Thursday, 28 February 2008

Fomm ir-Rih

Letter to MEPA Chairman re Fomm ir-Rih
Dear Mr Calleja,
Re: Situation at Fomm ir-Rih.

On behalf of the Ramblers Association of Malta I have to protest at the attitude MEPA is taking in respect of the situation at Fomm ir-Rih, now that the villa on top, Villa Delphino, is in the possession of new owner, Mr Joe Gasan. It is hard to believe that MEPA is unaware of the irreversible damage being done to this site that has Natura 2000 status. A Mepa Board Decision taken as far back as 1999 is being reversed and an Enforcement Order on fresh illegal development, instead of being ordered to be reversed as recently proposed by Minister Pullicino (his aerial photos scheme), is on the way to being sanctioned.

The full story starts with the military road which up to some years back was public property and gave access to the beach and the foreshore. It was closed illegally when a simple barrier that stopped wheeled traffic but allowed foot travel to the beach, was replaced by a metal door that barred all but the former owners of the villa who installed the metal door and built the adjacent high wall. Public access and constitutional right of way to the foreshore was thus denied, and public property usurped. All was done without relevant permit. For some time now RAM has been promised by various Ministers that the situation will be remedied.

To rub salt into the wound Mr Gasan has extended the military road in various directions in an area of exceptional beauty. Pristine natural habitats, scheduled under various denominations of conservation, seem to mean absolutely nothing to MEPA. The destruction becomes more serious when consideration is taken of the fact that these roads were not necessary and meant only to accommodate motorised sport and leisure of the owners of the villa (not necessarily the owners of the land and, certainly, not of the old road, beach and foreshore) in a highly sensitive and protected area. Rocks were broken and boulders removed to facilitate vehicle access to the shore, presumably for the owners to enjoy their water sport unhindered by common mortals.

Enforcement Notice 00466/07 was recently issued to put a temporary stop to the rampage and misappropriation. In accordance with Minister Pullicino's new measures it should have been followed by aerial photos to check what was there before and then have the illegality removed before consideration is given to any relative application. However Mr Gasan through his architects Martin Xuereb & Associates now puts in an application to "Reinstate and marginally extend security fence, planting of indigenous trees / shrubs and reinstating rubble walls in vicinity of existing dwelling, repairing damaged internal roads and footpaths." This is an evident fabrication:even the MEPA mapserver can reveal the ante-mortem. Besides, there was only one road stopping mid-way and certainly no damaged internal roads to repair. Only foot paths led to the beach and to the fields.

The "reinstating rubble walls in vicinity of existing dwelling" bit is also a 'clever' euphemism of scandalous proportions. Just consider that ten years ago the former owners also tried to enclose more land on the cliff edge through the construction of a wall without a permit. ECF01195/98 put a stop to this illegality. An appeal (826/98E) was lodged on the 9th November 1998 against the enforcement order but it was conclusively over-ruled by the decision of the Appeals Board on the 28th September 1999, confirming that the wall be removed within 16 days. Needless to say the enforcement order was never actioned and the wall allowed to stand. In the meantime more stone rubble was thrown behind the illegal wall for future use. Its time has now come.

Enter Joe Gasan who unashamedly applies to sanction the wall: Application 05953/06 - "To sanction existing rubble wall (whole rubble) and extend same to enclose private property." It is a brazen wonder of wonders that the "DCC 46-01A/07, held on 24th April 2007, approved the application in view that the height of wall is acceptable and keeps away people from damaging the natural habitat and fauna." What an act of hypocritical environmental heroism! Everybody else, Maltese or foreign, is deprived from enjoying the views from a cliff top, disturbed by the former owners themselves with dumping of rubble, while the new owners selfishly enjoy them from the top in comfort. Everybody else is denied foot access to the beach and foreshore while the new owners are permitted to abusively get there on sporty jeeps driving amid virgin land of abundant flora and fauna, in a conservation area specially scheduled exactly against such insensitivity.

And, please, spare us the pathetic pretext that the previous wall was refused for the reason that there was no permit and that the issue of maintenance was non existent. Walls over cliff edges are regulated by special conditions; need we remind MEPA of that?

This is blatant contempt of the law and it is MEPA's duty to put paid to this abuse with immediate effect.
Should the Authority not rise to the occasion the Ramblers Association will do everything legally possible to fight the injustice with the might of its numbers. Furthermore it intends to organise protests to reclaim the rights of civil society over the usurped areas.

Alex Vella


Ramblers Association of Malta

Freshly destroyed boulder screed to open vehicular road to beach. Destruction was carried out illegally and is irreversible in an area that falls under various schedules of conservation. Such crimes are punishable by heavy fines under the law and ought to be applied. The irregularity can never be sanctioned under EU conventions signed by Malta

The illegal high wall (marked in red)subject to ECF 01195/98, was ordered to be brought down by the Board of Appeal in 1999. DCC 46-01A/07 has now reversed the decision and sanctioned the works. Rubble was illegally dumped behind the wall (marked in blue). Its time has now come to be used.

Work being carried out without permit at Fomm ir-Rih. Note new road extension that is different in colour to old footpath, itself widened by vehicular use.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Ghar Il-Kbir & Fawwara - 24th February 2008

In what turned out to be a beautiful day, some 115 ramblers, including French, Canadians, Lebanese and British, turned up and were briefed by Alex with the bad news regarding Fomm ir-Rih.
From our meeting point at the Verdala Palace gate we followed a path that took us through Wied il-Buskett to the old Buskett Winery and up more paths and old quarries until we reached the famous cart ruts at Clapham Junction. We then trailed to 'la Roca,' a vantage point overlooking Wied il-Luq, passing again through lesser known woodlands, and uphill again till we passed over an underground flour mill planned by the British for emergency use during the Second World War.

At Misrah Ghar il-Kbir we stopped for a while to observe the troglodyte settlement. On reaching Dingli Cliffs, we turned to the left to reach an area called Wardija (from 'guardia' - look out position).
At this point, some 55 ramblers decided to take the shorter option back to the Verdala Palace, with Alex, whilst the rest continued the full walk as planned. From Wardija, the "full walk" group descended through Fawwara passing by the chapels dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and to the Annunciation, and up again to Gebel Ciantar and a close encounter with two cows (details of this encounter will be supplied to anyone sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope along with a donation of at least €100).

At the far end we could observe the paths we had just walked, the two chapels and wonderful views of Filfla. Heading inland again we descended along the marvellous Wied il-Girgenti stopping near the local shrine. Crossing the small bridge, we headed upwards along the beautiful Wied il-Luq and at Buskett, some walked, while others crawled over a rickety bridge, before the whole group reached the starting point from the other side of Verdala Palace.

Walk leader: Simon
Duration: 5 1/2 hours

Some photos below.

Verdala over Wied il-Luq

Verdala dwarfed by Asphodel (Berwieq)

Vagrant Hedgehog (Qanfud) snoozing in the sun

Taking a rest at Ghar il-Kbir

Giant Fennel (Ferla) from Fawwara

Verdala again, over Crown Daisy (Lellux)

Sunday, 17 February 2008

St Julians to Bahar ic-Caghaq 17 February 2008

In what turned out to be the coldest day for twenty years, some 64 ramblers, including French, Canadians and English ramblers, turned up for today's walk. We started at St. Julian's police station and followed a path that took us under the Manwel Dimech bridge that is currently being constructed. From there we went ahead to Wied Ghomor following some narrow paths and passing by the side of some fields until we reached Swieqi. From there we trailed to Madliena road and passed by some villas in Madliena. After passing the two telecommunications antennas on top of Madliena Hill we went down towards Wied id- Dis right under the bridge, stopping for a needed break. From there we continued along Wied id- Dis until we reached the area in Gharghur called tal- Ferha Estate. Entering Gharghur from the old main street we passed behind the church following another narrow street, often found in this quiet and typical Maltese village.

Reaching the other end of Gharghur, where there are some fantastic views of Qawra & Bugibba areas, we passed by a miniature replica of Gharghur parish church, went down towards Maghtab keeping Wied Anglu on our left. Passing the landfill, we then walked a part of the coast road until we reached Bahar ic- Caghaq, our final destination, where some rambler s had their cars parked, others caught buses back to St. Julian's while a few decided to walk back to the starting point.

Walk leader: Jack Vella
Photos & Article: Jack Vella
Additional help: Heidi, Felix & Simon

Reaching the end of Wied Ghomor

Lining up at Tal Ghoqod...

Going towards Wied Id dis

The wonderful seven-arched bridge

Having a rest, all together!

Ramblers having a chat under the bridge

Going down towards Maghtab

Reaching the coast road

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Gunther Jacobs Walk Rabat to Mgarr: Wed 13 Feb 2008

Dr Gunther Jacobs came to know of RAM late in January.
He attended the AGM of the Association on the 2nd February when he filled in his membership form, enrolled and answered the call for more walk leaders to come forward.

On Wednesday 13th February he led 20 odd ramblers on a long pleasant walk that from the Rabat led to the Chadwick Lakes up to the Nadur Tower and along the Dwejra lines through Bingemma Gap and finally to Bingemma fort.

Dr Jacobs intended to take the ramblers all the way to Kuncizzjoni, Fomm ir-Rih, Gnejna and Ghajn Tuffieha but that was too demanding on time and energy especially after the lucid explanations he gave with the aid of visual plates and plans of the British lines of fortification and the complementary buildings that were encountered on the way. After the brief at the Bingemma Fort, the ramble went down the hill to Mgarr church via Tas-Santi.

Transport was organized that at 1445 took the ramblers from Mgarr back to Rabat.
The Secretary thanked Dr Jacobs and wished him many more such initiatives. Dr Jacobs retorted that he really enjoyed the friendly welcome and attention he was given and is looking forward to his next walk on Wednesday 20th Feb.

Walk leader: Gunther
Duration: approximately 4 and 1/2 hours

Warming up to the Walk at Rabat.

Knights' Fountain - Source for water to the Aquaduct

Merged Mosta & Naxxar as viewed from Dwejra.

Dr Jacobs detailing the Victoria Lines at Dwejra

Dilapidated gateway to gallery

Ditchworks in total abandon

Ramblers taking shooting position at gunposts

Others taking in the sights on Bingemma Gap

Bingemma Chapel, dedicated to il-Madonna ta' Ittria

Another view of Bingemma chapel

Down to Mgarr via is-Santi

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Walk the Line 10 February, 2008

Around 35 ramblers turned up for this walk, crossing Malta along the Victoria Lines, from sea to shining sea. After some rain early in the morning, (possibly causing some faint-hearted people to cancel), the weather was clear for the rest of the day.

We started from the west, at the Kuncizzjoni/Fomm ir-Rih end of the line , and followed the line closely right to the end, at Madliena. The only deviation was in crossing Wied il-Ghasel, where the lines are destroyed by the quarry, and right at the end, where a residential building abuts onto the lines.

Tonio's video on the Victoria Lines can be viewed on youtube:

Walk duration: 5 1/2 hours
Length: 17 km
Leader: Romano
Asst Walk Leaders: Simon, Jack, Felix and Tonio.

Felix addressing the multitude on the history of the Victoria Lines.

Just after the start

Crossing Bingemma valley, the "Bingemma gap"

Il-Madonna ta' Ittria chapel, otherwise known as Bingemma chapel, founded in 1680 by Stanislaus Xara.

Descending a tricky part, just below the Mosta Fort

It-Torri ta' Qalet Marku

A view of Bahar-Caghaq

A well-deserved rest