Banner image: A young Barbary macaque clings to an adult. By Karyn Sig (Flickr), CC BY 2.0, Source, via Wikimedia Commons.

About Gibraltar

Key species and habitats

Conservation challenges 

Conservation sites, initiatives and local bodies

About Gibraltar

Gibraltar is located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at 36 08 N, 5 21 W, bordering the Strait of Gibraltar, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

It is a narrow peninsula, 7km long, attached to Iberia by a low, sandy isthmus.  It has an area of 6.5 square kilometres and shares its northern border with Spain. The climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters and warm summers. The population was estimated to be 29,396 in July 2017. The financial sector, tourism, and the shipping sector contribute 30%, 30%, and 25%, respectively, of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Telecommunications, e-commerce, and e-gaming account for the remaining 15% (Source: CIA World Factbook).

The Rock of Gibraltar from the east, with a fairly strong easterly wind driving clouds over the peak. Copyright: Dr Mike Pienkowski

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Key species and habitats

A Mediterranean wildlife community survives on the impressive limestone cliffs and slopes, with their scrub, patches of woodland, caves, and rocky shoreline. A steep cliff rises from the Mediterranean on the east to 398 metres.

Above left: Looking to the north, with steep eastern slopes to the right, the town to the left, and the airport runway and Spain beyond the Rock. Above right: the former water catchment slopes have been cleared of their covering, allowing native plants to re-establish with management assistance. Copyright: HM Government of Gibraltar (HMGOG) / Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS).

On the west, the Rock slopes more gradually through scrubland, with the city (where most of the population live) nestled at the foot, partly on land reclaimed from the sea. To the south are a series of stony terraces.

Gibraltar is the narrowest crossing point for birds migrating between Europe and Africa. These include impressive numbers of short-toed eagles, black kites, harriers.

Above left: The Straits of Gibraltar's short crossing is the main spring and autumn migration route between Africa and Europe for soaring birds. Above right: Soaring birds, such as many birds of prey and these black storks depend on lift from thermals which form over warm land, so that migration is concentrated at short crossings. Gibraltar's name is generally thought to derive from the war-lord who conquered it (Jebel Tariq: Mountain of Tariq) but Gibraltar's Minister of Environment, Professor John Cortés, thinks it more likely that it comes from Jebel Taer (Bird Mountain). Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS

Rare species of fauna, some of which are endemic and some which are found nowhere else in mainland Europe, include the Gibraltar the Barbary macaque Macaca sylvanus and the Barbary partridge Alectoris barbara (pictured)

Barbary partridges: above left: adult in the wild (Copyright: Andrew Dobson); above right: chicks reared as part of a restocking programme (Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS).

The Flora of Gibraltar notes that 691 species of terrestrial, vascular plants have been recorded from Gibraltar.  These include some endemic and restricted range species such as:

  • Gibraltar Sea Lavender (Limonium emarginatum)
  • Gibraltar Restharrow (Ononis natrix ramosissima)
  • Gibraltar Saxifrage (Saxifraga globulifera gibraltarica)
  • Gibraltar Campion (Silene tomentosa)
  • Gibraltar Chickweed (Cerastium gibraltaricum)
  • Gibraltar Candytuft (Iberis gibraltarica)

Gibraltar endemic flower, the candytuff Iberis gibraltarica; Copyright: Leslie LinaresEndemic campion, Silene tomentosa; Copyright Leslie Linares

Some examples of endemic flora found in Gibraltar. Above left, the candytuft Iberis gibraltarica and, above right, the endemic campion Silene tomentosa; Copyright Leslie Linares

Gibraltar’s waters are home to dolphins and many other animals. Many migratory cetaceans such as fin whales, pilot whales, humpbacks occasionally traverse the Straits between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Copyright: Dr Eric Shaw

 Common dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar. Copyright: Eric Shaw.

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Conservation challenges 

There remains a longstanding problem with fishing in Gibraltar’s territorial waters by Spanish fishermen, with an adverse effect on marine life. In 2011, the Southern Waters of Gibraltar were declared a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Area (SPA). In 2014, the Government designated the entirety of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters as a Marine Nature Area.

Sinking specially cleaned boat to form artificial reef. Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS

During 2013, the artificial reef programme was re-invigorated by the Department of the Environment and Climate Change (DECC), with the creation of the North West Artificial Reef; the reef has proven to improve marine life in the area. Underwater cameras are used to showcase the marine life, which exists in Gibraltar’s waters. Re-introductions of species that were known to exist in the Bay are being undertaken. These include fan mussels, oysters and sea grasses, the latter species being a tremendously important source of food, oxygen and habitat as well as an excellent carbon sink.

Above left: View from the underwater camera linked to the internet. Above right: Transplanting of sea-grass. Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS

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Conservation sites, initiatives and local bodies

Gibraltar, through the UK, recently designated Gorham’s Cave Complex as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Complex links the land and sea and contains four sea caves - Bennett’s, Gorham’s, Vanguard and Hyena - lying at the base of the eastern face of the Rock of Gibraltar. The caves lie within the youngest of five tectonic uplift blocks of the Jurassic limestone of the Rock. This represents the last 250,000 years of the history of the western Mediterranean, including a most important site for Neanderthal Man.

GorhamExcavations take place in Vanguard cave: Copyright: J.C. Finlayson/Gibraltar Museum

Entrance to Gorham's Cave (above left) and part of the excavations in Vanguard Cave which have revealed fascinating discoveries about Homo neanderthalensis: Copyright: J.C Finlayson/The Gibraltar Museum

Gibraltar has a unique position in the European Union. Its Government aims to ensure compliance with all relevant environmental EU Directives, e.g. Birds and Habitats Directives, and that they are transposed in to local law.


In a crowded urban area, it is especially important to grasp opportunities for conservation. Above left: pallid swift; above right: swift nest boxes installed on many buildings. Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS.

Gibraltar is included in UK’s ratification of Ramsar, CBD, CITES, CMS, Eurobats and recently the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea (ACCOBAMS). 

The Gibraltar Nature Reserve protects important plant and animal species. In 2013, through the Nature Conservation (Designation of Gibraltar Nature Reserve) Order 2013, the area was extended, so that 35% of total land area is now protected. The Reserve management plan contains a wide range of recommendations for the Upper Rock and other areas of ecological importance in Gibraltar. 

Green space in Gibraltar is limited but there have been initiatives to address this. The Gibraltar Commonwealth Park was created in 2014 on derelict land and has become one of Gibraltar’s prime recreational areas. In addition, an urban planting programme has resulted in a total of 158 trees being planted around Gibraltar.

Commonwealth Park is the first public park opened since the Alameda botanical gardens opened in 1816. Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS

The key governmental and non-governmental bodies involved in nature conservation in Gibraltar are:

Gibraltar Botanic Gardens: (above left) plant nursery (Copyright: HMGOG/GONHS); (above right) research collections (Copyright: Bryan Naqqi Manco).

A virtual tour for Gibraltar, outlining its historical and cultural importance is in draft and will be available in due course.

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