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Working with the fauna, flora and geology on the Rock

Sponsored post: Gibraltar, with its fascinating, ancient past, is moving towards a strong and confident future.

There was one precise moment, some six million years ago, when some movement or other of the earth’s crust caused a break in a natural dam that created one of the planet’s biggest ever cascades, as the Atlantic broke into the basin that was to fill up to become the Mediterranean, just a few kilometres south from where I’m writing these lines. The Strait of Gibraltar had begun.

For anyone interested in the natural environment, Gibraltar’s geographical location is ideal. At the extreme southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, mere kilometres from Africa, overlooking the Herculean Straits, themselves a passageway for migratory whales and dolphins, turtles and tuna, it is a focus for tens of thousand of migratory birds of many species.

Its cliffs and hillsides are home to unique species of plants and invertebrates, with more than 600 species of plants and 700 species of beetles so far recorded: an impressive expression of biodiversity. This is all to be found in a small area - a peninsula of just around seven square kilometres.

While in recent months international attention has been focused mainly on Gibraltar’s relationship with Spain, ironically, some allege, rekindled by the laying of an artificial reef intended precisely to improve biodiversity, what may have gone relatively unnoticed is the commitment that Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar has not only to protect and enhance the natural environment, but to take a leading role in wider environmental issues and work towards a green economy and a carbonneutral community.

This was one of the key commitments of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party/ Liberal Alliance that came to power just under two years ago after close on 16 years in opposition.

So strong is this “green” commitment, that it went beyond our shores and attracted the attention of America’s former vice-president, Al Gore. He joined together with one of Barack Obama’s environmental team and 2012 campaign managers, Juan Verde, and both became key speakers in a major environmental conference and trade fair held in Gibraltar less than a year after the current government came into office.

One of the biggest challenges, aside from the restoration of marine habitats, overexploited and damaged in the recent past, is the replacing of three aged diesel power plants with state-of-the-art alternatives including renewable energy sources. Renewable technologies are welcome in Gibraltar, and the government is currently engaging with established and new providers and facilitating the opportunity of developing these on the Rock.

Gibraltar is changing. It has taken off on a huge leap from what some would describe as a 1980s time-warp into the second decade of the 21st century. The government is putting the management of waste and sewage plants out to tender, with environmental considerations and non-polluting technology being the top criteria for selection; recycling is being increased (would you believe cardboard and plastic could not be recycled in Gibraltar until the present government introduced it in December 2012?); the government fleet of vehicles, including public transport, is being replaced with hybrid and electric technology; and there are financial incentives to import “green” products.

The government has introduced a green procurement policy, which follows EU Green Public Procurement policy, with weighting in the tender process being increased for environmental performance; The plan includes LEDs and solar-powered lights replacing other lighting devices in public areas, with financial incentives by way of soft loans to private estates to introduce these. Solar thermal installations are being placed in public buildings, including hospitals, and photovoltaic arrays to allow solar power rather than the more carbonnegative alternatives are in the planning stages – on rooftops and other built-up sites – in order to protect green areas.

Land is a commodity in short supply in Gibraltar, but amazingly, development and the environment are progressing hand in hand, not least thanks to the new, open and public planning process. This has resulted in new housing, car parking, luxury flats, sewage treatment and waste disposal works, and a power station, progressing at the same time as an expansion of protected natural areas, growth of beaches, enhanced visitor facilities in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, and a new, wooded city park with fountains and bandstand adjacent to the town centre. And Gibraltar’s social needs are being met – a new hospital ward was planned and opened within three months of the election, and new homes and a day centre for dementia and the frail elderly are under construction.

In addition, government support for conservation and research into natural history and heritage are taking Gibraltar to the forefront of many academic disciplines. The famous Barbary macaques, apart from being a major tourist attraction, form part of an ecological research project which is among the most extensive on non-human primates. Spectacular bird migration too, attracts researchers as well as tourists. Archaeology and palaeontological research are regularly presenting new discoveries on the human history and notably on the ecology of the Neanderthals.

Monitoring in caves is providing new information on the history of the earth’s climate and on ancient landscapes. And the government in Gibraltar is supporting the 2015 United Kingdom bid for designation of the Gorham’s Cave complex, carved into the sea cliffs on the secluded south-eastern coast of the Rock, as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Interest from universities, museums and other academic institutions around the world is significant, and is being encouraged.

On the legislative side, all current European directives have been transposed into Gibraltar law – another achievement of the present administration – and this of course includes all the environmental ones. In addition, the use of ISO14001 and Eco-Management and Audit Scheme standards are being encouraged, and increasingly the public sector is requiring these types of qualifications in the tender process. These all provide a number of important safeguards, by ensuring good environmental quality for residents and visitors and ensuring the highest standards from businesses, in matters environmental – as well as in matters financial.

Much of the Gibraltar government’s environmental programme is set out in a brief, but punchy and comprehensive Environmental Action and Management Plan. This sets clear targets and commits the government to engage with the private sector through the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to encourage them to showcase their application of green practices and products, and provide for the establishment of a green business network, and green business certification, standards and awards.

Gibraltar is vibrant in its environmental surge, and ready to welcome investors including those who either bring green technology, green services, or have sound green credentials.

The Rock has a status and an image that far exceeds what one might expect from its physical size, though not from its imposing geology. Coupled with a hugely pleasant environment, a diversity of activity – in which solid academic standing meets con siderable commercial success – and with a unique history and a social resilience that have seen it survive sieges in four successive centuries, the jurisdiction looks to the future with confidence and with growing regional importance. As it has been since prehistory, it is the perfect setting – for so many things.


John Cortes MP

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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Anarchy in the UK(‘s) most famous fortress – part 2

Last week we left Gibraltarian workers fascinated by the beliefs of anarchists. Gareth Stockey, Chris Grocott and Jo Grady continue with the story.

The result was a noticeable increase in labour agitation on both sides of the frontier. The tactics adopted by local workers confounded local employers and the Gibraltar authorities, not least because anarchism proved remarkably successful at encouraging boycotts of businesses and ‘sympathy’ strikes in favour of fellow workers in disparate industries. When necessary, anarchists were also willing to adopt ‘direct action’ to combat what they perceived as the inherently violent practices of the bosses and local political authorities who protected them. The rhetoric of meetings gives us a flavour of this new-found militancy, with one worker threatening to ‘eat the liver’ of a local tobacco merchant during a strike in 1902. Following an earlier dispute in October 1901, a local anarchist newspaper urged its readers to remember the long-term goal of ‘total and definitive emancipation […] the abolition of private property with all its consequences, state, religion, militarism, magistrates […] a great work, larger than the massive Rock we have in our view’. Crucially, anarchists were willing to act as well as to talk. Several local bosses were assaulted during industrial disputes in the period – so much so that Gibraltar’s employers occasionally resorted to using firearms in self-defence – and ‘scab’ workers had stones thrown at them as they attempted to cross picket-lines.

Arguably what offended local businessmen more than the threat to their person was the very real challenge that anarchism offered to their economic interests. If we might dismiss as hyperbole, in the context of a heavily garrisoned British colony, the question posed by one local businessman to the Governor of Gibraltar in 1892, ‘are our goods and chattels safe?’, we can nonetheless point to several successes of anarchist militancy at the turn of the century. Across numerous industries, wage settlements favoured workers thanks to the effectiveness of strikes, boycotts and the occasional spot of physical intimidation. Most impressive of all, employers were forced to concede the dream of the ‘tres ochos’ (three eights) to many local workers – that is to say eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep and eight hours for leisure. Committed to improving living as much as working conditions, local anarchist groups also made up for the absence of state provision by offering schooling to hundreds of local children, as well as myriad cultural initiatives to bring learning to the local working classes.

Gibraltar’s employers were so shell-shocked by the growth and success of anarchism that they offered to pay the salary of a British union official who had been sent to the Rock in 1898. In his memoirs Lorenzo Quelch, who had been sent by the nascent Social Democratic Foundation, left a vivid account of his time in Gibraltar, but he decided not to take up the employers’ offer. The culmination of all of this activity was a ‘general strike’ of industries in Gibraltar in 1902. This time, having prepared meticulously and coordinated their response to the dispute, the employers emerged victorious. On the Spanish side of the frontier, the anarchist movement was to face worse, as the local political and military authorities staged a bloody massacre of local militants in October 1902, closing down workers’ centres and confiscating their funds.

Much work needs to be done, but this brief account of the infancy of labour organisation in Gibraltar highlights the intimacy of relations across the frontier. Many years later, in 1919, Gibraltarian workers would formally attach themselves to a British gradualist, rather than Spanish anarchist, form of organisation through the TGWU. But as we have noted, the Gibraltar TGWU retained strong links with its counterparts in the Campo for several decades and workers continued to fight side-by-side for better living and working conditions. The early successes of Gibraltarian and Spanish anarchists shows just how much workers on both sides of the frontier stood (and stand) to gain by recognising common grievances and acting collectively to address them.

Gareth Stockey is lecturer in Spanish studies at the University of Nottingham. He has published widely on the history of Gibraltar and Spain, including (with Chris Grocott) Gibraltar: a Modern History (University of Wales Press, 2010).

Chris Grocott is lecturer in Management and Economic History, and Jo Grady is lecturer in Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, at the University of Leicester.