Nature reserve series: FORESTA 2000
Foresta 2000 is an area of natural habitat which has been restored as a Mediterranean woodland. Overlooking Għadira Bay the site stretches almost coast to coast offering not only diverse wildlife, but also fantastic views across the valley
Woodland once covered much of the Maltese Islands, until humans arrived 7,500 years ago. The forest was cleared to make space for pasture and farming and the wood used for fire. Today, only two or three small groves of possibly ‘original’ forest remain. In 1995, BirdLife Malta proposed the regrowth of an area of Mediterranean woodland, to commemorate the forthcoming new millennium. Thus, Foresta 2000 came to be.
Marfa Ridge may have once been covered in broadleaf woodland, but the original vegetation has long since vanished. Centuries of farming impoverished the soil, fields were abandoned and the land turned to sheep and goat pasture. A garrigue ecosystem developed where bedrock was exposed, while areas with some soil cover became rocky or clay steppe.
Through the Foresta 2000 project, many old, crumbling terraces were restored and native trees and shrubs were planted, like holm oak, Aleppo pine, lentisk, araar, Mediterranean buckthorn, hawthorn, carob, rosemary and olive-leaved germander. Today, they are growing back some of the woodland and undergrowth that was lost over the centuries.
At about 23ha in area, one day Foresta 2000 may rival Buskett in expanse, if not in age. Most of the area covered by the woodland project falls within a Natura 2000 site and is therefore, protected from harmful development. Foresta 2000 is managed by BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa and PARK.
Woodland regeneration is the main aim of the Foresta 2000 project, however, several other already existing habitats have been protected and helped to spread even further. These include maquis, clay steppe, rocky steppe and garrigue. Pockets of farmland also complement the project, as agricultural fields make up a significant part of the mosaic of our countryside. The more habitats an area supports, the more diverse its wildlife. A rich biodiversity is a sign of a healthy, dynamic ecosystem.
Due to the diversity in habitats, the flora is rich and varied at Foresta 2000, ranging from common species such as sticky fleabane and Maltese ferule, to specialist flowers such as orchids that only occur on garrigues, to the very rare slender canary grass.
The areas planted with trees and shrubs in recent years are developing new floral communities, as the woodland establishes itself. As they grow, shade is cast and their leaf litter produces rich humus. Under the conifers, pine boletes and other mushrooms spread, while the clay steppes heave with the fragrance of narcissus flowers in winter.
Grasslands and steppe support a wide range of insects, including the slant-faced grasshopper and several bees and beetles. Berry-bearing shrubs are a magnet for small migrant birds, like robins and blackcaps. The invertebrates are also an excellent source of protein for the chicks of Sardinian warblers and zitting cisticolas, which nest in the area with collared doves and tree sparrows.
Insects also attracts reptiles, such as chameleons, geckoes and skinks, which are, in turn, hunted by three species of snake that occur in the area. Mammals can also be found here, including wild rabbit, vagrant hedgehog, weasel and several bats.
The site is permanently open to the public, with several entrances. Facilities include a footpath and seating, as well as information panels. Visitors are asked to park outside and enter on foot, and to respect the country code to minimise disturbance and damage.