Malta’s countryside takes on a different and normally short-lived perspective with the approach of the winter season in December. For most of the year, the days are bright and the skies are clear, but during late autumn and winter there are a few days when the sun remains obscured behind thick, dark clouds, and twilight seems to have started from early morning.
Hardly ever does the sun not brighten up the day even for a few minutes, but during such rare prolonged twilights the Maltese landscape has a charm that often attracts the attention of photographers and hits front pages of newspapers.
Well-equipped ramblers walking in the open in such rain-threatening dark skies enjoy a particular feeling of excitement and anticipation of wet and frigid conditions that generates inner warmth and vigour to stroll harder to experience first-hand that charm of wild, wintry open scenery. It takes really inclement weather, when hard, driving rain soaks even ramblers’ protective clothing, to make them give up a ramble. It seldom happens, but for example, the Gozo walk on November 10 had to be abandoned near Marsalforn due to a strong rainstorm.
That we are having quasi-tropical weather is often blamed on climate change. However true that may be, not enough is being done by the local authorities to limit the harm we are inflicting on the environment.
Only recently, Transport Malta bragged about new methods of reporting poisonous emissions. But improved reporting adds up to nothing when offenders receive only warnings or lenient charges.
Lack of enforcement favours lawbreakers
The Wasteserv initiative on domestic organic waste and waste selection is very positive but what are lacking are enforcement measures. Wasteserv should take measures against the proliferation of plastic bags, because the regulation on bags is a joke, as handle-less bags are lavishly distributed. Moreover, publicity on waste collection and days also needs to be transmitted in English in view of the increase of foreigners.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is not doing enough to ensure that only sustainable development is allowed, and to insist that brazenly speculative development that is ruining our cultural and natural heritage and putting at risk the health of our nation, be refused. The ERA seems never to pass from words to action in spite of blatant evidence that needs no verbose reporting.
Some of the Planning Authority’s planning decisions violate its own policies and regulations, especially with major projects of heavyweights in the building industry and other people of influence. It is of major concern that policies are not strictly enforced, sometimes despite its case officers’ reports.
Lack of enforcement favours lawbreakers as it prevents a level playing field. Daring business people who open shops of whatever enterprise they want without permission make a mockery of the strict Use Classes Order, including environment protection and safety provisions and other requirements that the PA imposes on lawful entrepreneurs.
Open vehicle and boat parks, heavy machinery storage yards, junk yards, vehicle repair garages, and storage areas are examples that come to mind. Besides their negative visual impact such unfair competition also damages the aquifer.
When I raised such issues during my time on the board of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) from 2013 to 2016, the excuse was that the authority had no resources and funds to enforce. Now that the PA has become a money-making machine, it is incomprehensible that the unfair situation persists.
The recently opened consultation about ‘Area of mixed uses Burmarrad’ proposes, among other things, “to designate the site currently covered by policies NWCM 8 and NWSP 26 of the North West Local Plan into a Commercial Area”. If this is the case then it pays to break the law!
The Ramblers are organising seven walks during December, all circular, which everybody is invited to join. It is important that newcomers choose walks that are suitable to their walking ability. When in doubt they should start with the walks graded as easy, then decide whether to join moderate ones.
For further information call 9949 7080 or 7733 2433, or e-mail email@example.com. All Sunday walks start at 9am and those on Wednesdays start at 2pm. Appropriate clothing and non-slip shoes are very important.
Sunday, December 2: L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa – a moderate to hard coastal walk on rough terrain of three and a half hours starting from the car park near the caravan site at Mellieħa Bay.
Wednesday, December 5: Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq surroundings – a moderate to hard scenic walk with some steep inclines starting near the Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq roundabout.
Sunday, December 9: Ridges and Valleys – another moderate to hard walk with some sharp inclines. A very scenic route that starts from the chapel of San Pawl tat-Tarġa, Naxxar.
Sunday, December 16: Għar Lapsi to Għar Niffied – a rather hard walk, sometimes on high ground, so a good head for heights is essential. Not suitable for beginners. Meeting place: Għar Lapsi.
Wednesday, December 19: Lunzjata area – an easy walk in the wonderful countryside between Rabat and Dingli lasting some three hours. It starts at the Dominican priory in Rabat.
Sunday, December 23: Fiddien, Għemmieri – a moderate walk along rustic buildings and countryside starting at the Roman Villa in Rabat involving some four hours of walking.
Sunday, December 30: Mystery Walk – Being the last walk of 2018 it will be an easy and pleasant walk of cultural and scenic interest, starting from and returning to the Dominican priory in Rabat.
Alex Vella is executive president of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta.
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