Major walking organisations join forces to advance the interests of walkers in Malta and Gozo

From left to right: Ingram Bondin (Ramblers), Stanley Borg (Trekking Malta), Giovanni Camilleri (Trail Makers), Bernard Schranz (Leisure Ventures) and James Portelli (Xir Cammini).

Walking and Trekking have seen a great increase in popularity in the last few years, with
numerous people of all ages and from all walks of life taking up this pastime as their preferred mode of fitness and relaxation. More people than ever are seeking to practice this activity, both in our towns and especially in our coastal and countryside areas.

Unfortunately this influx of people wishing to enjoy the countryside has created friction with other countryside users and landowners, with ancient country pathways which have been enjoyed for ages being suddenly blocked.

In order to protect ancient rights of way and advance the interests of their members, four of Malta’s largest walking and trekking groups will be joining forces with The Ramblers’ Association of Malta in order to be able to speak with one voice when it comes to the problems being regularly faced by walkers in Malta and Gozo. The four groups are Leisure Ventures, Trekking Malta, Trail Makers and XirCammini.

By coming together these walking organisations have also agreed to use a common ‘green
country code’ when carrying out their activities in order to minimise their impact on the
environment and on other countryside users and landowners. Through these efforts the walking groups aim to educate the public to be respectful and avoid things such as trampling, littering, damage to flora and fauna and undue disturbance to others.

The aforementioned groups wish to recognise that there are other walking groups in Malta and Gozo, both new and long established. The founding members of this coalition look forward to expanding this alliance further in the near future.

Details of discussions to guarantee the accessibility of the foreshore at Fomm ir-Riħ

Over the past year, the Ramblers’ Association held numerous discussions with the current land owner of Fomm ir-Riħ, Mr Sandro Chetcuti, in a bid to ensure that public access to the foreshore at Fomm ir-Riħ is safeguarded, while respecting the right to his property.

In 1983, a deed between the Government and the then landowner Fredrick Maynard had established a perpetual right of public passage to the foreshore. Since the original footpath leading to the foreshore was never properly implemented and its foreseen location collapsed due to the erosion of the clay slopes, an alternative path has been mutually identified.

This path leads to the smaller pebble beach and mid-way forks out to allow access to the larger Fomm ir-Riħ bay, from where one can then continue walking along the foreshore in the direction of Ġnejna. 

Mr. Chetcuti has consented to modify the 1983 agreement so as to alter the servitu’ to the new footpath which passes through his property. From its end the Association understands and supports the landowner’s right to enjoy his private property without unwarranted trespassing.

The Ramblers’ Association together with Mr Sandro Chetcuti, have recently presented this solution to the Government. This occurred during a meeting held with the Ministries responsible for the Environment and the Lands Authority. Also present for this meeting were representatives from Environment and Resources Authority and the Office of the Prime Minister.

During this meeting, the Ramblers’ Association explained that the only interventions required on site are the installation of directional signs and fencing adequate to the site, in order to help visitors to easily identify the pathway leading to the foreshore and discourage trespassing. Both interventions would be fully reversible and in full respect of a Natura 2000 site as directed by ERA. 

The solution presented to the Government was reached in an amicable way between the Ramblers’ Association and the landowner.  It goes on to prove how through proper dialogue, win-win solutions to problems of countryside management are possible, even on a small island like ours with one of the highest population densities in the world – where land is a highly contested space and issues of right of access often lead to unpleasant altercations between well-intentioned members of the public and landowners.

As an NGO, the Ramblers’ Association has done its utmost, with both the landowner and Government, to find a solution which guarantees public access to the foreshore at Fomm ir-Riħ. The Association now ecourages both parties to finalise this matter as soon as possible.

This will finally give peace of mind to the public, who will be able to enjoy the picturesque foreshore at Fomm ir-Riħ without further risk of confrontation, while granting the desired privacy to the landowner.

Update on Public Access To The Foreshore at Fomm Ir-Riħ

Over the past year, the Ramblers’ Association held numerous discussions with the current land owner of Fomm ir-Riħ, Mr Sandro Chetcuti, in a bid to ensure that public access to the foreshore at Fomm ir-Riħ is safeguarded, while respecting the right to his property.

The association wishes to inform its members and the general public that discussions are at an advanced stage, following a cordial meeting between the association, the landowner and the relevant Ministries.

A potential equitable solution which guarantees public access to the entirety of the Fomm ir-Riħ foreshore has been identified and with the goodwill shown by all parties the association is confident that a win-win situation can be achieved in the very near future.

Ramblers Ask When Public Access Will Be Restored to Blata tal-Melħ

The Ramblers’ Association of Malta wishes to bring to the public’s attention the fact that on the 8th of April 2022 the Planning Commission rejected an application to sanction an illegally installed gate blocking access to a passageway leading from Baħrija to il-Blata tal-Melħ.

In its decision the planning commission indicated that the gate was blocking an established pre-1967 pathway, as detailed on its own official survey sheets.

Subsequently, the Planning Authority issued an enforcement notice for the removal of the gate and publicly announced that it would remove it, which it has not done to date.

The illegally installed gate has now been restricting access to the pathway for a year (since April 2021). 

The association wishes to highlight the unjust sanctioning system, through which those who operate illegally obtain a stay on enforcement action and do not face any consequences, whilst the walking public is penalised.

The association calls on the Planning Authority to declare whether enforcement or daily penalties will continue to be put off if an appeal is filed.

In the meantime the association could not carry out a planned press conference today after it was confronted by landowners on site and the media was blocked from filming.

Despite the frustrating situation, the association appeals to the public to behave in an orderly manner and to not trespass into other parts of the site while this matter is resolved.

 Ramblers urge stop to Ta’ Baldu surfacing works

The Ramblers’ Association of Malta is calling on the Government to put an immediate stop to any planned surfacing works at the Natura 2000 site of Ta’ Baldu, Rabat.

The association has received information that an ancient footpath going through this highly scheduled site of national memory was being cleared, potentially as a prelude to concrete surfacing works.

The association urges the Government to make good on its promises of giving priority to the environment and to stop this senseless destruction of Malta’s historical rural heritage.

Ramblers highlight right of access issue ahead of 2022 election

The Ramblers’ Association of Malta held a press conference today to highlight the present problem with the public’s right to access the countryside. Meeting in front of a recently installed gate which blocks access from Baħrija to Il-Blata tal-Melħ, the association lamented that this case had become emblematic of the recent trend of blocking access to passageways which have been traditionally open. In fact the association claims that this passageway is marked on the 1968 survey sheets as a footpath, which means that access had previously existed along this footpath.

The association also highlighted the need for reforming the enforcement procedures of the planning authority. In this case, the gate was installed without planning permission and then the application for sanctioning was suspended for 6 months before the case was brought to a hearing. In the meantime, no enforcement notice was issued and no fines were given for the illegality, which has continued to obstruct public access in the meantime. The association claimed that this setup punishes law abiding citizens.

Besides ensuring public access through traditional footpaths, the association, speaking for Malta’s major eNGOs, made two further proposals for rural areas. The first proposal was the immediate publication of the new Rural Policy, which was announced in 2020 to protect the countryside from abusive development but was subsequently shelved with the excuse that this depended on the SPED strategic plan being finalised first.

The second proposal was the scheduling of 24 sites which were suggested for public domain protection by the eNGOs back in 2017. While substantial effort had been expended to support this exercise, the proposals had also been left languishing, leading to these sites losing out on the protection they would have been afforded by the law.

The association insisted that it was time to move from words to action when it came to environmental protection and the right of access to the countryside.

9 key environmental demands – Election 2022

Dear General Election 2022 Candidate, dear Political Party of Malta,

As a united front of environmental NGOs active in protecting the quality of life of all residents of the Maltese Islands, we address you today with 9 Key Environmental Demands, which need to be addressed in your political party’s Election Manifesto 2022.

We request your sincere feedback in the ongoing pre-election campaign. In view of the rampant degradation of our natural and built environments we demand the following.

For our Environment: from Words to Action

1. Governance 

To entrench environmental protection, guardianship and the environmental rights of future generations into the Maltese Constitution. This constitutional right should allow all citizens the right to challenge the state or any public or private entity for enacting, implementing, enforcing or lack of it, laws, projects and actions that threaten this very clause.

2. Climate Change

To truly prioritise the climate crisis as the greatest threat to humankind and the planet that requires bold and immediate actions across all levels of government and society. This includes immediately halting investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and investing in renewable energy sources to achieve the EU 2030 target of 30%, as well as creating a fossil fuel free vision for Malta, including a plan for the clean energy transition.

3. Sustainable Mobility

To prioritise public and active transport modes, by investing in direct, frequent and reliable public transport connections and safe, direct and connected infrastructure for walking and cycling, while creating pedestrian areas in village and town centres. The priority should first and foremost be on reducing the number of cars and journeys made by car, instead of focusing only on the transition to electric vehicles. 

4. Urban Development

To reform the PA planning board to ensure political independence and seek representation based on competence. The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and ERA should be given veto power in PA application decisions. The following policies (SPED, DC2015, Rural Policy Design Guidelines, Tree Protection Act) should be urgently revised to better protect townscapes and rural areas.

5. Rural Policy

To conclude and publish the 2020 Draft Rural Policy and Design Guidance, which has been in limbo since August 2020.

To protect public right of way on footpaths that have been open historically, while respecting the rights of land owners or tenants and creating  a database and map with information on land ownership and publicly accessible roads and footpaths.

To include the already proposed public domain sites (under the 2016 Public Domain Act), which, despite extensive public consultation and press lobbying (dating back to 2017), have not been granted protection so far.  

6. Habitat & Biodiversity

To increase the proportion of land enjoying full environmental protection and extend the footprint of existing nature reserves plus establishing new areas for full nature conservation.

To strengthen the legal basis for nature protection by ensuring that ERA has full legal oversight on all environmental legislation and international obligations including bird protection.

To holistically and immediately address the spread of alien species before they further displace indigenous and endemic species and habitats forever. 

7. Marine Areas

To recognise that Malta’s largest habitat is the sea. This requires the authorities to provide the resources to adequately enforce and protect our marine environment against overfishing and illegal fishing activities, anchoring and dumping. The impacts and consequences to the marine habitat and its biodiversity needs to be prioritised in any marine-based infrastructure and land reclamation projects.

To safeguard our marine habitats and resources by promoting sustainable use and regulation. This should include regulating and controlling the impacts from maritime vessels on air and water including establishing the Mediterranean Basin as an Emission Control Area for cruise ships.

8. Agriculture & Food Systems 

To support food independence by creating mechanisms to ensure that agricultural land remains in the hands of farmers and that they are not evicted from their lands. This should include creating a framework that guarantees that agricultural land, including all government-owned land, is only used for agricultural purposes.

To increase agro-ecological farming practices, targeting that 25% of agricultural land becomes organic by 2030 and additionally reduce the use of synthetic pesticides by 80% by 2030.

9. Waste Management 

To tackle the issue of food waste. This should include making the necessary legislative changes along with incentives for supermarkets and food importers and distributors to minimise food waste and to channel food that would end up in the waste stream to food banks.

To implement at the earliest an obligatory waste separation regime for domestic and commercial waste, and implement a strategy to minimise waste packaging. This should be supported by strengthened enforcement of existing rules. 

To create mechanisms that encourage a cut-back of construction and development waste at source. Incentives should be provided to the construction industry for reusing old stone, and making provisions for recycling and reusing other construction materials through the use of a central storage facility.

The demands have been put together by BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Nature Trust-FEE Malta, The Ramblers Association of Malta; and endorsed by: Extinction Rebellion Malta, Għawdix, Moviment Graffitti, Rota, The ‘Grow 10 Trees’ Project, Wirt Għawdex, Żminijietna – Voice of the Left 

Ramblers to Appeal Ahrax and Mizieb Court Decision

The Ramblers’ Association of Malta wishes to express its disappointment at the decision of The Administrative Review Tribunal not to annul the concession given by the Government to FKNK over the public lands of Aħrax and Miżieb.

Despite this decision, the association believes that there are strong grounds for an appeal and wishes to announce that it be appealing this decision in the coming days. In this way the association will continue in its efforts to guarantee an unrestricted right of public access for all the inhabitants of the Maltese islands to these territories.