Times of Malta, 9 April 2008, by Ivan Camilleri –

Brussels is increasing the pressure on the government to give more protection to substantial areas in the Ta’ Ċenċ plateau and not only to the cliffs there.

Following the approval last week by the European Commission of Malta’s list of sites to be included into the Natura 2000 protected network, a spokesman for the Commission told The Times yesterday that discussions are still ongoing over Ta’ Ċenċ.

According to sources, legal action is not excluded if the government does not make a move on the matter.

The government has designated the zone around the cliffs of Ta’ Ċenċ as a special protected area (SPA) under the Birds Directive. However, the European Commission wants the area to be given a higher level of protection and to be declared as a special area of conservation (SAC) so that it would also fall under the rules of the EU’s Habitats Directive. This, however, would mean that the protection guaranteed under EU rules will have to be wider, covering inland areas of the Ta’ Ċenċ zone.

“The Commission considers that the list for Malta is nearly complete. However, there are still some discussions going on to finalise the list, including on the need to include Ta’ Ċenċ as an SAC,” a Commission spokesman said. The Commission has been consistently insisting on this issue for the past two years.

In January 2006, following a seminar in Brussels for government and NGO officials on the preparations needed to compile Malta’s list of protected sites, the Commission “welcomed the commitment of Malta to actively consider the site of Ta’ Ċenċ, currently designated as a special protected area, to be proposed as a special area of conservation”. Despite this commitment, Commission sources said no further action had been taken by the government.

“An SAC protection level for Ta’ Ċenċ will mean that future development is further restrained in this important ecological area. We don’t agree with the Maltese authorities and maintain that protection should not only be given to the cliff area but also to other parts of the plateau due to the importance of certain fauna and flora,” the sources said.

According to the sources, it is not being excluded that the Commission will start legal proceedings against Malta on the issue.

It is not yet understood why the government has not acted to alter the Ta’ Ċenċ area’s level of protection.