Environment minister José Herrera has announced a €300,000 rehabilitation project at Majjistral Park as “compensation” for the controversial extension of hunting hours in the nature reserve.
The minister visited the park today for the signing of an agreement between the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the park management, a federation of NGOs.
The agreement will cover several projects, mostly over the course of the year, including removing alien species and planting indigenous varieties, restoring some 130 metres of rubble walls, as well as promoting the park to new visitors.
It comes a few months after the government angered environmental groups by unilaterally extending hunting hours in the park from 10am to 12.30pm between September and November.
Asked by Times of Malta about the controversy, Mr Herrera said the new agreement was meant to “compensate for the inconvenience” of the longer hours.
“I met with NGOs and they came forward with a number of counterproposals, including the need for more investment in infrastructural projects in the park,” he said.
He added that he had also met with Guardian for Future Generations Maurice Mizzi - who came out against the extension in a rare public statement - and would be considering his submissions as well, noting that the longer hours were not “set in stone”.
However, Din L-Art Ħelwa’s Simone Mizzi, part of the management committee, immediately took issue with the description of the new agreement as a trade-off, insisting by way of clarification that NGOs had been asking for funding for the park for 10 years and that they could not be “bought”.
Mr Herrera stressed that the investment was not intended to silence criticism, but again described it as “compensation”.
“NGOs were dead-set against the longer hours, but we tried to appease their other aspirations,” he said.
The park’s management - made up of Din l-Art Ħelwa, the Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust - have questioned the legality of the move, which it said had turned Majjistral into a “glorified hunting reserve” and limited public enjoyment of the park.
In December, the government agreed to a watered-down motion put forward by the Nationalist Party calling for consultation with all stakeholders following a controversial hunting allowing hunters and trappers to use the Majjistral Nature and History Park for extended periods of time each day.
The original motion had been put forward by Partit Demokratiku MPs Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia and would have scrapped the decision outright, reverting hunting hours to their original times.