Just before the last election, the then Minister for the Environment had announced imaginative plans for the creation of a Nature Agency tasked with managing Malta’s 34 Natura 2000 sites. The areas designated for protection represent a significant proportion of our precious natural environment. In some cases, species in these sites are not found anywhere else in the world, thus constituting a crucial part not only of Malta’s natural heritage but also the world’s.
Natura 2000 sites constitute a vital element in the safeguarding of this country’s remaining natural heritage landscape. Their efficient management, oversight protection and administration should be matters of paramount importance.
It would appear, however, that the excellent initiative by the previous administration to set up a Nature Agency has fallen victim to the limbo into which the environment has been cast by the new Labour government.
Almost a year after the election, the much-vaunted (though also highly criticised) splitting of the Environmental Directorate from Mepa has still not happened. The Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change has effectively been neutered.
An excellent example of this vacuum in administration has arisen at one of the Natura 2000 sites, Il-Magħluq tal-Baħar at Marsascala, one of Malta’s last marshlands.
The site is in a pitiful and derelict state. The main culvert channel, which links the marshland to the sea, is constantly clogged up. The use of fertilisers in the adjacent farmland leads to a process in which a body of water acquires a high concentration of nutrients causing excessive algae growth. Duck excrement and piles of litter, including plastic bottles and car tyres, leave what was once crystal clear water murky looking. Ducks, geese and fish sharing this environment are thus placed at high risk.
What is to be done? The mayor of Marsascala blames Mepa since the site is their responsibility. But the watchdog appears to have washed its hands of the environment and is concentrating solely on construction development. Although an environmental and planning consultancy firm will be completing a management plan for the site, the government’s own bureaucratic environmental structures do not appear to be in place and may, therefore, not be in a position to take the necessary action on the plan.
Meanwhile, the Natura 2000 site at Il-Magħluq tal-Baħar festers and rots to the chagrin of the local residents. It is about time the Minister for the Environment took responsibility for Natura 2000 sites and demonstrated that his ministry has the necessary teeth to protect the environment.
The next logical step in the process is to ensure the proper management of all these sites. Hence, the creation of the Nature Agency whose task will be to oversee the detailed management work, including monitoring and surveillance, of those organisations and other individual stakeholders (in some cases these may be the farmers who own and till the land) designated to protect these sites.
A national biodiversity strategy and action plan has been drawn up by the Nature Protection Unit of Mepa and this should, in due course, form the basis of the Nature Agency’s work.
But more than that, the head of the Nature Agency will also be responsible for alerting the regulator, Mepa, if any threat to the integrity of habitats or species present on Natura 2000 sites arises in any way, whether, for example, from proposed development, any disturbance of the habitats, pollution, natural disasters, or any of the depredations that the impact of human activity on the countryside may bring.
Approximately 26 million Britons are presently having money problems because the economic slump has induced a “live for the moment” mentality, based on a major report on the wellbeing of the country’s finances.
Over fifty percent of UK adults stated that they were struggling with their finances, the government-sponsored body, Money Advice Service (MAS), bared. This is a sudden increase from 35 percent of people who were undergoing a hard time paying their bills compared to the previous time a similar study was conducted in 2006.
Hourly salary has plummeted by 6 percent in real value since the previous research was carried out, making it more difficult for people to eke out a living.
A “live for the moment” culture and lack of financial smarts were also discovered to be possible reasons.
Twenty percent of those polled stated that they would prefer to have £200 at present than £400 after four months, with twenty-five percent of people replying they choose to live for the present rather than plan for the future.
The report also showed that a disturbing number of Britons are deficient in financial awareness.
About 12 percent of those asked believed the Bank of England’s base rate, which has been at a remarkable 0.5 percent low for over four years, was over 10 percent.
Over one third of the people asked did not comprehend the great effect that inflation has on their savings and 16 percent could not tell the right balance on a bank statement.
Nevertheless, more encouraging result from the survey revealed that the number of people checking their bank account statements had grown since 2006 and almost 84 percent of people said they constantly monitored their finances. 40 percent of those questioned said they stay clear of doubtful dealings and 85 percent said they were laying aside some money in savings.
Caroline Rookes, chief executive of the MAS, said: “In principle, financial management is easy –spend less than you make and think about your future – but the challenge comes from how we apply it in actual life.”
The MAS, an autonomous body established by the Government, has a legal duty of enhancing public awareness and knowledge about financial issues. It plans to publish a method to assist citizens improve their financial condition next year.
Over 5,000 people participated in the survey, with more than 70 families monitored over the period of one year for the Financial Capability of The UK Report, which uncovered “a common sentiment that people worry about their capability to endure until the next payday”.