A farmer in the Fiddien Valley has closed off access to a public footpath, claiming it forms part of his land, according to Nature Trust, but the landowner says the situation has been caused by a protracted issue with the authorities.
The footpath, which is no longer visible as it has been ploughed by the farmer, was part of a route allowing the public to walk along the valley and Chadwick Lakes area, Nature Trust said on Saturday.
In a statement, the environmental group said that it was disheartened to see such “abusive behaviour” and urged authorities to intervene and restore public access without further delay.
However, the landowner told Times of Malta he was already in contact with the authorities in an effort to resolve the situation.
"There has never been any unwillingness on my part to find a just and lasting solution with respect to my legal and property rights and the public’s enjoyment of this beautiful jewel that is the Chadwick Lakes area."
The landowner said works by the authorities to formalise a path passing through the field would have resulted in more than a sixth of the property being "abusively and illegally" taken up.
He said works had stopped pending a resolution to the issue but in the meantime, the path ended at his field and began on the other side, with the result that walkers were being "encouraged to trespass".
Nature Trust has been given the responsibility to manage the Chadwick Lakes area, following a January agreement with the Energy and Water Agency and Environment and Resources Authority.
The dispute over public access to the area is the latest in a spate of such disputes concerning access to rural areas, with Nature Trust expressing dismay at the increasing number of people “claiming that land is private and arbitrarily closing it off to the public.”
The NGO also noted the inadequacy of the Lands Authority, which has yet to fully digitise its land ownership records and therefore says it is unable to verify land ownership claims at the touch of a button.
“In 2021, this state of affairs cannot and should not be acceptable,” Nature Trust said.
It thanked the EWA for helping to try and solve the dispute.
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