The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) has just secured €3.4 million through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to undertake management planning for all terrestrial Natura 2000 sites in the Maltese Islands and to increase awareness of Natura 2000 amongst the general public and stakeholders.
The management plans and legal provisions that will be established through this project will seek to protect a wide range of habitats and species inhabiting these sites by identifying adequate management measures with intensive stakeholder involvement throughout the entire project. This project has a duration of 3 years and will also ensure that Malta fulfills its EU obligations under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.
MEPA Chairman Mr Austin Walker stated that “this project is a milestone in the protection of our rural environment. We are moving a step further and giving these sites the protection they merit through the preparation of these management plans. This campaign will equip all key stakeholders with the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the management planning process more effectively.”
The Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, the Environment and Culture Dr. Mario de Marco, congratulated MEPA on this initiative and said that “this project is unique in that it is the first time that any EU member state would ensure management planning coverage for all land-based Natura 2000 sites through a single initiative. The project will produce management plans and involve stakeholders, but on its own this is not enough. The areas must actually be managed.”
He added “In parallel, through the MEPA reform, we have put in place legislation which does not permit the possibility for a land-owner to try regularising illegal development carried out after May 2008 in an area outside development zone or in a protected area. However, taken in isolation, neither the legislation, nor management plans, nor enforcement will, on their own, succeed in reversing the loss of biodiversity. Like pieces in a puzzle, the measures must fit tightly together and dovetail with one another. It is the intention of the government to ensure this happens.”
Over the past years Malta has designated a total of 34 terrestrial Natura 2000 sites. 27 sites are terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) that are designated under the Habitats Directive and provide increased protection and management for rare and vulnerable animals, plants and habitats. Thirteen sites are Special Protected Areas, (SPAs) which are designated under the Birds Directive to help protect and manage areas which are important for rare and vulnerable birds because they use them for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration; but 6 of these sites are also SACs.
This project will be delivered through a service contract, which will include all necessary actions required to develop management plans and/or provide legal provisions for these terrestrial Natura 2000 sites. The project will also involve a communication campaign which will raise awareness about Malta’s Natura 2000 sites amongst the public and will enable all key stakeholders to participate in the management planning process of these sites.