Ministers refused Majjistral compromise and steamrolled extended hunting hours

Majjistral park chairman Sammy Vella reveals ‘unmitigated folly’ and refusal of compromise solution to extend hunting and trapping hours

Malta's parliamentary secretary for animal welfare, Clint Camilleri, is a hunter: Sammy Vella said he refused the demands, but was told to find a compromise solution
Malta's parliamentary secretary for animal welfare, Clint Camilleri, is a hunter: Sammy Vella said he refused the demands, but was told to find a compromise solution

The chairperson of the Majjistral nature park’s management, Sammy Vella, has revealed the pressure placed by government ministers to relax hunting restrictions.

Now in its tenth year since the park was opened after a plan to turn it into a golf course was shelved, Vella said plans for a celebratory programme were dash by “an appalling bombshell”.

Hunting was only allowed in the park up till 9am, but when Labour was elected in 2013 it demanded an extra hour of hunting. Now hunting hours have been increased to 12:30pm and 2:30pm for trapping.

The park is managed by three environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Helwa, Nature Trust and Gaia Foundation.

“I was summoned before [environment minister] José Herrera and parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri to be told that it had been decreed that the hunting and trapping hours would be increased.

“Camilleri made it very clear that he had been delegated by higher authority to godfather this new legal notice. My reaction was, understandably, not very understanding. I considered it my duty to call a spade a spade. It seems the Hon. Camilleri is allergic to spades because I was, subsequently, taken to task by Herrera for failing to demonstrate sufficient deference to the newly appointed parliamentary secretary,” Vella said.

Vella said he made his position clear that extending hunting hours would throw the park’s activities into total disarray, referring to an “uneasy apartheid” between ecologists and gun-toting hunters. “It was inconceivable that hunters and trappers would now be allowed to operate in the Park while we had eco-tourists, school children, youth organisations, researchers, nature excursionists and hikers enjoying the vibrant biodiversity of the park.”

He described the government’s demands as a full-frontal attack on the viability of the park. “I could never acquiesce to such a proposal. This would render the management of the park extremely problematic and chaotic – and possibly hazardous. Indeed, should I have agreed to these proposals, it would have been incumbent on the Minister For The Environment to remove me from my position.”

Vella described Herrera as having appealed to him to find a compromise solution, warning that the Cabinet would take a decision on the matter.

The board reluctantly suggested that extended hunting and trapping could take place within the boundaries of regularly leased agricultural land, where visitors are already told to avoid trespassing.

“We could have saved our breath. Our compromise solution was shot down the very next day. But we kept on milling around the same spot trying to persuade Minister and Parliamentary Secretary to desist from pushing this proposal. They kept asking us for compromises. But what they were really asking of us was capitulation. The message became very clear. They call the shots – and we comply.”

Vella said there was simply no way that nature visits and hunters could be accommodated in the same place at the same time. “The suggestion is purely preposterous and needs to be condemned without reservation. We have made one compromise after another to try to accommodate the hunting lobby whilst retaining a modicum of sustainability and viability for the Park. Any further encroachment would render the Park just another hunting reserve.”

Vella said he appealed to the Prime Minister to use his authority to stop this proposal, but Joseph Muscat asked him to find a compromise.

“It appears the gods were not sufficiently appeased and insisted on their pound of flesh. This is a management concern. It has nothing to do with anybody’s views on hunting and trapping. It’s a matter of how you manage the two contrasting and mutually excluding activities on the same land.”

Vella said mixing the two activities would be “unmitigated folly”, because extended hunting hours would chase away nature lovers, children and eco-tourists for the duration of the season.

Vella said the compromise proposal was a win-win solution, and was insisting that hunters earn their “conservationists” title by agreeing to the solution.

“I must appeal to the Prime Minister and to all his Cabinet to reconsider what they have done. I entreat them to reverse this amendment and allow this oasis to be enjoyed wholly and wholesomely and serenely by our families, our schoolchildren our eco-tourists and nature lovers as a whole.”

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