Environment is for all
From The Times of Malta
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
by Lino Bugeja
All nature lovers should be disturbed at the failure by political parties to make a political commitment to seriously address the beleaguered natural environment and coastal zones; and to give back to the people what by birthright belongs to them. Genuine ramblers are not pushing for any encroachment or expropriation but simply the right of accessibility, without hindrance or harassment, to our country lanes and foreshore.
Nature lovers’ aspirations go beyond the setting up of another agency recently announced
- Lino Bugeja
This is a key moment for politicians to speak up with conviction, without fear or favour, to stop the rot. Pantomime time is now over and we expect our new “emperors” to stop playing the environmental fiddle while the landscape burns. The natural environment of Malta “belongs to us all” especially embellished at this time of year with its “multi-coloured petals” on the rich garigue home of our honey-bee.
In the past, particularly in the Middle Ages, our ancestors, conscious of their rights to use common land and pathways, were continuously on their guard not to lose this privilege to anyone. When in 1492 many public ways were illegally privatised, expropriated or enclosed, strong representations were made to the Viceroy in Palermo and “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men” did manage to put our beloved country together again (with apologies to Humpty Dumpty).
In the light of the forthcoming election it is well to underline the fact that nature lovers’ aspirations go beyond the setting up of another agency recently announced, over and above the current ones, with the aims of co- managing our Natura 2000 sites. Come on Minister. Be real. This is more and more of the same, reminding us of a deja-v when 10 years ago, in February 2003, as reported in The Times of February 10, a co-management deal was struck between the Ministry of Infrastructure and an NGO in connection with an iconic historical and ecological site supported by EU funds. This deal was followed up by an academic seminar in a prestigious hotel chaired by the minister concerned. As expected, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site but gradually this much vaunted project fizzled out like a damp squib. To make matters worse this site is being claimed by farmers for their own exclusive use and access is even rendered extremely difficult. It is important to stress, most emphatically, that nature lovers, and that includes ramblers, are not claiming any rural or urban property but only “right of way” on designated paths, marked according to Maltese laws.
What is indeed very worrying is that those at the helm of our destiny are perceived to be losing all credibility resulting in a systematic numbing of the citizen’s sensitivity to the natural landscape as we sadly witness the erosion and clawing away of public property. Where is the genuine passion of yesteryear in defence of Ramla l-Ħamra Bay, considered for centuries as the abode of the nymph Calypso; or the struggle for decent accessibility to the idyllic Fomm ir-Riħ, a haven for bird life? Forgive me if I wax lyrical on this zone, as in the twilight of my life I recall the most ecstatic experiences 30 years ago as I watched the unearthly graceful flight of cranes across this bay. Here, in the company of a few friends, I endured a whole night on a bare rock in the eerie silence pierced by the incessant cries of young gulls, the croaking of frogs and other mysterious sounds with the gurgling perennial spring nearby. Have we all become so callous as to bid farewell to our “fields of dreams?”. Have our patience, resilience and tenacity been dissipated by constant failures and disappointments?
Our precious little island needs full protection as what is taken away is irretrievable. Can we get back the pristine valleys we have lost? A new form of green capitalism is emerging with Malta’s present “mulas” (lords) often grabbing previously public pathways and disturbing the whole ecosystem.
This is a sincere appeal, a crie de coeur, which I trust all political parties will heed with a solemn promise to present to the people a definitive map of the Maltese islands, to open up public pathways, to restore to the people land that has been illegally usurped and to resuscitate and implement the excellent recommendations by the national commission set up by the Government in March 2006 outlining “A Sustanable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands 2006-2016”. Both parties have now been engaged in the “Annie Get You Gun” syndrome of “Anything you can do I can do better”. This augurs well for Malta’s future but unfortunately the natural environment has been left out of the equation, and that is very disturbing indeed.
Lino Bugeja is the honorary president of the Ramblers Association.