It is so unfortunate that even in this election, the hunting and trapping issue has been put on the agenda when it doesn’t need to be there. There are many environmental issues that need to be tackled in our islands and this is the time for politicians to tell us where they stand about them.

BirdLife Malta has prepared 10 recommendations for political parties to include in their manifestos. Only two are on hunting and trapping.

The electoral promise by the Prime Minister to reduce the fines for those who break the law should be coupled with the fact that it is the government (one should say the police, but since this is Malta we say the government) that controls the level of enforcement.  So, by reducing the fines, and nullifying the enforcement, we have a hunting and trapping free for all. It is the physical presence of BirdLife Malta and other eNGOs that ensures there is a degree of enforcement.

So, considering all this, we would like to see the setting up of a dedicated and trained Wildlife Crime Unit in the police force. Furthermore, all environmental and wildlife legislation should be the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), which was specifically set up for such a reason. Birds are the only wild animals that do not fall under the remit of ERA.

When it comes to derogations, just as our politicians say that they should remain consistent with what they said, so shall we. We believe that derogations for trapping and spring hunting should cease and that the EU Birds Directive is clear on this matter.

Our government should lobby with the other EU Mediterranean countries to designate the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area for cruise liners

With Malta ranking first in Europe in urbanisation, we believe we need to protect the remaining outside development zones.  We have made a simple recommendation: the area of ODZ land must remain the same or increase. If a development proposal is approved inside an ODZ area, then another equivalent or larger area currently not ODZ must be designated as such.

BirdLife Malta would like to see the introduction of green roofs. To achieve this, we are suggesting that: 20 per cent of government rooftops should be converted to green roofs; an incentive to businesses to convert their rooftops to green roofs; and an incentive for homes especially in highly urbanised areas and the fortified cities.

Our proposal on education follows the same lines, where we suggest that all schools should have green spaces where children can learn academic subjects in natural surroundings. We recommend that all new schools built by the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) should be designed with this in mind and that a target of 50 per cent of existing schools should have designed green spaces within the next five years.

On our natural habitats, we believe that the management plans for all Natura 2000 sites should be implemented and conservation plans for marine SPAs set up. The ERA should be the regulator, while the execution of these plans should be given to eNGOs as operators. We also recommend that the areas in and adjacent to Natura 2000 sites should be pesticide-free.

We take our recommendations on pesticides a step further and suggest that Malta should become the first European organic country. Needless to say, our agricultural industry would need to be properly assisted in this measure.

BirdLife Malta is raising awareness on the levels of pollution in the harbour area coming from the cruise liners. They have power stations on board that are heavily polluting the area. Our government should lobby with the other EU Mediterranean countries to designate the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area (ECA) for cruise liners. Cruise liners should be obliged to use cleaner fuel, and another option would be to plug into the national grid when berthed.

We have also made a simple recommendation on waste:  all domestic waste should be separated. Furthermore immediate action needs to be taken to stop plastic from ending up in the sea.

Finally, our last recommendation is about NGOs on matters like VAT, as NGOs cannot claim VAT; and support funding for NGOs to apply for EU funds.

To date governments have always tried to fuel the economy to the detriment of the environment. Unfortunately, the debate in this election has been taken over by other matters, yet we have the right to know what each party is committing to do for the environment. After all, for this to be truly the best time for our country we need to have a healthy environment.

Darryl Grima is president of BirdLife.

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