The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Leisure for division

Peter Agius Wednesday, 14 October 2020, 07:41 Last update: about 9 days ago

The Mizieb and Ahrax concessions being signed behind the people’s back is yet another case of divide and rule so typical of the labour government. Instead of bringing people together around two sites of breath-taking natural beauty, government’s modus operandi brought confrontation between hunters and environmentalists, between law observing hobbyists  and families calling for more public spaces to spend time away from addictive video games and Netflix series.

ADVERTISEMENT

One might say the confrontation and public outcry was accidental. The statement by Dr Aaron Farrugia admitting a faux pas might point in that direction. Wrong. The confrontation was designed and orchestrated as part and parcel of the whole initiative. That confrontation is what allows government to pump up its bully image with the hunting lobby.

And yet, when you read the agreement and consider the vast engagement and fruitful work already done by the FKNK over decades in Mizieb and Ahrax, you realise that all the confrontation could have been easily avoided with a pinch of transparency. Let me break this down here. Yes, I think that in tiny Malta there should be ways of enjoying public spaces in rosters between hunters and families on picnics. All government needed to do is make that clear in the agreement signed with the FKNK, or much better still, open that agreement for public scrutiny way before signing it.

As thing stand, we are a long way off from the possible harmony of Mizieb and Ahrax being enjoyed by our families and ramblers in the afternoon after the morning hunting period. What could have been clearly stated in the agreement was left out, cloaked in vague terms and confusing incompatible provisions. A clear case is that while the government official statement says that the parks will be accessible to the public at all times, the agreement limits this access to the main passageways. So, you can thread the tarmac but beware of the green patches. Why go to Ahrax if you can’t explore the trees and the meadows?

Secondly and more confusingly, the agreement refers to the hunting season as that being between September and January, hence leading us to think that there is just 4 months in a year where the parks will be used for hunting. Other articles in the same agreement, however, indicate several possible seasons, in plural, where the FKNK would presumably have the discretion to use the parks for spring hunting and rabbit hunting, thereby essentially covering all the year.

The tragedy here is that I know that the hunters are generally well-meaning when they say that they want the public to enjoy the areas with them. I have seen for myself the important progress done in Mizieb and Ahrax over the years, from neglected wild under-growth and inaccessible woodlands to well taken care of family parks with several mini-areas to explore with the kids, such as the girnas and the field rooms restored and rebuilt with dedication by the hunters and curators of Ahrax and Mizieb.

There is much more than public access in the public good of have hunting reserves under transparent management. Birdlife Malta this week held a press conference with yet another illegally shot bird of prey. A magnificent short-toed Eagle which took a three thousand mile journey to visit our islands, following its ancestral and irrepressible programme for migration south to meet the senseless welcome by lead of a Maltese hunter. That hunter was not in Mizieb or Ahrax. He or she would not have dared to shoot a bird of prey, protected since ages, and revered by environmentalists and the ‘proper’ hunters themselves at Mizieb. In fact, from the 160 illegally shot birds recovered by Birdlife over the past 9 months, I know of no case of illegal shooting in Mizieb and Ahrax. Evidently, management by hunters has the significant benefit of peer pressure and falling in line with legality within the hunting community. Now that is an imperative public benefit I want to work for.

For while we may fall into different parts of the spectrum on whether hunting is morally acceptable or not, the fact is that hunting is an ancestral activity practiced all over the globe. Some see it as just about the only remaining link to our roots as ‘hunters and gatherers’, the fascinating link to the land that in many regards is now seen as hip and ‘a la mode’ by many of those you would never see close to a bullet belt

I personally have never shot a bird, and am not planning to shoot any in the foreseeable future. When I voted for spring hunting in the referendum, I did it out of a duty to honour the pact of the Maltese people with the hunters before the EU accession referendum. As a politician, I know that public authority has an obligation to promote a peaceful coexistence between hunters and other nature lovers. If you look at birdlife and the FKNK, you realise that they are two of the most well organised and committed organisations on our islands. Both invest a lot in promoting their idea of a nature embracing lifestyle. Both believe in the power of education as a tool to protect the environment. Both have one obvious common enemy – illegal hunting, which decimates protected species and risks the very practice of hunting for the law-observing hunters.

Government’s methods of divide and rule, keeping the Mizieb and Ahrax land negotiations under wraps, inviting local councils for signature on Sunday and then signing it without them on Friday, is a slap in the face to the wider education efforts to bring hunting in Malta within accepted social and legal frameworks. Part of the public reaction over the weekend was a clear indication of that. On social media as well as in family chats, you could spot arguments calling for an outright ban on all hunting. On the hunter’s end, responsible and law-abiding hunters felt that society wants to kill their legitimate passion. I’ll let you think what the less law-observing were thinking.

So while the labour ministers stand grinning behind the signature of the lands department and the FKNK, the general public, including the law observing hunters themselves, have a lot to lose in this whole affair. For with confrontation we lose the ability to live together and respect each other’s differences. The only way forward for hunting in Malta is through constant dialogue and education, not with back room deals in vague terms opening another avenue for sore confrontation for what is, after all, differing views of the love for the natural environment.

Peter Agius, MEP candidate and EU expert 

[email protected]

  • don't miss