Which are the Natura 2000 sites and how are they being protected?

The 34 Natura 2000 sites found around the Maltese islands are part of the natural treasures in our country which are considered to be of international importance, because they are in danger, vulnerable, rare or endemic to the place.

TVM spoke with Stephen Saliba from the Environment and Resources Authority about its role to monitor and protect the Natura 2000 sites in Malta, Gozo, Comino and Filfla.

Ramla l-Ħamra, Ta’ Ċenċ, Wied il-Mielaħ, Comino, Filfla and Buskett are among these 34 sites.

They are protected as natural reserves because of their unique environment which cannot be found anywhere in the world, and also because they serve as a natural habitat for various creatures.

Stephen Saliba from ERA explained that they form part of a chain of protected sites around Europe.

“The idea is to create a network, that is why we say a network of European Natura sites, where each country lists a set of sites which have an ecological importance, not just on a national level, but also on a European level. That is why there are certain criteria which need to be reached before a site can be identified as Natura 2000.”

Mr Saliba said that for a site to be declared as Natura 2000, it has to contain either rare species or species which with their presence ensure that the ecosystem is in its best state and needs to be protected and conserved.

“There needs to be a commitment so that these countries carry out various measures which allow the state of conservation of these species to improve over time. Where the state of conservation is already good, we make sure to maintain it and keep it as it is.”

For these sites to be conserved, Mr Saliba says that human activity, while not prohibited, needs to be kept to a minimum and carried out with great sensitivity.

“That is why when activities or projects are proposed, they need to be assessed in a scientific way to ascertain what impact they will leave on the environment. Obviously, ERA will then give direction where certain impacts may be mitigated and others are not allowed.”

He added that part of the role of the Authority is to continuously monitor these sites because if you destroy a species this cannot always be recovered, and might become completely extinct.

“These are natural resources which are so important that Malta also has an obligation on an international level to protect, and Malta also has the obligation to report and monitor the situation of these species.”

ERA appealed to the public to be sensitive towards the environment and inform the Authority when it sees activities which cause damage in order to protect the natural heritage which has developed over thousands of years.