Experience the Park

The Majjistral Nature and History Park commands magnificent views of the Northwest coast of Malta with visitors being able to see as far as Sicily on nice clear days.
Visitors can walk along kilometers of trails that will take you through a myriad of habitats synonymous with the Mediterranean climate. Visitors can also enjoy viewing the many endemic species of flora and fauna spread all over the place.
Historical features related to past agricultural activities and military history can be observed through the extended network or dry stone rubble walls, the many corbelled stone huts (giren), Pillboxes, shooting ranges and the Għajn Tuffieħa Barracks.
The Majjistral Park also hosts one of the most frequent beaches in the Maltese Islands, the same beach holds the last remnants of shifting sand dunes on the Island.

Coastal Heritage

Majjistral Park Landscape

The rock layers most in evidence here are the Blue Clay and the overlying Upper Coralline Limestone.

The northwest of Malta with its scenic coast and alternating ridges and valleys provides an array of landscapes coupled with far-reaching views to Gozo.

The area is of High Landscape Value and is characterised by two wide karstic plateaux; the bay of Ir-Ramla tal-Mixquqa (Golden Sands); the headland of Ras il-Waħx – encircled by a string of boulders forming a landscape unique to the Maltese Islandsa; and the cliffs which continue along the coast as Rdum Majjiesa and Rdum id-Delli up to the next bay of il-Prajjet (Anchor Bay).

The rock layers most in evidence here are the Upper Coralline Limestone lying over the blue clay. Exposed layers and collapsed boulders of Greensand can be identified by their orange colour.

Marine erosion plays an important role in shaping the landscape, producing inlets and bays with small pocket beaches at the head of the bays.
The Majjistral Park includes 6 KM of walkable coastline, where one can view all these features in peace and quiet.

Natural Heritage

Ecology

Olive trees at Majjistral Nature and History Park

The olive tree was first reported to have originated in Syria. Its nutritional value and medicinal qualities were discovered around 2000 BC. The health benefits are both internal and external for a person (Immune System Support, Pathogen Control: virus, retrovirus, bacteria, fungi, parasites, Cardiovascular health, Cholesterol & Hypertension).

Olive cultivation very often has a positive impact on the environment and the conservation of the landscape. It is an essential factor in combating desertification, which is one of the greatest environmental problems in the Mediterranean Region. In providing shelter and food for wild fauna, olive groves contribute significantly to maintaining the biodiversity of these regions.

The Park has a diversity of habitats such as cliffs, clay slopes, boulder screes, garigue, temporary freshwater rock pools, agricultural land (both abandoned and in use), and a sandy beach with a small sand dune.

These different habitats harbour a diversity of fauna and flora, some of which are rare or endemic.

Flora

Ecological surveys on wild plants carried out in the Park has revealed over 370 species, many of which are native, and include rare, endemic or sub-endemic ones.

Iconic species on the Park’s rugged rocky landscape include the Maltese Shrubby Kidney-Vetch (Anthyllis hermanniae), Maltese Spurge (Euphorbia melitensis) and the Mediterranean Thyme (Thymus capitatus). The African Tamarisk (Tamarix africana) and the Esparto Grass (Lygeum spartum) inhabit the coastal areas, the latter’s rhizomes helping to stabilise clay from being eroded away.

The Park’s flora also contains wild orchids, with 9 species found frequently to common. The Fagonia (Fagonia cretica) is a relatively uncommon species that is confined to the western area of Malta and is found in good numbers in the Park.

Four species of ferns inhabit the coastal areas, the commonest of which is the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris). For a list of all plants recorded in il-Majjistral please check below.

Check out the list of plants at Majjistral Park

Caper flower at Majjistral Park

The caper was used in ancient Greece.
Capers can be grown easily from fresh seeds gathered from ripe fruit and planted into well-drained seed-raising mix. Seedlings appear in two to four weeks.

The caper bush requires a semiarid or arid climate. The caper bush has developed a series of mechanisms that reduce the impact of high radiation levels, high daily temperature, and insufficient soil water during its growing period. The flowers are sweetly fragrant, and showy, with four sepals and four white to pinkish-white petals, and many long violet-colored stamens.

Lichens

Not less than 30 species of Lichens can be found in the Park. Lichens are made up of two organisms (Fungus and alga/cyanobacteria) living in a symbiotic way. Lichens can grow on many surfaces, but many grow on rocks, trees and soil. They do a lot of benefit, such as releasing oxygen during photosynthesis. For more information about these organisms and species that have been found in the Park please check out the list of Lichens below.

Check out the list of Lichens at Majjistral Park

Lichens at Majjistral Park

When you look at a lichen you are not seeing one organism but at least two. You are seeing a structure (thallus) formed by the interaction of either a fungus with an alga or of a fungus with a cyanobacterium. The fungal partner is called the mycobiont. It is incapable of making food by photosynthesis so it gets its sugar derivatives from the algal (or cyanobacterial) partner called the photobiont.

Lichens can survive very harsh conditions. Locally this means long months of exposure to the hot sun without water during which they will dehydrate. This interrupts photosynthesis and will slow down or arrest their growth but it still allows them to survive.

Fauna

Sardinian Warbler at Majjistral Park

Sardinian Warbler (‘Bufula Sewda’) is one of our resident birds.
This striking bird is common in the Park preferring areas with trees and shrubs but is also found in the garigue habitat.
It nests in shrub and lays 3 to 5 eggs in one clutch and can have 2 or more broods per year.
The warbler is frequently heard singing (including in aerial song flight) and it feeds on invertebrates, berries and other fruits.
Below is a 2 minute clip in Maltese about a male and female feeding their chicks. The female feeds their chicks every 7 mins (on average) without stopping for 12 days!

*Photo provided courtesy of Aron Tanti.

Birds

Majjistral Park is one of the best areas to observe, photograph, and study wild birds. The best seasons are spring and autumn, but during the other seasons many birds are still observable. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded in these last 5 years at the Park. These include rare and scarce species, some of which are irregular visitors to the Maltese Islands.

The coastal areas hold breeding Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), Malta’s national bird. It can be seen all year round in practically all areas of the Park, even away from the cliffs. Its melodious song is heard on many days of the year.
The Blue Rock Thrush is one of 11 bird species that nest regularly in the Park.

The others are: Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti), Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis), Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispanicus).

A feral population of pigeons (Columbia livia domestica) also nest in the cliffs, some having an almost similar true Rock Dove (Columba livia) plumage. Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas are common residents and are likely to be seen on every visit to the Park. Spanish Sparrows are everywhere, but Tree Sparrows are scarcer and only observed in a few sites such as the barracks area. Spectacled Warblers occur in a few sites, nesting in low shrubs in the garigue or in the areas beneath the cliffs. Its presence is often revealed by its alarm calls. Cetti’s Warblers are often hard to see because they sing from trees or other vegetation. Short-toed Larks make their appearance in April after arriving from their wintering quarters in Africa. They take up territory and fly high singing above it.

The Collared Dove is a relatively recent breeder in the Maltese islands, and it is found in good numbers in several areas spread throughout Malta. However it is still a rare breeder in the Park, with regular sightings of a few birds only at the barracks.

The rarest of the Park’s nesting species is undoubtedly the Corn Bunting. Once a common breeding bird of Malta, it has now declined severely. A handful of Corn Buntings have been recorded nesting in same areas in these last years. Here the male can be seen singing from prominent perches such as electricity wires or the top of a plant. From all nesting birds in the Park, the commonest species are Spanish Sparrows, then Zitting Cisticola followed by the Blue Rock Thrush.

Other birds that have been recorded nesting in recent years in the Park, but irregularly, include the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and the Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), two frequent to common spring migrants. Malta’s largest breeding bird – the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) is a regular gull in the Park especially at the coastal areas but has never been found nesting.

During migration, the stretches of garigue are favoured in spring by migrants such as the Hoopoe (Upupa epops), the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) and the Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), while in winter Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) and Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) are regulars.

Check out the list of birds at Majjistral Park

Mammals


Wild rabbits (scientific) are perhaps the most widely recorded species in the Park, their presence often revealed by their droppings and burrows. Other mammals that have been recorded in at il-Majjistral include The Weasel (Mustela nivalis), Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus), Etruscan Shrew (Suncus etruscus) and different species of bats including pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus sp.).

Hedgehog at Majjistral Park

Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus), Maltese name: Quanfud is the largest of three insectivorous mammals that occur in the Maltese Islands.
The familiar Xummiemu is instantly recognisable from its coat of spiky bristles, which are actually toughened modified hairs that cover the animal`s back for protections from predators.
The underside of the body is not covered in these bristles, which is why the animal rolls into a tight ball when it encounters danger, so as to cover the soft unprotected belly, head and limbs.
They natural food is insects, snails, slugs and earthworms, which hedgehogs forage for at night.
The Algerian Hedgehog is protected!
*Photo provided courtesy of Guido Bonett.

Black Western Whip Snake at Majjistral Park

Black Western Whip Snake (Maltese:’Serp Iswed’) growing to 1.5 m in length, is the largest and commonest snake in the Maltese Islands.
It has a rounded snout, large eyes with a round pupil, and a long tapering tail. The shade of its underside is ash and occasionally yellow. In contrast, the young snakes have an olive-green head and a light ash colour which darkens along the years; these show the same colour as those of the adults on their fourth year.
The Western Whip Snake occupies all types of habitats; still it has a preference for dry and quiet places. One may come across it along valley sides, maquis and open rocky ground, where it is occasionally observed basking on rocks or rubble walls. It is an extraordinary hunter, using its vision to locate prey, which varies with local availability.
However, it typically takes other reptiles and small mammals, including lizards and their eggs, mice, shrews, other smaller snakes, frogs and large insects.
*Photo provided courtesy of Guido Bonett.

Reptiles

The rocky landscape and diverse habitats of the Park is a home to reptile species which include 3 species of snakes, all of which are not dangerous to humans. The most likely to be encountered during a warm sunny day is the Black Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus). The other two species recorded in the Park are the Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) and the Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla). Other terrestrial reptiles found in il-Majjistral are the Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), the Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), the Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) and the Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon).

The Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), a marine reptile, has successfully nested at Ramla tal-Mixquqa (Golden Bay) in 2016 and 2020.

Amphibians


Malta’s only native amphibian, the Painted Frog (Discoglossus pictus) is also at home in il-Majjistral, inhabiting damp places such as streams or temporary pools.

Amphibian at Majjistral Nature and History Park

Painted Frog (Discoglossus pictus), Maltese Name: Żrinġ is the only native amphibian on the Maltese Island.
They are mostly a muddy mustard-brown in colour, with darker patches that looks like daubs of paint (hence its name). They live in damp plaes, especially  wet valleys with seasonal streams but also in and around small agricultural reservoirs.
The painted frog is protected!
*Photo provided courtesy of Annalise Falzon.

Swallowtail at Majjistral Park, Malta

Swallowtail at Majjistral Park, Malta

Insects and other invertebrates


It is no surprise that a relatively large area as il-Majjistral Park holds a diverse array of invertebrate life including insects. Among the most noticed are the butterflies. Here 9 species occur regularly, including the Swallowtail (Papilio machaon).
The Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is one of several moth species that have been recorded here, and one of the most known, often seen in daylight hovering in front of flowers to suck nectar.  Dragonflies, grasshoppers, mantids, cicadas, wasps, bees, beetles, bugs, spiders, freshwater shrimps and snails are other invertebrate life that can be found in the Park. For more information, see the list below.

Check out the list of Insects and other invertebrates at Majjistral Park

GEOLOGICAL TRAIL AT MAJJISTRAL NATURE AND HISTORY PARK

Boundary

Boundary

HIGHEST POINT @125 m above sea leavel

*Thanks to Chiara Parise

Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park is situated in the North-Western coast of Malta (Mellieħa), in the area between Anchor Bay in the northern part and Golden Bay in the southern part. The park includes different elements of natural, cultural and touristic interests. It is possible to find anthropic heritage, unique habitats for flora and different geological sites.

Malta is an important touristic island, especially near coastal areas. Within the Park area it is possible to practice various activities like geological and natural hiking, trekking, horse riding and snorkeling.

LITHOLOGY OF MALTA

Lithology of Malta

MAIN LITHOLOGY IN THE PARK

Upper Coralline Limestone: most common surface rock. There are irregularly shaped depressions formed by solution.

Blue Clay: a band along the coast, under Upper Coralline Limestone.

Lower Coralline Limestone

It’s the lower, made up of carbonate sand and gravel mixed with shell fossils. It’s hard and resistant to wear and tear, and forms steep and vertical cliffs along the coast. (north-west of Marsalforn on Gozo). High erosion resistance.

Globigerina Limestone

It’s the middle interval, softest of the three limestones. It’s composed nearly completely of planktonic carbonate and gets its name from the Globigerina foraminifera. Yellow-grey colour. It’s used to construct buildings, pavements and Maltese towns. Deposited in deep water (200m). It shapes an undulating landscape.

Blue Clay

Softest rock on Malta. It consists of very fine-grained particles of clay minerals and carbonate, which make it impermeable. It catches water that sinks down through the porous rocks above and forms the floor of a precious freshwater table. Plastic/ductile.

Upper Coralline Limestone

It’s a lookalike of its older sibling, deposited in the same high-energy deposition environment. On Gozo, this hard limestone stands out as caps with steep cliff sides and flat tops, above the softer rocks beneath. High erosion resistance.

GEOMORPHOGY

The area is predominantly characterised by vast stretches of Karstland, supporting garrigue vegetation.

This landscape is quite varied but can be conveniently subdivided into three distinct units:

  • A series of dissected Upper Coralline Limestone platforms (karstic platforms);
  • A coastal slope dominated by rock sliding processes;
  • Two bays located at the northern and southernmost extremities of the park precincts Anchor Bay and Golden Bay)

Geomorphology factors:

  • Structural factors: the northern part of Malta is characterized by fault systems, which result in alternation of topographically higher areas and valley depressions (Horst and Graben), oriented OSO-ENE. These factors influenced the evolution of the landscape, particularly because they conditioned the superficial water flow;
  • Gravitational factors: we can see these processes along the coast, where Upper Coralline Limestone platform fracture and block slide on the Blue Clay, showing lateral spreading;
  • Water action: as regard precipitations, rainwater produce surface runoff phenomena, especially in the presence of Blue Clay outcrops, where Badlands may be generated;
  • Anthropic activities: the main anthropic activity in Malta is tourism, especially in sandy beaches like Golden Bay. This brings fast change of the beach, due to waste and plastic pollution, and the flora and fauna alteration.

Geomorphological processes are more pronounced on the coastal parts of the Park. Within this area the undercutting of the softer lithologies, being the Blue Clay and Greensand formations, undermines the Upper Coralline Limestone formation. Large blocks are eventually detached ending up sliding towards the shoreline due to gravitational pull.

MAPPING OF GEOLOGICAL FEATURES WITHIN THE PARK

1. Badland topography in Blue Clay slopes: the shapes that it is possible to see are steep Blue Clay, dry terrain where sedimentary rocks have been eroded. It’s bare of vegetation cover, so the area is exposed to the action of the water. These forms are visible next to the coast.

2. Area affected by rock spreading:  the rock spreading gravitational processes are visible in the northwestern coastal. Due to the high and steep cliffs, and the mechanical action of waves, we can see landslides accumulations.

3, Karst Landform: Coralline Limestone is very sensible to dissolution. It consists of calcium carbonate and high fissure density. The main process in this area is karstification. Land-forms: surface topography of limestone plateaus and ridges characterised by irregular and rough terrain where vegetation community has developed.

4. Solution subsidence structure (Subsidence Landforms): caused by dissolution processes in Upper Coralline Limestone.

5. Dry valley: they correspond to V-shaped deep small valleys that developed in relatively wetter climate conditions and are occupied nowadays by agricultural land and terraced fields. They are witness to former pluvial conditions.

IL-MAJJISTRAL LANDSCAPE

IL-MAJJISTRAL LANSCAPE

Il-Qarraba

Il-Qarraba is a promontory on the north-west coast of Malta and it divides Golden Bay (in the north) and Ghajn Tuffieha Bay (in the south).

Il-Qarraba is a promontory on the north-west coast of Malta and it divides Golden Bay (in the north) and Ghajn Tuffieha Bay (in the south). It reaches a maximum altitude of 29 m above sea level and it has a very particular morphology, due to sea erosion and atmospheric agents. The layers that emerge are Blue Clay Formation and, above this, the Upper Coralline Limestone Formation. The Blue Clay layer, due to its high erodibility and its direct contact with the sea water, tends to shrink more and more, bringing the layer of Upper Coralline Limestone to collapse. The latter in fact remained a platform of about 8 km, which will tend to shrink over the years until it disappears.

Cultural Heritage

Ta' Ciantar Tower at Majjistral Park

Għajn Żnuber Tower (Maltese: Torri ta’ Għajn Żnuber), also known as Ta’ Ciantar Tower (Maltese: Torri ta’ Ciantar), is a rural structure in the limits of Mellieħa, Malta. It was probably built in the 19th century as a farmstead or hunting lodge, and it later served as an anti-smuggling post and a coastal lookout position.
The building was restored by Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park in 2012 after part of it had collapsed.

Various features of cultural interest that merit conservation lie within the boundaries of the Park. These features include cart-ruts, long rubble walls (dry stone walls), farmhouses, small beehives, tombs dating to the Classical period and numerous corbelled stone huts (giren). On the two sides of the valley overlooking Golden Bay (Ir-Ramla tal-Mixquqa), there are entrenchments built as part of a coastal defence system during the period of the Knights of St John in the early eighteenth century. The cultural features of the area are intimately linked to the geographical landscape in which they are situated.

The rural, vernacular and military heritage of the area forms an important cultural landscape, with human activity attempting to make the most of the difficult conditions and limited resources available. Of more recent origin are the Second World War pillboxes/gunposts and British Navy stone markers which highlight the importance of the area especially in the early 20th century.

Double Girna

The girna or Maltese corbelled stone hut is an important feature of the local landscape which provided shelter to farmers and herdsmen or their livestock in days gone by.
Some are still well preserved and should be considered a subject of architectural, cultural and ethnic value, having been passed from one generation to the next.

British Army barracks

During the centuries, due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean
Sea, Malta was home to much strife and military activities.
In the Park one can observe many British military structures dating back to the early twentieth century, such as the Għajn Tuffieħa Barracks, shooting ranges, pillboxes and stone property markers, which highlight the importance of the area during that time.In August 1915, work began on converting the military camp at Għajn Tuffieħa into a convalescent hospital for 5,000 injured soldiers coming from the campaign in Gallipoli.
Three camps were initially formed with a central headquarters a kitchen, spartan bathing facilities and sanitary conveniences. Each camp had its own vegetable garden and a ten-acre plot was set for the cultivation of potatoes.

Two large sets of military barracks used during the British period as well as a disused military shooting range lie just outside the confines of the Park.

During the first World War, wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Dardanelles (Battle of Gallipoli) were brought to a large hospital camp erected in this area.