When Peter the Great developed his vision for Russia he turned to the Western model of a modern state as a source of inspiration, opening a window to the West, and took his country out of isolation and into a new era. Malta’s entry into Europe is a similar experience, yet integration is work in progress, relying not only on an injection of foreign funds and harmonisation of European laws, but on a clear vision for a healthier and more holistic society in our times.
The launch of Il-Majjistral, Malta’s first nature and history park, is a keystone to such a vision. The whole of the park is far greater than the sum of its parts, because it constitutes a breakthrough in the coastal management of our islands.
Following in the wake of earlier projects run by NGOs, like the wetlands at Għadira by BirdLife, Għajn Tuffieħa by Gaia, Wied Għollieqa by Nature Trust and Torri Mamo by Din l-Art Ħelwa, this park may well mark a turning point in the management of our heritage, because of its implications in the protection of the northwest, as well as its potential to integrate the policies on environment and tourism.
The northwest coastal cliffs are the last frontier on the mainland, the lungs of the island that breathe life into so much of its natural heritage, while at the same time offering an outstanding landscape that takes your breath away. They are the future not only for the quality of life of our citizens, but also for a tourism industry that is growing ever more competitive, in a world of travellers who are ever more demanding and in search of wild beauty, history and the magnificent sea.
Europe’s natural heritage is embodied in a network of ecologically valuable sites called Natura 2000. The coastal cliffs of the northwest form part of this network. The establishment of the Majjistral Park, which borders Għajn Tuffieħa to the south and lies close to the Foresta 2000 site and the Red Tower to the north, is a milestone in the management of the northwest. It was declared a national park last September by a legal notice that also constituted a management board composed of a chairman, government personnel from the Environment Ministry, the Lands Department and Mepa and persons representing three environmental and cultural management NGOs, namely, Din l-Art Ħelwa, The Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust. The legal notice also called for the establishment of management agreements for the park. The official launch took place last Sunday with the signing of an agreement between the ministry and Mepa on the one hand, and the said NGOs on the other. The launch included the initial planting of indigenous trees, the start of guided walks on Sunday mornings, the publication of a nature trail brochure and a new website at www.majjistral.org.
Nature tourism is the fastest growing sector in the industry worldwide. As people escape for a few days from the hustle and bustle of city life, they seek out a place in an idyllic setting to recharge their batteries and nourish their souls. The only way forward to a cleaner and greener world is to reconnect humans with their environment, thus increasing awareness, appreciation and responsibility. A successful national park would afford the opportunity to both nature and humans to flourish, to find their path once again. Malta relies heavily on its visitors, yet equally on its permanent inhabitants, who are regular visitors in their own land, on weekends, or sunny afternoons throughout the year.
Managed well and in an integrated way, the park will offer a rich choice of activities, from walking, horse riding, sub aqua, surfing, canoeing and bathing on the one hand to visiting places of historical, cultural and rural interest on the other, like towers, organic farms, groves and visitor centres.
I t is the aim of the managers to set a record of excellence in the products and services available in the park. This would put Il-Majjistral on the Mediterranean map of places of interest to the visitor. We are at the first step along an exciting journey that would take us beyond our northwest frontier to a collective conscious awareness of nature and tourism being two sides of the same coin. With the right vision, and investment of resources, the standard of excellence that could be reached in the Majjistral Park would have repercussions well beyond its borders.
Dr Ragonesi is director of The Gaia Foundation.