The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has set out the ecological priorities for the management of all land-based Natura 2000 sites; 22 management plans and 8 conservation orders have been prepared, which cover a variety of sites including coastal cliffs in Malta and Gozo, sand dunes such as Ramla, saline marshlands such as il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk, woodland areas like Buskett and other islands, including Filfla and Kemmuna and their surrounding islets.
These policy documents address urgent and important implementation challenges to safeguard the ecological qualities of each area. Site-specific objectives and measures – such as ecological restoration, regulation of certain activities, visitor management and site interpretation, sustainable rural tourism and recreation, public awareness initiatives, patrolling and monitoring – may be found in these policy documents. ERA developed these in consultation with key stakeholders including NGOs, local councils and government entities, whose involvement is essential for the success of all these actions. Each of the individual plans and orders have been tailor made by keeping in mind the local socio-economic context and environmental pressures.
A considerable number of these sites have over the past years already been subject to conservation actions. Following the experience gained and lessons learnt through past and ongoing management actions, ERA and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change will continue working to improve and strengthen existing actions whilst explore additional avenues for the implementation of the priorities that have been identified.
Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of nature conservation areas, established to ensure the survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened terrestrial and marine species and habitats for present and future generations. Malta has 34 terrestrial Natura 2000 sites which together cover over 13% of the total land area of the Maltese Islands.
The press conference was addressed by Minister José Herrera, who described this occasion as an important one and an opportunity to celebrate biodiversity and our rich ecosystems – after six years of studies. The Minister said that today is another milestone that could only be achieved after the demerger that gave rise to the ERA. Through these management plans and conservation orders, we will now be in a position not only to protect our natural heritage, but also to create more green jobs and attact further investment. During his speech, the Minister said that we should now focus on the implementation of these management plans and conservation orders and invited governmental and non-governmental institutions, together with other stakeholders to participate in the implementation of these management plans.
The management plans and conservation orders for these Natura 2000 sites were prepared through a €1.3 million project ‘Management Planning and Implementation of Communication Measures for Terrestrial Natura 2000 Sites in the Maltese Islands’ spearheaded by ERA and co-financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) under Measure 323 of the Rural Development Programme. This project which was implemented through Adi Associates and Epsilon International involved gathering information, carrying out surveys, defining conservation objectives and identifying management measures for each of the Natura 2000 sites. Through this project, which has won the CIEEM Best Practice Award for Stakeholder Engagement 2016, an awareness campaign and widespread discussions ensured that stakeholders were strongly involved throughout the entire exercise.