Illegalities and environmental crime are still rampant in Aħrax and other rural recreational areas like Miżieb and Imġiebaħ, in Mellieħa, despite the promise of more patrolling rangers to control dumping.
Volunteers who visit Aħrax regularly to clear litter are constantly finding mounds of rubbish strewn across the idyllic Mellieħa countryside, with mounds of plastic litter and remnants of food waste accumulating in spots popular with picnic-goers and camping enthusiasts, Mellieħa councillor Gabriel Micallef told Times of Malta.
Last week, a volunteer clean-up of the picnic sites in Aħrax yielded 17 bulging black bags full of litter, apart from the discovery of other illegalities such as fire pits and felled tree branches, likely used to fuel fires on the arid topsoil.
The hunter’s federation, FKNK was last year handed over management of the Aħrax and Miżieb woodlands in a controversial agreement, which was set to include the training and engagement of patrolling environmental rangers to monitor the site.
Sites kept clean by volunteers
In December, three rangers trained by the Environment and Resource Authority began patrolling Natura 2000 sites under the direction of Ambjent Malta, with the promise that the team would expand to a total of 13 rangers by 2021.
However, these have yet to materialise and there is no information as to what stage of training potential rangers may be in and when these might begin patrolling the large swathes of land that comprise the Aħrax and Miżieb woodlands.
FKNK president Lucas Micallef told Times of Malta that the conservation officers, as described in the agreement between the FKNK and the government, had not yet been engaged but were expected to be engaged by the government “soon”.
“We have been maintaining these sites, much as had been done these past 40 years thanks to volunteers, with annually scheduled clean-ups organised by the FKNK engaging thousands of volunteers who invest hours of work,” he said.
“Unfortunately, weekend after weekend, especially over the past year and a half, we are encountering more and more misplaced litter all over these areas. We have increased clean-up engagements and we are also in the process to install more adequate litter bins, skips, signs and CCTV systems for better enforcement.”
“We have engaged in meetings with Ambjent Malta, the Mellieħa local council and the ERA to continue to coordinate work to keep these sites clean. We need to ensure better education and raise awareness among members of the public that make use of these areas and also establish a self-regulated aspect to continue making use of such recreational areas without leaving any negative footprint in our environment.”
No reply from Environment Minister
Councillor Gabriel Micallef said he had written to Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia in May requesting assistance in the form of more resources and the engagement of more rangers to tackle the issue, however, this has, to date, gone unanswered.
“These places should be able to be enjoyed by the public without negatively impacting the environment. Unfortunately, week after week, we are faced with of garbage being disposed of disrespectfully and without regard to our environment. In Mellieħa, there is so much civic spirit that a group of residents offer their time each month to clean up these areas. How long will this vicious cycle continue? When will we take concrete action to truly protect these areas,” Micallef said in his letter, seen by Times of Malta.
“After the way these places are being selfishly treated, I cannot express my frustration other than to ask that support and more resources be invested in these areas. The local council has limited resources and authority to stop this growing problem.”
“While I appreciate the work that is being done to improve these areas, I would like to advocate for more rangers to be assigned. Rangers who have the responsibility of educating the people who frequent these areas should be given the opportunity to enforce the law. It costs a considerable amount of money to clean up these areas. This money could easily be used to protect these important areas and be a holistic investment to achieve the desired management. We have the ultimate responsibility to protect these areas for future generations. With the right approach, we can achieve a better end result for the benefit of our communities.”
Questions sent to the Ministry for the Environment were not answered.
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