Plans of the Miżieb and Aħrax woodlands show restricted picnic sites

The government has tried to put to bed accusations of underhandedness in the signing the agreement for a token €400 annually

The two picnic sites selected by the FKNK, in yellow, at Miżieb: these are the areas next to the small parking area at the centre, and mouth, of the reserve
The two picnic sites selected by the FKNK, in yellow, at Miżieb: these are the areas next to the small parking area at the centre, and mouth, of the reserve

Plans of the Miżieb and Aħrax woodlands that the Labour government has placed under the guardianship of Malta’s hunting lobby FKNK, have revealed miniscule tracts of land that will be solely reserve for “picnics”.

Public outrage in Malta was palpable yesterday after four ministers held a behind-close-doors signing event with the Lands Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority and the hunting lobby FKNK, signing of the two woodlands as hunting reserves.

The government has tried to put to bed accusations of underhandedness in the signing the agreement for a token €400 annually, saying both reserves were being administered by the FKNK, under different administrations, for the past 34 years. “The Federation, with the help of its members and volunteers, had always taken great care of the area, by cultivating trees, and maintaining kilometres of rubble wall,” reads the statement.

The Aħrax plan as selected by the FKNK
The Aħrax plan as selected by the FKNK

The government said the fait accompli deal yesterday “formalised and regularised what has been in practice for decades” and assured that the general public will have free access to these reserves all year round, “the same access they have had for the past 34 years.”

“This agreement ensures that the public road and passages will remain open at all times. Picnic and camping zones will remain as now and new camping sites will be added… All of this at the same time as new obligations are imposed on the FKNK to ensure that the environment is safeguarded.”

The government is claiming the agreement is no different to the nature reserves run by conservationist NGO Birdlife, such as the Salini public zone, for which it receives financial assistance every year to administer and safeguard the Salini reserve – which is open to the public.

“This government will see that natural zones in Malta and Gozo are administered by NGOs. These NGOs have the experience, know-how and dedication to ensure they are kept at their best. Thanks to the agreement between ERA and FKNK, the upkeep of the natural habitat is guaranteed. A number of obligations for ERA have been put in place in this agreement and will be enforced by the Directorate of the said authority.”

The agreement was presented to the public as a fait accompli, having already been signed by the parties. The public’s reaction to the news was not a positive one.

According to the terms of the agreement, public access to the sites is allowed “except for during specific times of day during the hunting season/s” but does not specify what those times of day are.

A Memorandum of Understanding concerning the two sites only states that FKNK must ensure public access to “all public passageways and thoroughfares”. 

Autumn hunting season, which runs from the beginning of September to the end of January, allows hunting from two hours before sunrise to two hours after sunset, as well as until 1pm on Sundays and public holidays. Hunting hours are further extended by other hunting seasons, such as spring hunting season for quail or summer season for wild rabbits.

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