The Malta Independent on Sunday, 3 January 2010, by Noel Grima –
After three years of lobbying by NGOs, especially by Din l-Art Helwa, the government announced two years ago that the area around Xaghra l-Hamra was to be turned into a national park, il-Park tal-Majistral.

A board of management was also appointed, composed mainly of NGOs, and a detailed management plan was drawn up, which has been approved by the government and by Mepa.

Patrols have been initiated as well as organised clean-ups, a huge rubbish dump has been cleared and trees planted.

But only minimal progress has been made so far, reported Martin Galea, executive president of Din l-Art Helwa, writing in the latest issue of Vigilo, DLH’s magazine.

First there was the issue of hunting, “a highly charged hot potato”, as Mr Galea describes it. At the beginning of summer, the board of management took a vote to allow restricted hunting in the park before 9am. The NGOs on the board wanted a full ban and voted against.

But another important issue regards vehicular access to the park. The board of management wants to restrict access: you cannot have a nature and heritage park with uncontrolled access by cars, it argues. This is a fundamental step that will allow the damaged garigue to be restored, ensure that the area is kept clean and the illegal structures removed. But no decision has been made so far.

The issue of access is now of critical importance, Mr Galea wrote, and needs to be resolved immediately. “At present, much of the clean-up work is for nothing as individuals with or without an ulterior motive dump mounds of rubbish as soon as we clean up the area.”

The vision behind the creation of the Park tal-Majistral, Mr Galea wrote, derived from a plan to save what is left of the countryside in the northwest of Malta, from Cirkewwa down to Dingli and Wied iz-Zurrieq. This is a largely unspoilt area that is rapidly deteriorating under the pressure of development.

“The idea is to have a national park which would manage the area and rehabilitate the damaged areas, rebuild rubble walls, remove rubbish and illegal structures, plant trees and other endemic bushes. These would be controlled; some would be accessible by foot alone and other areas by car, principally where roads exist. Farmers would be encouraged to use organic methods and Maltese and tourists alike would be encouraged to visit and walk among our most spectacular countryside.”