Public access to Miżieb and l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa will remain unrestricted except during the hunting season as has been the case since 1986, hunting federation president Joseph Perici Calascione has insisted.

The federation is under mounting pressure over a plan mooted by the prime minister in a cabinet meeting to come to a formal management agreement with the hunters and pay them for the maintenance.

Sixteen NGOs have come out against the plan, objecting in principle to giving over recreational areas for the exclusive use of a particular sector of society and insisting on full disclosure of the agreement terms.

Sources have told Times of Malta that, under the plan, the federation, FKNK, would carry on using these sites as hunting reserves while taking more responsibility for managing them, possibly by employing nature wardens to enforce littering and other regulations.

One of the possibilities under discussion is to set up an oversight committee made up of the Environment and Resources Authority and parks agency Ambjent Malta. 

Perici Calascione confirmed that talks with the government were ongoing.

“Cabinet has discussed the possibility of extending the hunting reserve agreement signed in 1986 concerning Miżieb and Aħrax with new conditions and accountability on issues like pruning, planting of trees and the deposit of soil,” he said.

The FKNK has long claimed that, prior to that agreement, the two sites resembled rubbish dumps, but that thousands of trees have been planted and rubble walls constructed since then.

This is definitely not the way to dispose of open spaces- NGOs

“Nothing will change on the ground, as people will still be able to enjoy the sites as they do today,” Perici Calascione said.

FKNK members clean both areas of the waste which members of the public leave behind every weekend, he added. They also prune trees and cater for the general upkeep.

“So far we have never had any issues on the use of land, so long as it is not harmful. Whenever there was any request to hold a valid event, an agreement was always found.”

As for the hunting season, public access would continue to be banned, normally up to noon as it is now, including for safety reasons, he said.

In a dig at Birdlife, he pointed out that contrary to other nature reserves, which they run, such as those at Għadira and Simar where a perimeter fence prevents public access, Aħrax and Miżieb would remain open for the rest of the year.

‘Secret’ agreement

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, a group of 16 NGOs demanded clarity on the agreement and requested a meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia.

Apart from asking for the publication of the agreement, they expressed concern it would hinder the public from enjoying these spots for nine months of the year, saying the hunting lobby wanted exclusive access during open season to hunt quail, turtle dove and rabbits.

The NGOs also questioned why no official pronouncement was made on the agreement and claimed the prime minister had bypassed the Lands Authority.

“This is definitely not the way to dispose of open spaces and we fully believe that the public, and not a single lobby, should be given priority when it comes to open recreational spaces,” they said.

“In this particular moment, when most of the country is self-isolating at home, we find it appalling that a lobby can be given two large open spaces such as these, without proper consultation and in total secrecy.

“This is not the lobbying transparency we have been promised. Moreover, the government does not have an electoral mandate to hand over open spaces to lobbies,” they added.

They also called for the decision to be postponed pending a “proper consultation process” while expressing their intention to contest any decision taken on this matter in every way possible.

The statement was endorsed by Archaeological Society of Malta, Bicycle Advocacy Group, BirdLife Malta, Din L-Art Ħelwa, Extinction Rebellion Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Futur Ambjent Wieħed, Għaqda Siġar Maltin, Isles of the Left, Kamra tal-Periti, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust Malta, NASoM (Noise Abatement Society Malta), Outdoor Recreation and Camping Association Malta and Ramblers Association Malta.

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