We shall all be forgiven for coming up with the impromptu suggestion of “Let’s do a barbecue!” most weekends in summer. It’s one of the fun ways of spending some time in the open, doing the English picnic the Maltese way, with most of the males in the company generally enjoying the barbecuing procedure even more than the females.
Barbecues have, to some extent over the past decades, become a national pastime and most evenings, most sandy or rocky beaches can be seen alit with fires accompanied by jovial chitchat and song.
But the bubble burst suddenly, one recent summer, when it was unceremoniously announced that beach barbecues were becoming restricted or even prohibited. Nobody knew for sure how, where and why, but most people could make a wild and approximately correct guess on the last interrogative.
Let’s face it – we can be, to put it gently, rather careless where the disposal of our rubbish is concerned. Many of us can be utterly uncaring about it. So I can imagine that while most evenings display a scene of bonhomie, camaraderie, warmth and enjoyment, most early mornings display scenes of discarded bags of litter, charred barbecue remains, still sizzling ambers, quite a few abandoned plastic cups, plates, knives et al, glass bottles, broken glass bottles, discarded napkins, discarded (and soiled) nappies, endless cigarette stubs… the list goes on.
So early morning bathers or sunbathers are left with a miserable sight of oftentimes dangerous leftovers, and the cleaning team which arrives to try and rescue the situation usually takes ages to sieve the dirt and debris through the sand.
Did we bring these restrictions upon ourselves? Some of us most certainly contributed heavily on angering some local councils to the point of inflicting the limitations which were eventually set upon all of us.
As things stand, a few seaside locations have seen their local councils create by-laws that prohibit barbecues on their local beach. Others have set up restrictive regulations that demand that anybody barbecuing on their local beach gets a signed permit which is usually issued against the payment of a nominal fee.
Since there is no blanket law to cover this issue – one must play it by ear and by phone, literally calling the local council within whose parameters the beach one is eyeing falls.
At times, those sitting in the council office claim they have no authority to give advice and one is told to call the mayor on a mobile phone just to see whether the barbecue can be arranged or not. If permits are required, these must be gained… days ahead of the event.
Take Mellieħa Bay. A barbecue being organised for less than 15 persons does not require a permit. However a barbecue cannot be held on the sandy part of the beach but only on a stipulated part of the entire bay area. If the event promises to involve between 15 and 50 people, then one must get a permit against which one must pay a fee of €10.
Another favourite bay is Ramla l-Ħamra on Gozo. Again, a phone call will inform you that while barbecuing on the beach is not prohibited, the barbecue cannot be held on the sand but only on the rocks at the beach’s extremities.
And while the Xagħra council does not issue permits nor demand payments for such, it will sensibly advise you not to leave any litter or garbage on the beach.
An application form from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is required and applicable only in the case of commercial organised events, especially those being organised in special conservation areas that are protected by law.
And so, the best advice is to plan ahead, contact the local council within whose precincts the bay or beach you want to hold the barbecue on lies, and get your official act together, whether permits and fees are required or not.
On a personal level, you should arm yourself with a handful of garbage bags, a cardboard box to hold larger litter and the proper utensils to clean charcoal remains from your barbecue grill.
Remember to allow plenty of space in the boot of your car/s to carry this garbage back with you for disposal in appropriate public garbage bins. Advise your partying friends to refrain from throwing cigarette stubs, tissues and other litter on the beach and to cooperate in your endeavour of keeping the bay clean and tidy.
And finally remember to take a couple of hand-held torches with you to make the final cleaning expedition that much easier all round.