Management plans for 34 Natura 2000 sites being prepared

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Management plans for 34 Natura 2000 sites being preparedData gathering and field work has commenced for the preparation of management plans for all 34 terrestrial Natura 2000 sites in the Maltese Islands covering over 13.6% of the country’s land territory, these include 7 in Gozo.

These areas contain nationally and internationally-important habitats and ecosystems and provide an important base for a wide spectrum of strategically important socio-economic activities ranging from maritime activities to agriculture, tourism and recreation. The sound protection and management of these Natura 2000 sites is not only vital for the purpose of conserving important habitats and ecosystems, but also for the health of the Maltese economy as well as for the overall quality of life and wellbeing of citizens.

Following international tender procedures, the contract for the delivery of the management plans had been awarded to the Epsilon-Adi Consortium. This project ‘Natura 2000 Management Planning for Malta and Gozo’ is part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The preparation of management plans emanates from a legal requirement to prepare conservation measures required for protected sites under the Environment and Development Planning Act, and under the EU’s Habitat’s Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). The plans will seek to conserve and protect a wide range of habitats and species inhabiting these sites by identifying adequate management measures with intensive stakeholder involvement throughout the entire project.

Dr Petra Caruana Dingli, Director for Environment Protection said “this project is a landmark in the protection of our rural environment. All these 34 sites form part of a network of protected areas across the European Union, with the aim of affording protection to habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest.

“Once the management plans are finalized we can implement a number of measures which will ensure that the condition of the natural habitats and species populations which are of particular importance are maintained and/or restored in order to ensure their survival.”

Dr Caruana Dingli stressed that “Natura 2000 sites are not a system of strict nature reserves where human activities are excluded. Whereas some sites may include areas where human activities are not desirable or should be limited, the principle behind designating these sites is based on a much broader principle of conservation and sustainable use, where people and nature can live together in harmony.

“Over the past weeks, the Consortium worked on an evaluation exercise of existing data available on the sites and the undertaking of a data gap analysis, in order to determine what further data is required to prepare the managements plans. The Consortium has now started carrying out thorough site surveys.”

Mr Adrian Mallia, from Epsilon-Adi Consortium said, “A key element in the gathering of data about each of the sites, and in the development of the management plans, is our engagement with all stakeholders. More importantly, we will start engaging with all those living and working within and in the vicinity of these sites, and those visiting and using the sites for recreation and other purposes. They are a vital asset throughout the entire process of this project.”

Mr Mallia also gave details of the stakeholder engagement programme which will start within the coming days and carry on for the next 10 months. The programme includes briefing sessions, exhibitions and workshops whereby authorities, local councils, NGOs, land owners, local residents, farmers, and site visitors will be invited to participate and contribute towards the development of conservation objectives and measures for each site.

An important element of this project focuses on significantly raising the level of awareness about these 34 sites, amongst the public. Mr Mallia concluded that “we carried out a baseline survey in order to assess the present situation in relation to the public’s awareness and perception about the Natura 2000 network. The results will assist us in formulating a Communication and Stakeholder Awareness Action Plan designed to achieve a 50% or higher increase in the level of awareness.”

The project is unprecedented as it is the first time that any EU member state would achieve 100% management planning coverage for all its terrestrial Natura 2000 sites through a single initiative. Welcoming this initiative, Environment Minister Mario de Marco said that the value of the project lies not only in helping to conserve biodiversity, but also in mobilizing stakeholders to work together towards better management of Natura 2000 sites, which are strategically important for the country.

“Natura 2000 sites are important for our leisure and recreation, for tourism and agriculture amongst a host of other activities. This is why these sites must be properly managed with participation from all stakeholders to unlock their environmental and socio-economic potential”, Minister Mario de Marco said.

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