A closer look: Environment NGOs to manage nature sites

A few weeks ago, Government signed three guardianship deeds for the management of three natural sites on our islands. Friends of the Earth Malta will be responsible for a 14,400 square meter plot of land in Comino, known as “Fuq il-Bir tat-Tiġieġ”, as well as the building known as l-Forn l-Antik. Din l-Art Ħelwa will manage an area of 670 square meters of land in the National Park in Ta’ Qali as well as the building known as “the Australian Bangalow” which will be relocated from L-Għammieri to Ta’ Qali; and Kooperattiva Rurali Manikata signed an agreement for the site known as Razzett tal-Qasam covering 4,022 square meters, as well as several other small buildings which form part of the same site.

TheJournal.mt spoke to these NGOs to find out exactly what their plans are for these sites.

The Australian Bungalow

WHO: Din l-Art Ħelwa is a voluntary non-governmental organisation founded in 1965 with the aim of promoting the preservation and protection of the historic and natural heritage of our islands by assisting the Government of Malta with the restoration and upkeep of sites of cultural, artistic, and architectural and of environmental importance. It has done this by holding properties in trust or in guardianship and by restoring and enhancing them for the better appreciation of the general public, by stimulating the enforcement of existing laws and the enactment of new ones for the protection of heritage, and by carrying out educational initiatives that involve the public and especially young people so awareness can be raised about Malta’s rich and unique cultural patrimony. Over a period of 55 years, the organisation has saved 42 heritage sites, tracts of land of ecological importance such as the Majjistral History and Nature Park, and Foresta 2000 in Mellieħa, through the restoration with funding acquired with corporate support, memberships, and its own fund-raising activities. Currently, DLĦ holds 11 properties under guardianship agreements with government and 3 in trust with the Diocese of Malta.

THE SITE: The Australian Bungalow is nearly 100 years old. It has been assessed as of international cultural significance in providing tangible evidence of the planned Migration Program to Australia, specifically developed to provide prospective migrants with the skills necessary to thrive in a new environment. The Bungalow was scheduled as a Grade 2 National Monument by MEPA in 2006. In 2015, the Ministry of the Environment approached DLĦ to ascertain its interest in the historic aspect, architectural significance and eventual care of the building and of the land upon which it will lie when relocated to Ta’ Qali. The organisation immediately took up the cause of this neglected and forgotten monument then in the remit of the Ministry of Environment through the Agricultural Department. Much background work has been carried out which will now be useful in the drawing up of a Guardianship deed for it to be preserved as a cultural heritage monument together with the land upon which it will lie at Ta’ Qali. 

The Bungalow is entirely constructed of wood except for its roofing which is in corrugated metal. In Malta this is a unique structure because traditionally timber was never used for our buildings but also because its form and methodology of construction is Australian, particularly typical of Queensland. It consists of one large room circa 9m wide and 5m deep with a pitched roof surrounded on the front and two sides by a veranda circa 1.5m in width.

It was donated by the Australian Government for prospective migrants to Australia to familiarise themselves with the construction and living conditions 

It was donated to Malta in the late 1920s by the Australian Government for prospective migrants to Australia to familiarise themselves with the sort of construction and living conditions they were to expect there.

Since the early 1930s it has been located in the grounds of the Għammieri Government Farm and used by the Agriculture Department until fifteen years ago. Since then, it has fallen into disuse, surrounded by overgrown vegetation. Unfortunately, it has been affected by damp rising from the globigerina stone blocks supporting the wooden structure and by rainwater seeping in through two sections of the roof which has deteriorated badly.

All the studies made over the years confirm that it is a building which is worthy of restoration and preservation as unique of its kind, possibly the last of its type in the world. The land upon which it lies will be planted under the direction of the Environment Ministry but signage and information will focus upon the fauna and flora that would have normally surrounded an Australian bungalow in Australia.

THE PLANS: When the Australian Bungalow is restored and reassembled at Ta’ Qali, Din l-Art Ħelwa proposes to adapt it into a visitor centre and information point on migration to Australia and the history of early Maltese migration for the public visiting the Ta’ Qali Family Park and tourists who frequent the neighbouring Crafts Village. Information panels and interactive equipment will also shed light on the history and architectural significance of the building, the flora and fauna of Australia, and the historic monuments and sites saved by DLĦ over the decades. The building is sizeable and can be utilised for events and lectures.  The surrounding land will be an open space planted under the direction of the Ministry of Environment and will provide a pleasant green area for visitors as well as information.

Razzett tal-Qasam

WHO: Koperattiva Rurali Manikata is a subsidiary of Koperattiva Rurali Manikata. The foundation was set up to take care of the restoration of an area known as ir-Razzett tal-Qasam. The cooperative which set up in August of 2008, carries out educational school visits, eco-visits for locals and foreigners and organises private and public events, with the purpose of educating people about the environment, keeping alive local traditions and the conservation of historical sites.

THE SITE: The farmstead known as Ir-Razzett tal-Qasam, is an extensive rural complex made up of caves and rooms of different sizes, most of them in ruins. The different rooms found in this farmstead belong to different periods. This can be assumed from the various building techniques. Some parts possibly date back to mediaeval times. But most of the buildings belong to the era of the Knights of St. John. However, it is very difficult to date the buildings with accuracy, as we still have no written evidence which can help us in this regard and two coats of arms carved in stone were stolen some years ago.

THE PLANS: The cooperative feels that the site is important for the community of Manikata as many local residents have family roots tied to the people who once inhabited the area. It is also important for Malta, because it is one of the last remaining areas which gives us a glimpse of how life was during mediaeval times. Since the area is relatively still unspoiled by development, many species of local flora and trees are still found in the area. It is also close to Majjistral Park where many endemic species grow. The cooperative plans to restore the site within the next 10 years and turning it into a visitors’ centre where one can learn about its history; about farming traditions; about local flora and trees; and where one can have a culinary experience of local Maltese food.

Il-Forn

WHO: Friends of the Earth Malta (FoEM) campaigns on some of today’s most pressing environmental and social issues, by engaging the public directly through a wide range of diverse projects and activities. FoEM creates and participates in vibrant campaigns, raises awareness on a number of pertinent national and international issues, and mobilises people to participate in decision-making processes. FoEM strives to provide creative solutions that are based on sound knowledge and information, especially through the promotion of alternatives to certain environmental behaviours. And in keeping to its activist roots, FoEM continuously lobbies, mobilises, and influences the policy community towards a more just and sustainable society. FoEM’s work has been informing national policy for over three decades. Currently, campaign focus is on Food Agriculture & Biodiversity, Climate Change, Resource Use and Activism & Democratic participation.

THE SITE: The abandoned and derelict building known as “Il-Forn” was originally used as a bakery (hence the Maltese name) and is located close to St Maria Bay. The building is composed of a number of rooms, surrounding a courtyard with a footprint of 1,200m2. The site also includes a parcel of land which mainly consists of garrigue and some trees that formed part of reforestation efforts in the 1970s. This site however needs to be seen within the context of the island of Comino, which enjoys the status of a Natura 2000 Site and Special Area of Conservation (International Importance) and as a Nature Reserve (Malta Structure plan 1991). It is also considered to be a Special Protected Area (SPA) for birds under the Birds Directive. This site will showcase and inform people about the importance and fragility of Comino’s natural environment. It will support any sustainable initiatives that will enhance and/or preserve the conservation status of habitats and species and ensure that Comino gains its full potential as a Natura 2000 site. In addition to the environmental benefits, the project will also deliver socio-economic benefits, as it will place its tourism product on a sustainable footing. With proper management, monitoring and increasing ecological awareness among locals and tourists, Comino will offer a safe and unique experience in which sustainable rural tourism is pursued and outdoor leisure activities will be practised in harmony with the site’s conservation needs, in order to ensure the long-term conservation of the site.

THE PLANS: Il-Forn aims to act as an interpretation centre for the Island of Comino. Through its design and activities, it also aims to be a leading example for demonstrating ecological technologies and sustainable lifestyles. It aims to provide the knowledge and skills required to minimise our impact on the environment and to live and work sustainably.

FoEM’s initial key areas of work will be related to renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic farming, alternative waste management and Eco-tourism. In the future, this could be extended to protecting and rehabilitating the land surrounding the Centre. The project will also aim to develop a sustainable tourism management model for a Natura 2000 site.

How will the guardianship deeds work?

Organisations will need to ensure that the buildings on these sites are restored and conserved properly and in a way that respects the surrounding environment. The sites need to be managed in a way that:

  • Respects the ecological value of each site;
  • Makes an effort to improve the biodiversity of the area;
  • Promotes environmental education in the area, including on the native species of each site;
  • Promotes the areas for the use and enjoyment of the public in a sustainable way.

In order to ensure that these measures are carried out properly and in a timely manner in sync with the surrounding environment, an action plan will be drawn up for each agreement, in order to ultimately ensure the sustainable management of the Maltese environmental and cultural heritage. Each action plan will provide a vision incorporating the restoration, use, and final product expected at each site by 2035.

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