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Malta is devoid of trees - at least that is the impression of quite a few first time visitors to the islands. Surprisingly there is evidence to suggest that most of Malta was tree-covered in prehistoric times but the early settlers of the islands denuded most of that – using the wood mostly as fuel and to construct their primitive adobes.
The islands’ lack of tree cover was also noted by the Knights of St. John’s scouts when they visited the islands to assess their suitability as a home after they were forced to abandon their lush Mediterranean island of Rhodes. Perhaps out of this sense of nostalgia the Knights set about planting Malta’s largest wooded area of Buskett – a woodland that after 500 years of existence is now self-regenerating and the closest thing to a small forest that Malta has. Various afforestation attempts have been made over the years - undoubtedly the most successful is the one at Mizieb – a narrow ridge of high land between St.Paul’s Bay and Mellieha.The Mizieb woodland Malta was planted in the early 1970’s and stretches for some two kilometres from Xemxija to the village of Manikata. It is mostly made up of Aleppo pines, with a generous sprinkling of the slower growing carob and olive trees. Contentiously the woodland is primarily in the care of the hunters’ association – a fact which rankles among environmental NGO’s since it also serves as a hunting ground in the autumn season and the much shorter spring one. However the Mizieb woodland is accessible at all times and most hunters will only be there very early in the morning.
The woodland can be accessed from various points – the easiest being through a secondary road which bisects the woods. More interesting is to explore the woods from the Manikata side (a path leads to the trees over the garigue just behind the church parvis) starting with a recently set up Rural Heritage Trail which features restored stone huts and rubble walls as well as a set of cart ruts. Leaving the rural trail behind one can follow a number of trails through the trees all the way to Xemxija Heights. There are very good views both to the north and south – the north overlooks the Mizieb valley while the south overlooks the very fertile Pwales valley. The shade offered by the tree cover is welcome at all times – more so in the hotter months.
The woodland ends some 2kms away at Xemxija Heights overlooking St.Paul’s Bay. Here one finds another highly interesting heritage trail – this one covering something like two thousand years of history. Features of the Xemxija Heritage Trail are Punic tombs, Roman apiaries and a curious Roman baths complex, one of Malta’s oldest carob trees as well as a medieval pilgrims’ trail. The Xemxija Heritage trail has been covered elsewhere in this blog. (https://www.chevron.co.uk/blog/xemxija-heritage-trail/)