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An innovative approach to environment protection

Creativity is all about thinking outside the traditional "boxes". It is viewing the world from a different perspective. Many times, many organisations that want to leave a positive mark on their members and localities aim at "building" or "developing" a structure or an area. Two local councils have this frame of mind.

Last week I attended a joint presentation by the Sannat and Xewkija local councils. In this presentation, the two councils put forward their idea for a regional park at Mgarr ix-Xini.

The first positive aspect of this project is that it brings together two local councils. It is evident that this joint effort is already creating synergy and that the two entities are moving much more forward together than they would have managed on their own.

The second positive aspect is that the project does not deal with "development" in the traditional sense but, rather, with the protection, safeguard, sustainability and enhancement of the area's eco-system.

Finally, the project does not generate the classic hostility between land and property owners in the area on one hand and ecologists on the other. The concept is one of inclusiveness, rather than exclusivity, of those who own a piece of land or who live in the four-kilometre area of the proposed regional park. No interference with private property is envisaged within this project.

This approach to protected area management is an innovative one for the Maltese islands. It is inclusive and people-oriented.

The primary idea is that of restoring and reconstructing damaged rubble walls and providing information points for all those - Gozitans, Maltese and tourists - who will take a beautiful walk in this rich area.

As the project description statement put forward by architect Lino Bianco correctly explains, Mgarr ix-Xini valley is a steep-sided valley running north-west to south-east to the fjord-like inlet of Mgarr ix-Xini, which served as a haven for many galley fleets during the past centuries. According to tradition, Gozitans were gathered by the Turks in this valley in the 1500s before being taken into slavery. Moreover, many Gozitan legends have the area as their backdrop.

The area is rich in bio-diversity. It supports significant plant communities and important bird nesting sides. Localities With Conservation Value in the Maltese Islands' (Ministry of Education, 1987) describes the valley as "the finest local example of a classical, steep-sided creed... (supporting) the very rare Spanish broom (genista), wild populations of aloe vera (sabbara) and the extremely rare shrubby champion; it is also one of the few remaining areas where the barn owl (barbagann), a species nearly extinct from the Maltese islands, breeds".

This concept is entirely grounded in the spirit of the Council of Europe's European Landscape Convention which incorporates the social and economic aspects into the environmental fabric of landscape protection and management. In fact, the convention aims to "provide a new instrument devoted exclusively to the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe".

Furthermore, the project is totally in line with many of the European Union's policies and directives in this sector, such as the Habitats Directive (92/43/EC), which set up an EU-wide ecological network of special conservation areas. It also meets a number of goals established by the European Biodiversity Strategy.

I am proud to say that all this is being done by an energetic team of Gozitans and Maltese who have this project at heart and who are now waiting to be granted the necessary permits to carry out the works. I am positive that, once the project is approved, it will be in a position to apply for EU and private financing for its funding.

This is one concrete manner in which local councils can help enhance the environment and also help create new sustainable attractions for quality tourism.

I congratulate the Xewkija and Sannat local councils, both of whom are Labour-led, for taking this innovative initiative.

Mr Muscat is a Labour member of the European Parliament.

www.josephmuscat.com

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