Times of Malta, 1st August 2009, by Fiona Galea Debono –

The board of Majjistral Park has voted in favour of restricting hunting in the area although the NGOs that manage it would have preferred a total ban.

The decision was not unanimous, with the three government representatives on the board and its government-appointed chairman opting to restrict hunting on the site and the three NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust, going against the motion.

“But we recognise it is progress nonetheless,” DLĦ executive president Martin Galea said.

The restriction would effectively mean hunting would have to stop at 9 a.m. and hunters would have to leave the area by 9.30 a.m. avoiding much interface during the day between those using the park for recreation and those using it for hunting, he said.

“We understand there are many issues and there is a strong hunting lobby,” he added.

The three NGOs had launched an online poll calling for the support of the hunting ban within the park last March. They had said it was “imperative for the park to be freed of hunters and their hides if it is to be enjoyed and developed as a true nature park for the benefit of all”.

Last March, the chairman of the board managing the park, Ian Castaldi Paris, said he expected hunting to be banned as measures were taken to turn it into a natural recreation area.

The nature and heritage conservation area in the northwest of Malta was set up in 2007 and is managed by the three NGOs. The site forms part of an EU network of protected areas, known as Natura 2000. It is home to many plants and animals, including endemic species, seven breeding birds and other migratory ones.

The park, which was at the centre of a heated controversy when it was proposed as a golf course in 2005, straddles a significant tract of land, lying between Golden Bay and Anchor Bay, in the limits of Mellieħa.

As a result of years of neglect and mismanagement, the ecosystem and the state of the park suffered due to illegal dumping, land clearing, bird trapping, trampling and off-road sports.