Mgarr ix-Xini Regional Park [Description Statement]


Lino Bianco & Associates

Architect, Structural Design Studio

Environmental Management Consultancy

Urban Planning and Design Consultancy


The Project Description Statement for the proposed Mgarr Ix-Xini Regional Park is a response to a request by Sannat Local Council and Xewkija Local Council to develop a joint initiative aimed at protecting, safeguarding, sustaining and enhancing the ecosensitive, geocultural landscapes of Mgarr Ix-Xini valley.  The aim of Sannat and Xewkija Local Councils is to develop a regional park based on the concept of inclusivity rather than exclusivity of the landowners and occupiers of properties falling within the boundaries of the regional park: the Local Councils are the guarantors while the land owners and occupiers are the prime movers.



Table of Contents:


          Introduction 1
1.1      Terms of Reference 1
1.2      The Issue 1
2.0      The Site 2
2.1      Characteristics 2
2.2       Brief Visual Overview 4
3.0       Landscapes Defined 4
4.0       Legal Framework 5
4.1       European Landscape Convention 5
4.2       The Mediterranean Landscape Charter 6
4.3       The Pan-European Biological and Landscape Strategy 7
4.4       The Habitats Council Directive 92/43/EEC 7
4.5       The European Union Biodiversity Strategy 8
5.0       Local Planning Framework 9
5.1       Planning Policy 9
5.2       Scheduled Properties 10
6.0       Mgarr Ix-Xini Regional Park: The underlying philosophy 14



1.0      Introduction

1.1      Terms of Reference

  • The Project Description Statement for the proposed Mgarr Ix-Xini Regional Park is a response to a request by Sannat Local Council and Xewkija Local Council to develop a joint initiative aimed at protecting, safeguarding, sustaining and enhancing the ecosensitive, geocultural landscapes of Mgarr Ix-Xini valley.  The aim of Sannat and Xewkija Local Councils is to develop a regional park based on the concept of inclusivity rather than exclusivity of the landowners and occupiers of properties falling within the boundaries of the regional park: the Local Councils are the guarantors while the land owners and occupiers are the prime movers. 

  • Sannat and Xewkija Local Councils were set up in terms of the Local Councils Act, 1993.[1]  One of the main functions of the Local Councils as listed in the Act is[2]

To provide for the upkeeping and maintenance of, or improvement in, any street or footpath, not being privately owned.

  • It is in this spirit that the Local Councils of Sannat and Xewkija, will be jointly submitting a development planning application in due course to restore and/or reconstruct damaged rubble walls and, where absent, erect rubble walls to a maximum height of three (3) courses along the proposed boundary of the regional park and put markers delineating boundaries of same. 

1.2      The Issue

  • Mgarr Ix-Xini is an area, which has long been identified for its significant geomorphological, ecological, agrarian and cultural importance.  Its tourist potential, cultural, agrotouristic and otherwise, has not being exploited neither for locals nor overseas visitors.  


  • Sannat and Xewkija Local Councils, in line with local legislation and planning policy, intend to develop Mgarr Ix-Xini Valley and its environs into a regional park (Drawing 16_04_01).  Grounding the concept underlying this initiative is the environmental planning strategy of the Malta Environment and Planing Authority and other public agencies together with directives and legal obligations, which the Maltese archipelago has to abide with.

  • The objectives of this joint regional initiative is to protect, safeguard, sustain and enhance the natural and cultural landscapes occurring within the proposed boundaries of the park for present and future generations. The evolution of these landscapes in geological, archaeological and historical time can be largely traced.  Memories, past and present, are a guarantor for the mental and physical well being, metaphorical and literal, of locals and Gozitans at large.  The land and its surrounding environs recall various phases in the natural and cultural evolution of Gozo.  This should not be left to pass unnoticed; this is what Gozitans need to know and experience in order to develop a psychologically and physically healthy identity.  Despite the radical, highly agitated revolution in life styles and habits of the younger generations of Gozitans, still the typical Gozitan destination of Sunday strolls is Mgarr Harbour;  Mgarr Ix-Xini Regional Park will certainly be an alternative. 


  • In order to physically define the limits of the proposed Mgarr Ix-Xini Regional Park, the above referred outline development planning consent is being requested by the Local Councils of Sannat and Xewkija.  It is the intention of both Local Councils that property that will be affected by the boundary wall of the proposed park is along a public right of way.  No interference with private property is envisaged.  The respective Local Councils do not want to interfere or in any way get involved in issues pertaining to land ownership.

2.0      The Site

2.1      Characteristics

  • Mgarr Ix-Xini lies at the south-eastern coast of Gozo.  Mgarr Ix-Xini Valley, including its tributary, is a steep-sided valley running north-west to south-east to the fjord-like inlet of Mgarr Ix-Xini, the galleys’ haven for part of the fleet that besieged Gozo in July 1551 which fleet took the main population of the island into slavery.[3]  According to tradition, the Gozitan population was gathered by the Turks in this valley prior their forced departure into captivity.


  • The area of Mgarr Ix-Xini is characterised by one of the main fault systems on the island that gave rise to the present geomorphology and the valley system.  The main geological formations surfacing in the area are the Oligocene Lower Coralline Limestone and the Miocene Globigerina Limestone.[4]  The members of the Lower Coralline Limestone which outcrops in the area are the Attard and Xlendi members.  All members of the Globigerina Limestone Formation, namely, the Lower, Middle and the Upper, outcrop in the area.  The main soils occurring in the area, that is, terra rossa – Xaghra series, xerorendzina – San Biagio series and carbonate raw soils – San Lawrenz series, largely mirror the parent material present with some degree of human interference.[5]  Terra rossa occurs where Lower Coralline outcrops while xerorendzinas and carbonate raw soils occur where Globigerina and Blue Clay surface.  


  • The Mgarr Ix-Xini Valley is rich in biodiversity and supports ecologically significant plant communities.  Maquis communities characterise its bed while karstic garigue and maquis vegetation flourish on its sides.  Together with the coastal cliffs extending to Ta’ Cenc, it supports important bird nesting sites.  In the publicationLocalities with Conservation Value in the Maltese Islands[6], the entire Mgarr ix-Xini/Wied Sabbara area is considered of conservation value:

Mgarr ix-Xini Valley is the finest local example of a classical, steep-sided creek (drowned valley) in Lower Coralline Limestone;  both valleys support an important flora including the very rare Spanish Broom Spartium junceum [Genista], wild populations of Aloe vera[Sabbara, hence the name Wied Sabbara] and the extremely rare Shrubby CahmpionSilene fruticosa;  it is also one of the few remaining areas where the Barn Owl Tyto alba[Barbagann], a species nearly extinct from the Maltese Islands, breeds.

  • Furthermore, the valley is of significant cultural importance.  A number of legends are tied with the area.[7]  Also, architectural elements and building structures are present, ranging from property markers to rock cut steps along the valley sides to the former pumping station and other items of hydrological history.  Large-scale terracing of the area attests long standing anthropogenic interference and dryland small-scale farming still flourishes, albeit with pockets of land abandonment (Drawings 16_04_02_1 and 16_04_02_2).  A number of small-scale dairy husbandry units mark a more recent intervention.  Disturbed habitats, earmarked for restoration, are present in the area known as Ta’ Trajsu.  Development planning history since the establishment of the Planning Authority in 1992, is plotted in Drawings 16_04_04_1 and 16_04_04_2.

2.2      Brief Visual Overview

  • Mgarr Ix-Xini is one of the most panoramic sites in Gozo.  Photographs 1 to 12 give a brief visual overview of the valley and the rich surrounding environs, various landscapes of significant amenity value, aesthetic and otherwise.  It illustrates contemporary agrarian activity being carried out in the area, a setting of important ecological and geomorphological significance.  Anthropomorphic legacies of by gone time are also present.  Photos of boundary wall of proposed regional park covered by the outline planning application which either need replacement (Photos 7 and 11) or reconstruction (Photo 4) are included.

3.0      Landscapes Defined

  • Landscape is defined as “scenery as seen in a broad view”,[8] yet defining landscapes is perplexing.  Some view landscapes as the biophysical characteristics of a given area in flux while for others it is merely the superficial, visual aspect of same.[9]  Landscapes are the expression of the relationship that develops between the human and the natural environments.  In the most popular use of the term, landscapes are merged with the notion of countryside and hence with natural landscapes, even though untempered natural landscapes are nowadays rare.  This is due to changes in the sociological fabric, namely the radical move towards urban conglomerates and the renewed interest in the rural and relaxing landscapes.  Another facet of rural landscapes is the cultural aspect, the ‘local character’ which gives identity to a nation.  The Maltese character is primarily Mediterranean and is increasingly threatened by urbanisation and modernisation of agricultural practice.


  • This holistic, multi-dimensional approach to landscapes forces one to abandon the narrow notion of conservation solely for its natural value, but extend it to the multiplicity of values a landscape inherently sustains.  A healthy landscape significantly contributes to society’s physical and spiritual well being, it being a fundamental factor contributing to its identity.  However, to retain healthy landscapes, developments must become increasingly sustainable.  As established in the Biodiversity Convention, sustainable development encompasses environmental constraints, prevents inappropriate development while enhancing the environment.  Nature has many facets: besides its scientific and environmental values which have been underlined in the Biodiversity Convention, nature has its economic, recreational and cultural values.  Enhancing nature in its entirety increases direct and indirect employment through, say, direct conservation efforts and ecotourism, provided the infrastructure is well marketed.  However, nature has its own intangible intrinsic value – how can one assess the pleasure in viewing a beautiful landscape, or the positive effect on one’s health?

There is an increasing evidence suggesting health and emotional stability of a population may be profoundly influenced by frustrating aspects of an urban, biologically artificial environment.  It seems likely that we are genetically programmed to a natural habitat of clean air and a varied green landscape … it is evident that in our daily lives nature must be thought of not as a luxury to be made available if possible, but as part of our inherent indispensable need.[10]

  • Moreover, as emphasised in the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, present generations have the obligation to conserve natural assets to future generations.

Europe’s biological and landscape diversity is one of our greatest riches.  It is a heritage passed down to us over thousands of years and linked to other natural systems worldwide.  We have a shared responsibility to pass this heritage on to future generations as a diverse and sustainable system.[11]

4.0      Legal Framework

4.1      European Landscape Convention

  • The Landscape Convention[12] was drawn by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe within the Council of Europe due to concerns “to achieve sustainable development based on a balanced and harmonious relationship between social needs, economic activity and the environment”.  The only one of its kind in exclusively addressing European landscapes, the Landscape Convention aims at protecting, managing and enhancing European landscapes.  In fact, it is declared that signatories "wish to provide a new instrument devoted exclusively to the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe."  The aim is to consolidate the European identity through the protection and management of the diverse landscapes. 

… the landscape has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields, and constitutes a resource favourable to economic activity and whose protection, management and planning can contribute to job creation [and that] developments … are in many cases accelerating the transformation of landscapes

  • Signatories also acknowledged that “the landscape is an important part of the quality of life for people everywhere…” and “a key element of individual and social well-being”, in response to public demand “to enjoy high quality landscapes and to play an active part in the development of landscapes”. 


  • For the purposes of the Convention, landscape means “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”.  Any type of landscape may be worth promoting, those “that might be considered outstanding as well as everyday or degraded landscapes”.  The objectives of this Convention are “to promote landscape protection, management and planning, and to organise European co-operation on landscape issues”. [13] 

4.2      The Mediterranean Landscape Charter

  • This Charter was drawn in preparation to the European Landscape Convention in view of the greater sensitivity of the nature of Mediterranean landscapes given their unique setup of nature and culture and their transforming agents due to uncontrolled urban sprawl, tourism and loss of landscape values.  It defines the Mediterranean landscape as[14] 

A reality built upon a natural substrate although deeply marked by human agency and, at the same time, as a fundamental resource for guiding and applying environmental, regional planning and heritage management policies. 

  • The Mediterranean Landscape Charter also aims at including the landscape dimension in all the stages of policy making and planning, and at increasing awareness and appreciation of the Mediterranean landscape values for their better protection.

4.3      The Pan-European Biological and Landscape Strategy

  • The Pan-European Biological and Landscape Strategy, endorsed by the Ministers of Environment in Sofia in 1995 and is being implemented by the Council of Europe in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme,[15] seeks to strengthen the biological and landscape diversity in all social and economic sectors, in response to the Biodiversity Convention.  Protecting specific areas or species is no longer held sustainable and the greater the integration of the various stakeholders in conserving nature, the greater the chance of success.  More specifically, in the Fourth Action Theme regarding the Conservation of Landscapes,[16] it is highlighted that

-    further degradation of landscapes and the cultural and geological heritage they represent should be prevented;

-    the beauty and identity of landscapes should be preserved;

-    an integrated view of landscapes as part of a unique mosaic of cultural, natural and geological features is developed; and

-    making the public and policy makers more aware of landscapes to ensure their protection. 

  • To this effect, landscape protection is here not perceived as rigid conservation, but in a more inclusive manner where the right to profitability is balanced by the right to visual amenity.  

4.4      The Habitats Council Directive 92/43/EEC

  • The aim of the Habitats Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora is to conserve natural habitats and species in the European Union, keeping in mind the economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics.[17]  With this directive a European-wide ecological network of special areas of conservation is set up, termed Natura 2000 programme.  By this programme, Member States are bound to maintain and even develop “features of the landscape which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora” in their respective areas of conservation value.[18]  Moreover, they are bound to avoid their deterioration and promote sustainable development in the vicinity of the protected areas.[19]

4.5      The European Union Biodiversity Strategy

  • In response to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, the European Union set up the European Biodiversity Strategy[20] in order

to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biodiversity at the source. This will help both to reverse present trends in biodiversity reduction or losses and to place species and ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems, at a satisfactory conservation status…


5.0      Local Planning Framework

5.1      Planning Policy

  • Following rigorous environmental surveying, the Gozo & Comino Local Plan[21] acknowledged the natural and cultural importance of the Mgarr ix-Xini area and designated it as an Area of High Landscape Value with Triq ta’ Gruwa/Triq ta’ Mgarr ix-Xini as a panoramic route.[22]  The Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands[23]has long recognised the importance of establishing areas of landscape value and it is emphasised that development in rural areas will be strictly controlled since the Malta Environment and Planning Authority recognises the countryside as one of the “nation’s most valuable natural resources”, especially in scheduled areas.[24]  Structure Plan Policies AHF 7 and 8 encourage the enhancement of landscapes through the removal of visual intrusions.[25]  Moreover, in the Structure Plan it is recognised that “natural landscapes are intimately related to agricultural activity” and that both have to be protected from undue developments.[26]

  • In the spirit of Policy REC 13 of the Structure Plan, the Gozo & Comino Local Plan has established Mgarr ix-Xini area as a linear country parkway and a circular walking route.[27]  The Structure Plan emphasises the need of a management plan for the upkeep of country parkways.[28]  In the Local Plan, the entire valley is designated as a Dark Sky Heritage Area.[29]  Arable land in the area is considered as of Agricultural Value.  The designation of Areas of Agricultural Value is primarily intended as a preservation device for rural land against undue development including modern agriculture and dereliction.[30]  The area known as Ta’ Trajsu is earmarked as disturbed habitat to be eventually restored back to its original land use.[31]   

5.2      Scheduled Properties

  • The natural and cultural heritage of Mgarr ix-Xini area has long been acknowledged and Wied Mgarr ix-Xini and Wied Sabbara have been scheduled in November 2001 for their ecological, geomorphological and cultural heritage importance.[32]  Mgarr ix-Xini watercourse is scheduled as Level 1 Areas of Ecological Importance and Level 1 Site of Scientific Importance (Ecology), while the valley sides is scheduled as Level 3 Areas of Ecological Importance, except for GHar ix-Xih area which is scheduled as Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance.  The entire valley is scheduled as Level 1 Site of Scientific Importance (Geomorphology).[33]  In the Explanatory Memorandum of the Structure Plan, it is emphasised that “a general presumption against development” will prevail in Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance,[34] which areas are actually encouraged to be included in international listings of protected areas[35].  The ecological and geological importance of the area has been largely underlined by the Gozo & Comino Local Plan, with minor variations, both in grading and delineations.[36]  Given the geomorphology of Mgarr ix-Xini valley and its concomitant high level of biodiversity, it is designated as a Category A valley by the Local Plan,[37] while the valley is considered as garigue.[38]  Moreover, Mgarr ix-Xini valley is considered as a watercourse,[39]while the mouth of the valley is considered as an area prone to flooding.

  • In the Government Gazette a number of features have been scheduled as Grade 1, 2, 3 or Class B (Table 1 and Drawings 16_04_03_1 and 16_04_03_2).[40]  The archaeological importance of the area is also acknowledged by the Local Plan which designates parts of Mgarr ix-Xini area as of Archaeological Importance.[41]  

  • The olive grove at the northwestern part of the area known as Ta’ Blankas and part of the Mgarr ix-Xini watercourse are designated as Scheduled Trees.[42]  The Ta` Blankas olive grove and the trees at Il-Misrah are designated afforested areas in the Gozo & Comino Local Plan.[43]

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