THE FKNK RESERVES AT MIŻIEB AND AĦRAX
The FKNK were allocated two areas situated in the North of Malta to manage as Hunting Reserves between 1984 (Aħrax Reserve) and 1986 (Miżieb Reserve), which allocations were endorsed in the form of Management Agreements and Plans in October 2021 between the Malta Government and the FKNK.
Besides the Central Government, both areas fall under the jurisdiction of the Local Councils of Mellieħa and St. Paul’s Bay respectively. The management of the sites is undertaken by the FKNK Aħrax and Miżieb Sub-Committees, together with the concerted effort of the sites’ practicing FKNK hunter and trapper members.
The main aim of the Management Plans is to safeguard the recreation practices of hunters and trappers whilst at the same time conserving the natural environment of the areas. The natural resource management of the areas is crucial for the general conservation of the Reserves. The conservation of trees and tree planting efforts is a priority, and so the practicing members take care of the conservation of trees such as the practice of pruning trees. The members have also been active in increasing the number of trees planted on site via own funds and private sponsors. Tree planting consists of indigenous species such as the Aleppo pine, olive and carob trees. Unfortunately, alien species such as acacia and eucalyptus trees were present before the areas were passed on to the FKNK. On occasions, tree planting activities have involved schools, voluntary organisations and other public and private bodies. The removal of invasive tree species and the implementation of adequate irrigation systems are also seen to by the members.
Another aspect of preservation at the Reserves regard the maintenance and construction of rubble walls. Rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures should be protected, in view of their historical and architectural importance, their exceptional beauty, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna, and their vital importance in the conservation of the soil and of water. The agricultural land is surrounded with kilometres of rubble walls that provide an excellent habitat for various fauna, such as insects, reptiles and small mammals. The traditionally built stone rubble walls which delineate land parcels, serve as important ecological corridors for instance for native reptiles, such as Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Maltese Wall Lizard (Podarcis filfolensis), Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus), Western Whip Snake (Coluber viridiflavus), and Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla), together with species such as shrews. The rubble walls at both Reserves are in continuous need of restoration and conservation because some collapse after periods of heavy rainfall but, unfortunately, in some instances these walls are damaged due to acts of vandalism.
Since 1984 particular emphasis has been given to reduce fire hazards through various activities. Participant hunters are obliged to clean up and collect the used cartridges after shooting. Regular information meetings are held with the Xemxija Fire Brigade, in order to inform the members on issues related to safety and risk prevention. Keeping the public informed is also crucial to minimize risk. Therefore, Signposts hold two different types of information: a) a message stating that the hunting season or a shooting competitive is taking place and b) the emergency contact numbers in case of fire or accidents (fire brigade, police, and ambulance).
Both Reserves are highly maintained through cleaning of the areas that takes place every Saturday and Sunday on four to five consecutive weekends in winter (January-February) and another four to five in summer (June-July). Prior to the start of clean-up activity, each member is requested to clean his own hide and neighbouring areas from any litter. This activity is obligatory for members and each member is obliged to perform a stipulated minimum number of compulsory days’ attendance.
The cleaning activities also involve tree planting, watering and pruning of trees, according to the needs at the time. Construction and maintenance of rubble walls and construction and maintenance of hides with rubble walls, to complement the natural setting of the site, also take place. General upkeep of the sites involves the installation and maintenance of information and warning signposts and gates to the hunting areas.
These cleaning activities at times show that interventions by picnickers often disrupt the environment and habitats due to rubbish left on site. The sites sometimes experience vandalism. The clean-up activities are done on a voluntary basis. During the raining season, people collecting snails tend to dismantle the rubble walls and hides, which takes countless hours to restore to their original state. Reckless parking and off-roading is another cause of damage that is at times done to the natural environment at the Reserves.
The FKNK also acts as an educator to hunters and trappers and the general public. Information signposts are installed featuring the type of fauna and flora found in the Reserves.
The Management Plans acknowledge the need to communicate the right messages to the public both in providing general information and on encouraging the public to visit and make use of the Reserves.
A hide (in Maltese – dura) is a hunting blind. Hides are constructed by the members using rubble stones and other natural material. The physical structure of a hide is a built by the hunter to suit his/her needs, thus all hides have a different shape and height. For safety and security purposes, hides are constructed at a minimum distance of 100 paces apart.
Visitor access refers to the number of visitors that enter the area. The visitors are composed of the hunters and trappers and the general public and tourists. Apart from being used as a hunting and trapping site by the FKNK members, the area is also renowned for picnics and hikes with the Maltese public and tourists. Picnics are a popular weekend activity with Maltese families during autumn and springtime, with both Aħrax and Miżieb Reserves offering some of the more popular picnic areas.
Both areas are open to participating FKNK members (hunters and trappers) and the general public at different times of the year. For issues of safety, parts of the sites are closed to the public during the hunting seasons, thus allowing the hunters to practice with a peace of mind. Nevertheless, during all year-round, the general public has full access to other parts of the areas, such as footpaths, hiking and cycling trails and designated picnic areas. Following the hunting seasons, the participating members will be responsible to clean and clear their area to ensure that the sites are safe for public enjoyment. The FKNK acknowledges and respects that other leisure activities can take place at both Reserves, such as picnicking, hiking, dog-walking and trekking. The Management Plans reinforce the fact that a holistic approach, where both types of users make use of the site in equal benefit needs to be adopted.