A walk in the park, 10 years on
Various events are being held to mark the anniversary of Il-Majjistral, Malta’s largest national park
In September 2007, the area from Ir-Ramla tal-Mixquqa (Golden Bay) to Il-Prajjet (Anchor Bay), together with ix-Xagħra l-Ħamra, was declared a national park by the government through Legal Notice 251 of that same year. It was given the name of Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park and, with an area almost as big as Comino, it became the largest natural park on our islands.
The park includes six kilometres of protected coast designated as part of a larger Special Area of Conservation of International Importance within the Natura 2000 network of sites, as per the European Habitats Directive, and a large stretch of garigue (xagħri), a habitat listed in annex one of the directive.
The park offers the ideal habitat for more than 430 species of wild plants, some of which are endemic. It is also home to other wildlife including a good number of breeding blue rock thrushes (merill), our national bird, the short-toed lark (bilbla) and a few pairs of corn bunting (durrajsa), a breeding bird which has become almost extinct locally – Il-Majjistral park is, in fact, one of the few places where this bird still breeds. Between 150 and 200 pairs of Yelkouan shearwater (garnija) are estimated to breed along the coast in the park. This number is quite significant when one considers that 10 per cent of the worldwide population of Yelkouan shearwaters breed on our islands.
But the park does not only attract birds. Last year, a female Loggerhead turtle chose Golden Bay, whose sand dunes’ ecosystems are a rarity locally, to lay its eggs. These eventually hatched successfully.
Apart from the wildlife, the cliffs and boulder scree (rdum) offer magnificent views of the coast. Walking in the park also gives one a sense of wilderness and open space, which has become very rare on our islands.
Il-Majjistral is being managed by the Heritage Parks Federation consisting of three NGOs, namely Din l-Art Ħelwa, Nature Trust Malta and The Gaia Foundation and they are involved in coastal management, cultural restoration and environmental protection. The management is overseen by a supervisory board, composed of representatives from the NGOs, three from the public sector, a Mellieħa local council representative and an independent chairperson nominated by the Minister for the Environment.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary, the park is organising a number of special events apart from the now popular ‘Talk & Walk’ activity during weekends, which consists of a presentation at Il-Majjistral Visitor Centre followed by a walk in the park. Also planned are courses on different topics such as the propagation of local trees and other plants as well as wildlife photography and sustainable gardening.
The management is working together with a five-star hotel to organise special events commemorating the anniversary, with participants attending an interesting talk at the hotel followed by dinner.
In November, a tree-planting activity will be held together with the Facebook page group The Grow 10 Trees Project. The tree planting will be held in the afforestation area within the park, an area which up to 2009 was just an abandoned dumping ground and is now already home to about 1,500 indigenous trees and shrubs.
Numerous schools have already joined guided tours of the park. During the coming scholastic year, the park will be again available for special educational lessons consisting of a short documentary and a guided walk highlighting the main features of the park.
The park is open 24/7. Check out upcoming events on the park’s website http://mt.majjistral.org or its Facebook page or subscribe to circulars online. One can also download the Majjistral Park App which is available free of charge from Google play and from the App store. The app can help one plan a walk in the park and can be also used as a guide to identify wildlife one is likely to encounter.
For more information and bookings for school visits, private guided tours, team-building activities and more, send an e-mail to [email protected] or call on 2152 1291.
Richard Cachia Zammit is an events organiser at Il-Majjistral.