The Malta Independent on Sunday, 22nd June 2008, by Francesca Vella –
BirdLife Malta is to submit an application to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) in a bid to regenerate an area at the side of the Is-Simar nature reserve in Xemxija, which is currently in a fairly dilapidated state.

The area, which acts as a buffer zone between the reserve and the main road, will be regenerated in a way that enhances the existing environment.

BirdLife development manager Nicholas Crockford told this newspaper that BirdLife intends to create areas with different types of habitat such as woodland, maquis and marshland.

He explained that although the area does not form part of Is-Simar as such, it still deserves to be well kept, particularly considering its proximity to the reserve.

The area will be embellished with benches and will be totally accessible for the public to enjoy. Information panels will also provide descriptions of the recreated habitats found in the area.

Mr Crockford said: “The concept behind this project is to bring nature closer to the people. It will be completely open to the public”.

BirdLife hopes to be able to start working on this project as soon as the permit is issued. The application will be submitted to Mepa this week.

Is-Simar nature reserve – Natura 2000 site

Up until the 1980s the site at Is-Simar was neglected and degraded marshland, used mainly as a dump. In the early 1990s, BirdLife Malta converted it into a sanctuary for wildlife, where nature now thrives and flourishes with full protection.

Situated in Wied il-Pwales at Xemxija, Is-Simar is now a mosaic of habitats, including reed bed, open pools and canals, an olive grove and hundreds of trees planted by volunteers over the years.

These habitats attract and support several forms of native wildlife, not least birds. The reeds and pools are especially attractive to shy aquatic species such as the heron, grebe, rail and kingfisher, and a number of birds also breed at Is-Simar, including the reed warbler and moorhen.

Other wildlife includes reptiles such as snakes, skinks and chameleons, as well as a variety of invertebrates that are still being studied.

The pools are home to the rare and protected killifish and a rare tassel-weed. Is-Simar is a fully protected bird sanctuary, a Ramsar site and is designated as part of a Specially Protected Area in the EU Natura 2000 network.

The site and its surroundings are off-limits for hunting and trapping, although hunters still break in occasionally to kill rare birds resting at the reserve.

Is-Simar can be enjoyed best by taking the nature trail around the reserve. A visitor centre complements the three bird-watching hides along the trail.

Apart from Is-Simar, BirdLife also manages the Ghadira nature reserve; both are wetland areas and represent the largest free-standing sources of water in Malta.

Both sites are also designated as Ramsar sites, an international designation that recognises their international importance as wetland areas.

They are vital to migrating waders, waterfowl, herons and other water birds that use the reserves as a resting refuge during their long journeys between breeding and wintering grounds.

Both reserves are also key breeding sites for several species that breed nowhere else in Malta. Ghadira and Is-Simar, with their rare habitats, migrant and breeding birds, varied biodiversity and peaceful surroundings, truly are rare gems in Malta. They are open to the public and also serve an important educational function.