a very strong and resounding no.

It will be a more exciting and purposeful campaign than the European parliamentary elections, which when one sees it at face value is simply a costly exercise to give six MEPs a wonderful pay package and pension for nothing in return.

We owe it to our children and to the heroic Joe Sultana, that one day we can look up in the sky and see the majestic White Storks soar over our small islands without the fear of being ripped and maimed by Maltese ‘hospitality’.

If it takes another referendum, then so be it.

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