8th March 2017
The Ramblers’ Association of Malta had the pleasure to welcome the President of the European Ramblers’ Association Ms. Lis Nielsen to Malta over the past few days. The European Ramblers’ Association counts over 58 walking organisations from 32 different European countries and represents more than 3 million registered walkers.
During her stay Ms Nielsen accompanied the Ramblers’ Association for a courtesy visit to the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change Jose Herrera. In the course of this meeting the association had the opportunity to discuss problems relating to the right of access to the Maltese countryside, where difficulties such as illegal gates, fraudulent signs and phony claims over public paths remain a nuisance faced regularly by all walkers.
Ms. Nielsen indicated that such efforts to guarantee public access to nature were in line with the European Ramblers’ Association’s latest resolution, which was approved in 2016. The resolution “Open up Europe’s Natural Environment!” puts emphasis on the right of access to nature, through which everyone should be able to experience Europe’s natural and cultural heritage. The only limitations to this right which should be acceptable are those which are transparent and justifiable. In addition the resolution says that legal and planning regulations ought to take the interests of walkers into account, and identifies the creation of marked trails as an essential tool to promote greater care of the countryside. Ms. Nielsen also stressed that the right of access to nature would need to take different forms in different countries, depending on the specific challenges being faced, and drew a number of parallels between Malta and her home country of Denmark on this matter.
The Ramblers’ Association of Malta also took the opportunity to express its views about several initiatives being taken by the Ministry. In particular the association expressed its positive view on the fact that the management plans for various Natura 2000 sites had now been completed, and believes that these would be of great benefit to the environment if implemented correctly and resourced properly. The association is also pleased about the planned afforestation projects, which would definitely improve quality of life, enhance the dwindling natural environment and protect it from future over-development. Finally the association also welcomes the fact that the Minister for the Environment has put his foot down and launched an investigation into why the Planning Authority was regularly ignoring the advice emanating from the Environment Authority when issuing permits. It is the opinion of the association that if the MEPA Demerger has any hope of working properly, the present state of affairs cannot be allowed to persist.
The association concluded the meeting by saying that it was willing to support the work of the Environment and Resources Authority and urged it to seek its cooperation in matters of common interest. In particular the association reiterated its offer to support enforcement against illegalities in the countryside by reporting such occurrences during the course of its regularly held walks, as well as mobilising its members to clean up the countryside from dumping by unscrupulous individuals. Last but not least it is also willing to help to achieve the goals of the recent management plans and conservation orders when this lies within its means and expertise.