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Craving for a room for our view

The National Environment Policy, which incorporates various aspects of the environment is, in many respects, like a breath of fresh air.

...I feel that the draft environment policy should not in any way signify a relaxation of protection to public pathways...- Lino Bugeja

During my recent brief sojourn at proud Mater Dei Hospital, craving for the sight, sound and fragrance of our beautiful countryside and coastal zone, I could make a critical analysis of this document, still in draft form, inviting one and all for comments and suggestions. In my opinion, the policy reveals a serious lack of emphasis and direct affinity with the natural environment in the form of the people’s right to access our countryside and coastal zones. People are now sick of shadows; they are hurt and sickened by arrogant signs instructing them to enjoy the countryside from a distance. It is now common knowledge how accessibility to zones previously open to the public have been usurped with impunity and rendered impassable due to harassment and intimidating tactics.

In the circumstances, I am inclined to literally accept Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, the Environment and Culture Mario de Marco’s recent invitation (September 6) of “a room for a view”. For a start, I only limit my focus on the Dingli/Baħrija segment as this area is indicative of the chaotic situation in Malta and Gozo.

Oh what a fantastic view from Qattara Heights! A “room for my view” from this vantage point would reveal the beleaguered troglodytic settlement of mediaeval Simblija in Wied Ħażrun, which has now been rendered inaccessible to all. Signs leading to this iconic zone have been rudely removed and those who dare walk along the pathway risk an aggressive confrontation. This settlement, so rich in history and heritage, which includes the lost chapel of Ta’ Callus, was very professionally and tastefully rehabilitated two decades ago by the government assisted by EU funds through the Aramis project.

From a “room for my view” at magnificent Kunċizzjoni Heights overlooking the secluded bay of mysterious Fomm ir-Riħ, I could capture the sweeping, breathtaking panorama of Ras ir-Raħeb and Ras il-Pelligrin and the forbidden territory of coastal zone recently retrieved by the Land Department for all of us to enjoy. But, alas, access to this pristine bay is precariously dangerous making it virtually inaccessible. Since time immemorial, Fomm ir-Riħ was a haven for farmers, fishermen and ramblers only to be closed up, ironically, in the wake of our independence in 1964.

Oh, how I crave for “a room for my view” overlooking the fantastic promontory of Il-Qlejgħa tal-Baħrija, the site of a Bronze Age village now fenced off. Such sites, humble abodes of our beleaguered forefathers in prehistoric times, are part of our national patrimony and, by birthright, belong to us all. From my room with a view I may catch a glimpse of the grain silos and many archaeological remains dotting the area but watching from a distance deprives us of enjoying the spirit of place. From this vantage point, armed with good binoculars, I may sadly watch our national water crab (il-qabru) limping away from the valley below not to the open sea, as in the case of the turtles, but to gradual extinction.

Need I say more?

Personally, I feel that the draft environment policy should not in any way signify a relaxation of protection to public pathways and all nature lovers should urge the government to listen to our deep concerns. I have to acknowledge, however, that in a country where land tenure is complex and, in a way, feudal, it is not easy to find solutions except by legislation that gives the people access to the countryside and coastal zone as recommended by the national commission set up by the government for 2006-2016.

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