BirdLife Malta con­cerned about fu­ture of Si­mar Na­ture Re­serve

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

● Plans to al­low build­ing de­vel­op­ment in the sur­round­ing Natura 2000 area could ma­te­ri­alise in the near fu­ture

BirdLife Malta said in a state­ment yes­ter­day it would like to ex­press its se­ri­ous con­cern about the pos­si­bil­ity that the area sur­round­ing its Si­mar Na­ture Re­serve in Xemx­ija could be sub­ject to build­ing de­vel­op­ment which would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the habi­tats which make the re­serve a pro­tected bird sanc­tu­ary and a unique Natura 2000 site.

The area next to the re­serve is char­ac­terised by two-storey houses which have how­ever been al­lo­cated the pos­si­bil­ity to in­crease to four floors in the North West Lo­cal Plan of 2006.

To date most of these de­vel­op­ments have not ma­te­ri­alised, how­ever there is now a se­ri­ous con­cern of the area be­ing fully de­vel­oped in the near fu­ture with a risk of the per­mit­ted build­ing height to be higher than four floors. This may hap­pen in re­la­tion to other de­vel­op­ments in the area such as ho­tels which are al­lowed even higher floors ac­cord­ing to spe­cific poli­cies for the site.

Al­though this par­tic­u­lar area is not tar­geted for high-rise de­vel­op­ment, what is be­ing pro­posed seems to be in line with other de­vel­op­ments be­ing per­mit­ted over the is­lands as part of a high­rise pol­icy which is cur­rently un­der fire due to sev­eral con­tentious pro­pos­als such as the 38-storey tower be­ing pro­posed in the heart of Sliema and the four-tower de­vel­op­ment ris­ing up to 20 storeys in Mrieħel.

BirdLife Malta would like to re­mind the au­thor­i­ties that Si­mar Na­ture Re­serve sits within a des­ig­nated Natura 2000 site which in­cor­po­rates within it, parts of the Pwales Val­ley and Miżieb.

The north­ern bor­der of the re­serve is also the bor­der of the Natura 2000 site which ta­pers around a de­vel­op­ment zone that in­cor­po­rates Xemx­ija. Over­all, the whole area gains from the des­ig­na­tions of a Spe­cial Area of Con­ser­va­tion for its habi­tats and a Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Area for its birds apart from be­ing an area of eco­log­i­cal im­por­tance and a bird sanc­tu­ary.

In this re­gard we urge the En­vi­ron­ment and Resources Au­thor­ity and the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity to take an im­me­di­ate po­si­tion that this would not be al­lowed due to the sen­si­tive na­ture of the Natura 2000 site of Si­mar.

BirdLife Malta in­sists that all Natura 2000 sites should be pro­tected at all costs es­pe­cially since Malta has the high­est build­ing den­sity in the Euro­pean Union.

The area where the Si­mar Na­ture Re­serve stands today was up till the 1980s used as a dump. Back then, the saline marsh­land was in a very poor con­di­tion, the orig­i­nal habi­tat was com­pletely de­graded and only small rem­nants of it re­mained.

The site was con­verted into a wet­land re­serve in 1992 by BirdLife Malta. The area now con­sists of man­aged wet­land habi­tat of saline marsh­land and coastal la­goons, an over­all rare habi­tat for the Mal­tese Is­lands thanks to which sev­eral birds are now breed­ing ex­clu­sively at Si­mar.

In 2014, Mepa is­sued and ap­proved a man­age­ment plan for the Si­mar area which de­fines de­vel­op­ment as ex­ert­ing pres­sure on the ecol­ogy of the site man­age­ment. The same plan also en­vis­ages an ex­pan­sion of the re­serve, in line with a North West Lo­cal Plan pol­icy which also sug­gests an ex­pan­sion of the ex­ist­ing na­ture re­serve.

It is im­por­tant that the na­ture re­serve as well as the Natura 2000 site main­tain a buf­fer area to the na­ture re­serve. This would guar­an­tee min­i­mal im­pact on the pri­or­ity habi­tats of the area, as well as main­tain the nec­es­sary con­di­tions that make the site a bird sanc­tu­ary.

Apart from the im­me­di­ate im­pact of con­struc­tion and use of heavy ma­chin­ery on the po­ten­tial of the re­serve, other long term concerns from more in­ten­sive de­vel­op­ment of the sur­round­ing area next to the re­serve in­clude noise and light pol­lu­tion gen­er­ated from build­ings im­ping­ing on the na­ture re­serve, and heav­ier traf­fic flow due to more res­i­dents in the area.

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