A coalition of 55 environmental NGOs, Spazji Miftuħa (formed to protect Malta’s precious natural open spaces) is resisting the government’s plans to hand over the management of two large areas of unspoilt wooded countryside at L-Aħrax and Miżieb in Mellieħa to the hunters’ organisation. The detailed terms of the government’s proposed deal remain clouded in secrecy.

As so often in Maltese politics, there is a long and unedifying history to this latest twist in the saga of these two stretches of land. It goes back to 1986 when the then Labour prime minister gave the hunters’ federation (FKNK) exclusive use over public land in Miżieb and l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa – an agreement which was subsequently endorsed in 1989 by the Nationalist Party then in power.

This hitherto unknown – possibly now even forgotten – hole-in-the-corner deal with hunters is indicative of the unique problems that lie at the very heart of Malta’s approach to hunting and the flagrant dispensing of the nation’s own land on a political whim.

What was wrong 30 years ago is about to be repeated today. Prime Minister Robert Abela is under pressure to bow to hunters’ demands to use public land – which his government is meant to hold in trust on behalf of the nation – to placate a minority interest group for short-term political gain.

Giving the hunting federation management of a so-called hunting reserve at L-Aħrax and Miżieb would allow them unfettered monopoly to shoot over a large swathe of beautiful countryside to the detriment of the rest of the population.

It must be resisted. The case for protecting and conserving Malta’s countryside has become imperative. The escalation in the increase in the island’s developed land mass of the last decade is evident for all to see.

It is incumbent on an administration which, under Abela, committed itself just five months ago to sustainable development, to treat the countryside and open spaces as valuable resources to be safeguarded. Hunting is the very antithesis of good land management, protection and conservation.   

Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Access to open spaces is important for relaxation purposes and for families to escape from the pressures of daily life.

The well-being and health benefits of outdoor activities cannot be underestimated. Family picnics, social gatherings, walking, jogging and cycling are incompatible with the so-called sport of hunting, which would close off L-Aħrax and Miżieb to such activities at least for long periods of time.

The majority of Maltese regard hunting as a vile and uncivilised sport. Hunters constitute a tiny minority as a proportion of a population that wishes to enjoy Malta’s increasingly scarce countryside. 

It is bad enough that during the hunting and trapping seasons ordinary citizens wishing to avail themselves of their right to enjoy the country’s open spaces find themselves confronted by hunters carrying guns and the sight of illegal hides and trapping sites littering the countryside. Giving them their own exclusive management of large wooded open spaces to the detriment of everybody else will only add insult to injury.

Abela has an obligation to act in the wider public interest to protect the countryside and open spaces from further encroachment by any single-interest group.

The precious heritage of Malta’s remaining diverse landscape, open spaces and great biodiversity must not be squandered by pandering to the unjustified demands of the hunters.

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