Keep protected areas protected! The case of Tal-Wej

Keep protected areas protected! The case of Tal-Wej

In January’s newsletter we touched upon the incredible ecological diversity of freshwater rockpools – unfortunately since then a new threat has arisen which jeopardises the future of one of the most important Temporary Freshwater Rockpool sites and archaeologically rich areas in Malta – Tal-Wej – the last open space located between the built up areas of Naxxar and Mosta.

Ecologically the site is also important as it supports other protected EU habitats such as “West Mediterranean clifftop phryganas” as well as the priority EU habitat type “Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea”. Endemic flora on site includes the Maltese Waterwort while other rare species include Sicilian Squill, Southern Water Starwort, Mediterranean Starfruit, Bean Trefoil Tree, and numerous orchids amongst others. Rare fauna include the Tadpole Shrimp and Fairy Shrimps as well as various aquatic fauna whose entire life-cycle totally depends on the existence of the freshwater rockpools.

Mediterranean Temporary Ponds are scarce not only in Malta and are thus valued for their importance to biodiversity. They are actually listed as a Priority Habitat within the EU – this is defined as habitat types of high significance but in danger of disappearance and whose natural range mainly falls within the territory of the European Union. Therefore this site and it’s adequate protection is not only of national interest, but also of international importance. It cannot be further diminished in the interests of the few who would want to exploit the land for personal gain. It is sad that some people still describe the area as a ‘wasteland’ with no value because it has no soil cover…

The EC Report on the management of Mediterranean Temporary Ponds outlines the worrying situation of this EU Priority Habitat: “The present trend in Mediterranean temporary ponds is clearly regressive. The main problem for this habitat comes from its ephemeral nature and small size. Its limited visibility leads to a lack of recognition of its values and functions which causes the rock pools to be readily destroyed or transformed. Additionally, trends in the Mediterranean region due to climate change are expected to alter the hydrological regimes of freshwater inland water bodies putting these habitats further at risk.”

Two years ago a small plot of land at Tal-Wej (outside the scheme) was being advertised for sale at an exorbitant price and was followed up by an unusual application which was submitted on the pretext of soil excavation for (supposedly) archaeological purposes – leading to various NGOs and members of the public to voice their concerns. Thanks to over 2000 objections from the public the application had been withdrawn and the campaign helped to put the site in the limelight for its need for a more complete protection status.

The Tal-Wej designation Report by ERA  outlines the high importance of ‘L-Inħawi tal-Wej’ site which is “designated as an Area of Ecological Importance, Site of Scientific Importance and Class A Area of Archaeological Importance, under the Development Planning Act (Cap. 552) and as a Special Area of Conservation of National Importance, under the Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549).” Last June it was further proposed to be finally added to the European Union’s Natura 2000 network by the Environment Minister. However a group of individuals filed an appeal against ERA’s decision to finally assign the deserved protection to this highly contested area. If this appeal goes through it could deal a devastating blow to this specific site but also to conservation in Malta in general. Furthermore, it  would create a dangerous precedent where years of studies and efforts to protect areas would be discarded and currently protected sites could be contested and put up for grab again. The case is due to be heard by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal in March.

Therefore we urge you to join us in demanding that the protection of the site stands! Individual interests should not be treated as more important than the public good or than nature’s rights:

Featured image : A small glimpse of the diversity of life observed by naturalist photographer Guido Bonett on site at
Tal-Wej.