26 April 2010

Joint Press Release – BirdLife Malta & Din l-Art Helwa

The Foresta 2000 afforestation site in Mellieha was once again the target of vandalism when 104 pine trees were cut down in two main areas on a hill on the east side of the nature reserve.

The pine trees were left scattered on the ground, with most of them too damaged to be saved. They were the ones replanted by public funds raised after the vandalism attack in May 2007 when around 3,000 trees and shrubs were uprooted and cut down.

The site is the largest afforestation project in Malta, managed by BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Helwa and PARKS (of the MRRA). The discovery was made this morning by the site’s warden who described the scene as “heartbreaking”.

Several attacks against BirdLife Malta have occurred at the Foresta 2000 site in the past. The most recent was last Thursday, when a BirdLife Malta Spring Watch team was ambushed and attacked by people throwing bricks at the car on the road past the Red Tower in the Foresta 2000 site. On the same day, a vehicle used during the evening watch had two tyres slashed with a knife.

In April 2009, the Foresta 2000 warden was ambushed and shot at and had pellets lodged in his head. Several other incidences in the area such as the burning of a BirdLife billboard, burning of parts of the Ghadira nature reserve and direct threats to BirdLife staff and volunteers have also occurred over the past few years. To date, no one has been brought to justice.

BirdLife Malta and Din l-Art Helwa said: “The failure of the police to apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes seems to be encouraging further violence and vandalism. The country badly needs to send out a message that these kinds of crimes will not be tolerated.”

BirdLife has been the victim of 10 incidents in so many days. Death threats and hate messages have been splashed at lookout points for the birdwatchers, verbal abuse and physical intimidation has greeted the organisation’s volunteers in most places. On April 17, a shot was fired in broad daylight at a car used by BirdLife volunteers parked in front of the Manikata village church, 20 metres away from a children’s playground, shattering the windscreen.

The following day, two BirdLife volunteers were assaulted by two aggressors on a country lane in Dingli. They were later accused of trespassing on a field and damaging crops by the aggressors. However, the video footage released by BirdLife showed that the volunteers were walking on a country road and the aggressors who attacked them without warning drove up to them in a white pick up truck on the same lane. The video footage also revealed the aggressors discussing hiding shotguns from the police.

The conservation organisation dismissed the judicial protest filed against its volunteers by the two aggressors, as a mockery of the country’s judicial system.

“They are clutching at straws, using the court to make noise, as though filing a judicial protest will make their story any more credible when there is clear evidence on film of the assault last Sunday.” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta President.

The full footage, showing the details of the attack, revealing the conversation between the aggressors and their faces has been passed on to the CID police. The matter is now in the hands of the police and the judiciary.