Guardian of green heritage

Guardian of green heritage

Almost a year ago, the Minister for the Environment, José Herrera, had announced the setting up of Ambjent Malta along similar lines to those already successfully in place for Heritage Malta. While Heritage Malta focused on the protection and oversight of the cultural heritage and historic sites, Ambjent Malta would be tasked with coordinating and supporting efforts related to the safeguarding of environmental heritage.

The other day, Dr Herrera said the establishment of Ambjent Malta had met some hurdles and implied these were mainly bureaucratic and financial in nature connected to “the collective powers in the Cabinet”. But he was optimistic that these would be overcome. He conceded that the need for Ambjent Malta was long overdue.

Although considerable progress has been made in the conservation and management of built cultural heritage through the setting up of Heritage Malta over a decade ago, the protection of the natural heritage has lagged behind.

The spread of construction across the countryside is a major environmental concern. There is almost unanimous agreement that the countryside needs to be more stringently protected.

Malta’s accession to the European Union in 2004 made it increasingly incumbent upon the government to move away from treating the countryside as a cheap resource to be developed and to understand that it is a valuable asset to be safeguarded through good management, protection and conservation measures. As a result of membership, Malta designated 34 terrestrial Natura 2000 sites under EU legislation. It also took action to protect and manage other nature sites under national legislation.

But other natural landscape areas are also in need of conservation, incorporating agricultural areas, spots of scenic beauty and coastline. Some have been scheduled, but many are still unmanaged and subject to serious development pressures. Clearly reflecting the pressure the population feel the countryside is under, many people would probably agree that Malta should enjoy a far greater number of protected nature sites.

There is an imperative need to protect the remaining countryside; to prevent further loss of natural heritage and biodiversity; to safeguard the important economic role of the countryside, such as tourism; as well as to fulfil Malta’s legal obligations under both national and European legislation.

The country’s rural policy, which was published in 2014 ostensibly as a stimulus for the regeneration of the countryside, has led instead to the perception that it was a pretext for promoting new construction development in the countryside.

It is hoped Ambjent Malta will lead to the policy being revised to ensure that rural buildings are adopted to modern use and preserved for posterity, not demolished.

Moreover, the advent of the new entity should bring with it a national management structure to oversee all protected natural areas in Malta under the regulator (the Malta Environmental Resources Authority).

The hope now must be that Ambjent Malta’s belated creation will lead to much tighter and better organised responsibility being exercised over the management of all protected areas in this country by different site managers and their proper financing and marketing.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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