Ministers hide from press and sign away Miżieb and Aħrax woodlands in closed event

Ministers avoid public event after outrage over land stewardship agreement to hunters, given away for symbolic €200 grant

No press required: public lands are given to the hunting fraternity with four ministers pre-siding over the agreement
No press required: public lands are given to the hunting fraternity with four ministers pre-siding over the agreement

The Labour government has signed off the Miżieb and Aħrax lands to the hunting fraternity FKNK, claiming that the ‘picnic areas’ will remain open to public, with management and cleanliness upkeep obligations for the FKNK.

The signing took place behind closed the doors and without the press being invited to ask questions.

The signing was presided by transport minister Ian Borg, environment minister Aaron Farrugia, Gozo and ‘hunting’ minister Clint Camilleri, and junior minister Chris Agius, as well as the Lands Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The FKNK was allowed to draw up its own project plan delineating the site, and will be allowed to determine which areas are accessible to the public or not in both sites. The sites will be accessible to the public only when there is no hunting season: which includes both the two-week spring hunting season, and five months of autumn hunting.

The FKNK will also determine which public areas can be designated as picnic areas, save for areas during which these will be closed in the hunting season.

Even better for hunters with a track record of illegalities, the FKNK has only been obliged to ensure that no illegalities take place in the sites “within [the FKNK’s] reasonable power”.

The FKNK will only have to pay the State a mere €200 annually as consideration for the  grant, apart from its other upkeep obligations.

In an initial reaction, BirdLife Malta said the signing of the agreement without any press and prior to this coming Sunday as originally planned, shows the direction of the government to bulldoze over the public opinion. “BirdLife Malta promises that it will continue working so that rather than going back to the old times, we move towards a healthier natural environment. BirdLife Mata encourages the general public to voice their anger at this disrespectful attitude by Prime Minister Robert Abela by attending the gathering at Miżieb.”

Opposition leader Bernard Grech said the could not accept that public land be closed off without valid reason, but did not commit itself to have the woodlands removed from hunters’ control. “Government arrogance has stood out yet again with the governmnet signing an agreement before its publication... the PN says this agreement must undergo scrutiny before being signed, and all stakeholders be invited to the table to express their concerns.”

The government said the coastal perimeter will remain in the public domain and sites must remain accessible to the public, while parts designated for hunting must also remain accessible, excluding during fixed hours which are clearly displayed during the hunting season.

FKNK will be allowed to designate dedicated picnic areas and camping sites for the public.

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Conservation officials will be given full access to ensure the law is observed and to guard against any abuse or illegal hunting, while a joint monitoring board will be created, including local council representatives, to ensure that obligations are fully met.

Minister Clint Camilleri, a trapper himself, who is also responsible for hunting and trapping, said “hunters and trappers know where they stand with this government because it never tried to fool them.”

Camilleri said that with these agreements, “FKNK are also ensuring that they will take care of the place and that public paths remain open to the public.”

“We are looking to consolidate things well,” transport minister Ian Borg said. “We are giving access and a dedicated space to those who practise hunting, like we see in several other countries around the world with dedicated spaces during their season…

“We therefore want to ensure the protection of the public domain, and that we have accessible and well-kept spaces to further aid the improvement of quality of life for people while also making space for the practice of a popular pastime to this NGO.”

Environment minister Aaron Farrugia said the ERA had laid down a number of obligations to ensure proper administration of the sites, implementation of a number of environmental measures, monitoring and enforcement patrolling, educational activities, and the adequate involvement of stakeholders.