Majjistral Park ranger Cami Appelgren has denied claims of excessive enforcement after four young tourists were hauled to court for using thyme to light an open fire.
“We’re not out here to catch people; we’d rather a quiet afternoon where we just speak to and educate people, but sometimes we see things that can have a very bad effect on park biodiversity and it’s our job to stop it and evaluate its impact on the park,” Appelgren, a well-known environmental activist and former MEP candidate, said.
“When we see this behaviour, we must proceed with police action. We can’t just see people damaging the park and tell them they can leave.”
Appelgren said that while wardens have found over 500 people breaching park regulations, only between ten to 15 cases were serious enough to warrant them being reported to the police.
Earlier this week, four young women were arrested after Majjistral Park rangers caught them using Mediterranean Thyme, a plant protected under Maltese law, to start an open fire on a former British military site.
A few days later, they were handed six-month prison sentences suspended for a year and fined €700 each.
While several people praised Appelgren and her team of rangers for enforcing nature laws, but others warned the action was way too harsh and a sign that the authorities are acting weak with the strong but strong with the weak.
However, Appelgren denied that the sentence was harsh, noting the law envisages fines between €400 and €50,000 for first-time offenders and that signage with the site rules have been installed at all entrances of the park.
Moreover, she warned that the ‘strong with the weak, weak with the strong’ argument can lead down a slippery slope.
“I hate the words ‘weak’ and ‘commoners’. We are all the same and all follow the same laws, and I’m not going to stay asking offenders if they’re strong or weak. It will be very, very dangerous to say that small things don’t matter or else these people will grow up and become our leaders, and we’ll end up in a scenario of people in power thinking they’re untouchable.”
Appelgren went on to warn that Malta’s small size and relatively large population means that environmental practices that may be sustainable in larger countries might not be sustainable here.
“The fact that Malta is so small means there is a big risk of someone lighting another fire in the same spot next weekend,” she said. “Unfortunately nature can’t really cope with overpopulation; things that are sustainable abroad aren’t sustainable in Malta and that’s the unfair truth.”
“I have a motorbike and I can imagine how fun off-roading would be; or how fun it would be to just camp where you want to like in Nordic countries, but we’re so small and overpopulated that it’s not doable. We must sacrifice a bit if we want to keep our nature.”
Do you think the fire starters deserved to end up in court?