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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

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.