Hunters get Miżieb and l-Aħrax: Minister to sign deal with FKNK

Spazji Miftuħa hits out at FKNK memorandum from Lands Authority and ERA for stewardship of Miżieb and l-Aħrax grounds

Mizieb: A lush woodland that is unique in the Maltese islands. Photo: James Bianchi
Mizieb: A lush woodland that is unique in the Maltese islands. Photo: James Bianchi

Malta’s hunters will be given a formal agreement on Sunday that will give them more control over two traditional hunting grounds in Mizieb and l-Ahrax, which are popular recreational areas for the Maltese public.

The FKNK will be granted a from the Lands Authority for the land but also a memorandum of understanding from the environment minister and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on environmental measures, monitoring and patrolling of the area, awareness activities and to ensure all public passageways remain open to the public.

Malta has a long autumn hunting season that stretches from 1 September to 31 January, starting two hours before sunrise to 7pm, and is allowed on Sundays and public holidays till 1pm.

It is unclear what sort of access the FKNK will allow the public during the long hunting seasons.

A spokesperson for the ministry said there are other guardianship deeds that will be signed with a number of environmental NGOs.

“Initial agreements with NGOs will be finalized in the coming weeks. In the meantime, regarding Aħrax and Miżieb, our Ministry and ERA have agreed with FKNK on a separate agreement intended to guarantee certain environmental safeguards and access to sites – the details of which will also be announced shortly.”

READ MORE Remains of protected species found in Mizieb ‘bird cemetery’

The coalition of 60 entities, mainly environmental and cultural NGOs, known as Spazji Miftuħa, expressed surprise over the news.

“The decision to do this was heavily contested when the idea originally came out early this year and the issues that concerned this coalition remain unsolved. Both Miżieb and Aħrax are two large woodlands, a rather rare habitat in Malta, and five times the size of Buskett. The coalition primarily demands that the general public should be allowed to access all the public land within Miżieb and Aħrax all year round. It reminds the Prime Minister that while FKNK is a registered NGO it does not fall anywhere close to many other NGOs whose aim is to work for the common good.”

The PN also called for the full publication of the memorandum of understanding with the FKNK. It said the government had not consulated with the Mellieha and St Paul’s Bay local councils.

Spazji Miftuħa said FKNK’s sole interest was to have space for a small segment of its members to hunt. “They have already done so illegally for a number of years when they closed access without the legal right to do so. FKNK had also erected signs illegally and allowed its members to build structures for their pastime without the necessary permits. These had been reported by BirdLife Malta a few years ago and a fresh report was submitted by the coalition on this matter.”

The FKNK claims Mizieb is a legal hunting reserve, by virtue of an agreement signed by former Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, which placed the woodland under the “administration” of the FKNK.  But magistrate Charmaine Galea dismissed the FKNK’s claims, noting they had failed to present a site plan of Mizieb and an authentic copy of the elusive 1986 agreement. 

BirdLife had said that the decision confirmed that Miżieb and Aħrax are in fact public land and that the countryside was free to all. “Since 1986, during the hunting season, anyone who is not a hunter was denied access to such grounds unless duly authorised – something which should now change.” 

“The Government is gifting these public lands to an entity that has taken more from our country then it could ever possibly return. This sends out the message that in Malta you can be unaccountable for your actions and even be gifted if this is gainful for the politicians on election day,” Spazji Miftuħa said.

“The coalition feels that there is a great sense of anger and frustration brewing amongst the majority of the Maltese public that are witnessing the destruction of our natural and cultural spots for the pleasure of a few and the pockets of some others. The Prime Minister must start realising that political gain is by far not a justification to abuse our country’s resources and that if he remains insensitive to these issues he will be remembered as the leader that had no regard to our nature and cultural heritage.”

Last year, the government had announced it would collaborate with the hunting lobby on a management plan at Miżieb, after the Environment and Resources Authority and Ambjent Malta concluded an extensive analysis of the fires which had engulfed the area between 22-23 June 2019

Around 180,000 square metres of Miżieb woodlands were affected by the fire, representing about 25% of the whole afforested site. Some 4,600 trees were destroyed, most of these including the Aleppo Pine, Olive Tree, Gum Trees, and blue-leaved wattle. 

Miżieb is predominantly an artificial monospecific forest plantation of Aleppo Pines, mixed with invasive alien species, making them highly flammable species.