On 27th January three NGOs – Din l-Art Helwa, Nature Trust and the Gaia Foundation – signed an agreement with government to manage the il-Majjistral Nature and History Park, an area about 5 times the size of Valletta that lies between Ghajn Tuffieha and Il-Prajjiet (more commonly known as Popeye’s Village). This is an area of stunning beauty, with open countryside, rugged cliffs and rich in biodiversity. Signed in the presence of the Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, and the Minister of the Environment, George Pullicino, this was the culmination of efforts made by the NGOs to get this area properly protected and managed. Last May, a board of management was set up comprising of the three NGOs and representatives of the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment, the Lands Department and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Dr Stanley Zammit was appointed chairman. The brief of this board was to complete the detailed management plans, seek funding from the EU, consult with all interested parties, including the farmers, and formulate policies for the Park. With these tasks completed the board moved to the implementation stage which was the appointment of the park manager – which in this case is the three NGOs together.This is an important development in the protection of some of Malta’s prime coastline and most beautiful countryside. It was also a wise step by government in recognizing the good work NGOs have been doing and entrusting them with the implementation of the management plan, and giving them some funding to boot. What work is to be done? In the first instance, this is a Nature and History Park – quite different to that at Ta’ Qali. Paramount will be the preserving of natural and cultural heritage found within the Park. This will entail restricting access to the main pathways leaving the garigue undamaged. Rubble walls will be rebuilt, giren (stone corbelled huts) and other historical monuments restored, including the derelict tower and farmhouses. Tons of rubbish is to be removed and in certain areas, principally where there is disturbed land, indigenous trees are to be planted. The area should be a haven for those wanting to walk in Malta’s countryside and enjoy open views over the sea. HSBC and the Alfred Mizzi Foundation have already come forward to help and many other entities including schools have participated in tree-planting days. This is a huge project which needs wide participation. Other NGOs such as Ramblers have also pledged their support in what will truly be a national project supported by all walks of society. This move is a good start. Much of Malta’s north-west countryside, running from Cirkewwa to Wied iz- Zurrieq, needs to be managed. Much is already protected and properly scheduled by Mepa, but is suffering from illegal dumping and building, the closure of public paths and similar activities to the detriment of the public at large. The NGOs will ensure that the success of the park will lead to its boundaries being extended gradually so that our countryside will remain just that – our countryside. The Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment had immediately been responsive when approached by Din l-Art Helwa with the idea of setting up the Park. Indeed some years ago Din l-Art Helwa had brought to Malta the head of Operation Neptune set up by the National Trust in England, to acquire some of England’s most important coastline. Today the National Trust has over 600 miles of coastline which is actively managed and which attracts millions of visitors both locally and from abroad. Malta now has its own project. Now that it is a reality, and that the Government of Malta has opted to work with NGOs to make sure the restoration proceeds apace, this augurs well for further cooperation for the protection of Malta’s cultural and natural assets. Martin Galea is Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa31 January 2008