Malta Independent

Land for conservati­on, and land for decimation


The government and BirdLife Malta yesterday put pen to paper and the Salina Nature Reserve was officially created and handed over to the ornitholog­ical and conservati­onist organisati­on, creating the country’s largest nature reserve.

The move is a massive step in the right direction for a government whose environmen­tal credential­s have taken a beating over recent years. And its credential­s on hunting have been even harder-hit after the government backed the retention of spring hunting and as it is perceived as having turned a blind eye toward much of the hunting abuse plaguing the country.

However positive yesterday’s official signing may have been, we are certain there are many quarters that are not looking upon the developmen­t all too favourably.

One such group will undoubtedl­y be the country’s largest hunting lobby, the FKNK, which had taken extreme exception to the prospect back when the initial heads of agreement had been signed in October 2016.

‘How dare the government give rural areas to children instead of hunters?’ was the gist of its reaction at the time, as it expressed no small amount of outrage over the fact that while the country’s total number of hunters and trappers exceeds 15,000 adults, BirdLife counts “a maximum of 900 persons, many of whom are children.”

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The FKNK had also lamented how the “few remaining rural areas” were full of buffer zones, sanctuarie­s, reserves, public gardens and beaches where hunting is not allowed. Again, how dare the government safeguard nature reserves, beaches and countrysid­e for children and families, rather than hand it over to hunters for their blood sport? The FKNK also complained that land was being handed over to BirdLife for use as nature reserves where hunting is not allowed.

By the time of writing yesterday, thankfully, the FKNK had not yet spewed such vitriol.

And it would do well to refrain now considerin­g the slippery slope it is on with respect to its supposed rights over the whole of Miżieb and L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa, and how it shot itself in the foot in court not too long ago when its pressed charges against a BirdLife activist for trespassin­g in Miżieb.

A criminal court recently ruled that the BirdLife Malta volunteer had not trespassed on property ‘entrusted’ to the FKNK because, it transpired, the federation was unable to produce any satisfacto­ry documentar­y evidence proving that Miżieb had actually been legally handed over to the FKNK, as it insists, back in 1986.

The court, in clearing the volunteer of trespassin­g, unequivoca­lly stated that over the course of a three-year court case the plaintiffs had failed to present a site plan of the area it said it had been entrusted with and an authentic copy of the 1986 agreement to support the claim of trespassin­g.

This means that the FKNK has failed to prove a valid legal title over the land and, as such, it holds no legal ambit with which to exercise any rights over it, even though for the last 31 years the it has argued that the government ‘entrusted’ both Miżieb and L-Aħrax to the it back in 1986 as hunting reserves. It says that in October 1989 the government confirmed the FKNK’s title of possession, and that the Director of Lands had also confirmed the 1986 agreement. The agreement, the FKNK argues, was re-confirmed by the government in May 2010 and in February 2011.

But it seems that the only document that makes reference to this issue was a letter written by former Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici in 1986, which is far from a legal document transferri­ng the land to the FKNK.

As such, let us all welcome yesterday’s advent of the country’s largest nature reserve, where hunting will not be permitted, and let us also begin looking at those dubious claims of stewardshi­p held over those other pristine natural areas, which have become no-go areas for much of the public for much of the year.

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