About the territory
Located at the entrance to the Mediterranean at latitude 36° 08’ North, longitude 05° 22’ West, Gibraltar is connected to Spain via a sandy isthmus. Gibraltar is around 5 km from north to south and is 1.2 km wide, covering a total area of around 6.5 km2. The Rock has a sheer cliff on the eastern side but is sloped more gently to the west; it rises to around 426m and is formed from Jurassic limestone. Average mean daily temperatures range from 13° in January to 24°C in August. Annual precipitation is around 750-800 mm.
The City of Carteia was founded by the Phoenicians at the head of the Bay of Gibraltar in 940 BC. In about 190 BC the city was taken by the Romans. Subsequently, it was ruled at varying times by the Visigoths, Muslims, Berbers and Spanish. In 1501 Queen Isabella issued a decree which made Gibraltar Spanish Crown Property. In 1704 it was captured by an Anglo-Dutch force and was then ceded to Britain by Spain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. At this time Gibraltar became an important British Royal Navy base. It was declared a Crown Colony in 1830. Currently, there is a democratically elected Parliament and a large degree of self-Government.
The population of Gibraltar was estimated to be around 33,691 in 2020 (Gibraltar Population (2022) - Worldometer (worldometers.info). The economy in Gibraltar is mainly based on tourism, financial services and fishing.
According to the Kew database the flora of Gibraltar consists of approximately 600 species of plants, three of which are regarded as endemic to Gibraltar (Silene tomentosa, Cerastium gibraltaricum and Saxifrage globulifera var. Gibralterica) Two more, Iberis gibraltarica and Thymus wildenowii, are native to North Africa and Gibraltar is the only place in Europe where they are found. Limonium emarginatum is endemic to coastal waters on either sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, with extremely important populations on the Rock. There are a number of endemic land snails and sea slugs. Twenty two indigenous species of amphibians and reptiles have been recorded.
The Rock is an important site for migratory birds which account for most of the over 300 species that have been recorded there. It is also the only breeding site in Europe for the Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara).
The status and trends of the main EU-listed habitats in Gibraltar have been determined through two classification exercises carried out in 2007 and 2013 respectively. These were carried out in-line with the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive. In line with this Directive, there is continued habitat surveillance and data management. Specific assessments of marine biodiversity have been carried out in line with the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. There is also surveillance monitoring of the Marine Special Area of Conservation.
L-R: Dwarf fan palm Chamaerops humilis; View north along the Rock towards Spain.
Policy and legislation
Gibraltar has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of Gibraltar will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016.
The Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) has produced a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for Gibraltar (Perez 2006) as well as a Management and Action Plan for the Upper Rock Nature Reserve (Perez & Bensusan 2005). These both have sections relating to the distribution and impact of non-native species and propose various action plans for dealing with them. The Gibraltar BAP and the Upper Rock Management Plan are implemented under the umbrella of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management Plan. In support of the GNR Management Plan and through consultation with the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), the Ministry of Defence implemented their Integrated Rural Management Plan during 2014, for MOD estates in Gibraltar. This plan also contains an Invasive Species Control Programme. The overall direction is managed by the DECC.
There is no specific invasive species legislation in Gibraltar. The Nature Protection Act 1991 and all the Regulations that come under the Act include sections dealing with the introduction of fauna and flora that are not indigenous to Gibraltar. The Nature Conservation Area (Upper Rock) Designation Order 1993 includes sections which deal with the introduction of fauna and flora that are not indigenous to the Upper Rock. Section 5.1(h) states that it is illegal to “introduce any animal or plant which is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident or is not a regular visitor to Gibraltar in a wild state or does not grow in the wild in Gibraltar, as the case may be”. The BAP and the relevant Regulations are implemented and enforced by the Environmental Protection and Research Unit of the DECC as well as the Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management team. Gibraltar is now covered by EU Regulation No 1143/204. However, there is limited capacity to enforce the regulation locally.
Invasive species and biosecurity
The JNCC database lists 81 non-native species which includes 10 amphibians and reptiles, one invertebrate and 70 plant species. The Biodiversity Action Plan, Gibraltar (Perez, 2006) lists 64 non-native plant species and also includes sections on black rats (Rattus rattus), feral cats (Felis catus) and feral goats (Capra hirca). In addition the Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus) is an introduced species but an important element of the world population which has declined substantially and is now probably less than 10,000 individuals.
Problems with invasive non-native species
Some of the non-native plant species are highly invasive (eg (Acacia cyclops), (Ailanthus altissima), (Lantana camara), (Senecio angulatus)) and outcompete native flora and cover extensive areas. The feral goat population is regarded as having a negative impact on some of the native flora through overgrazing which has caused extensive erosion in some areas. The Gibraltar population of Barbary Macaques is thriving and has reached a level where it is regarded as becoming a pest.
Priority invasive non-native species and actions
In the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) there are action plans for dealing with 22 alien invasive plant species that have become established outside garden areas. They are classified as very problematic (already causing serious damage and spreading significantly) problematic (less damaging and threatening but also capable of spreading) and potentially problematic (serious invasives in other countries and could become a serious concern in the future, but are not at present established in Gibraltar). Management plans have been prepared for 18 species. The species are: Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops), Bera’s Breech (A. mollis), Orange Wreath Wattle (A. saligna), Pinwheel and Tree Houseleeks (Aeonium haworthii) and (A. arboretum), Century plants (Agave americana) and (A. ghiesbreghtii), Tree of Haven (Ailanthus altissima), Tree and Soapy Aloe (Aloe arborescens) and (A. maculata), Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis x acinaciformis), African Cornflag (Chasmanthe floribunda), Purple Dewplant (Disphyma crassilfolium), Bush Lantana (Lantana camara) , Shrub Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae), Cape Wattle (Paraserianthes lophantha), Kikuyu Grass (Pennisetum clandestinium), Cape Ivy (Senecio angulatus), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and Spineless Yucca (Yucca elephantipes).
The BAP also identified 6 vertebrate pest species, “pest” being defined as “species that are detrimental to the indigenous biodiversity, and could also have an impact on environment and human health”; these species can either be native or naturalised. Management plants have been developed for five of them. The sixth, Barbary macaque, has a species action plan.
Invasive invertebrates are not currently included in the BAP but this is under revision.
Monitoring is done for all terrestrial and marine species considered invasive as detailed in the Gibraltar Biodiversity Action Plan and Draft Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management Plan.
Departments in Gibraltar carry out surveillance for animal disease outbreaks, and those of public health concern. The Gibraltar Environmental Agency and Gibraltar Botanic Gardens have a detailed and intensive programme in place for mosquito detection, which includes sampling in Gibraltar and following trends in Spain.
In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. There are no border controls to Gibraltar with a specific biosecurity remit, and no dedicated biosecurity facilities. There is a high level of public awareness on invasive species. Compliance is high for phytosanitary risks as gardening is limited and most work is carried out by conscientious people.
Gibraltar Botanic Gardens carry out invertebrate sampling on-site and new exotic invasive species have been intercepted. In one case, this had led to biological control. Ants are regularly surveyed.
In 2018 a pathway analysis was completed. There is an international airport served by three airlines from the UK and Morocco. Cruise ships dock at the Gibraltar Cruise Terminal and for yachts there are three commercial marinas, and a new berthing facility for super yachts at the Mid-Harbour Marina which is managed by the Port Authority. Cargo vessels dock at the container berth.
Horizon scanning was carried out in 2019, identifying a total of 58 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years; read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).
Drawing on commitments made under the Environment Charter, Overseas Territories Environment Programme(OTEP) OTEP funded projects were delivered in total between 2004 and 2012 (external link). Project included assistance for the development of the Biodiversity Action Plan.
The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Gibraltar benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, access to online learning, and technical support. Read further details.
Information for visitors
Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:
- Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
- If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
- If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
- If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.
EU Regulations apply to Gibraltar by way of a legislative instrument (external link).
See the EU guidelines on:
- Plant health and biosecurity (external link)
- Animal health law (external link)
- Invasive alien species (external link)
Department of the Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change and Heritage
2B Leanse Place,
50 Town Range,
Tel: +350 20048450
- Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C.(Eds) (2016). Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016.
- Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C. (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
- Edgar, P. (2010). The Amphibians and reptiles of the UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Sovereign Base Areas: Species Inventory and Overview of Conservation and Research Priorities. Bournemouth, UK: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.
- Perez, C. E. (2006) Biodiversity Action Plan, Gibraltar: Planning for Nature. Gibraltar: GONHS.
- Perez, C. E. and Bensusan, K. J. (2005). Upper Rock Nature Reserve: A Management and Action Plan. Gibraltar: GONHS.
- Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.
- Sanders, S. M., ed. (2006). Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
- Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.
- Gibraltar Botanic Gardens
- Government of Gibraltar – Nature Reserve Management Plan
- Upper Rock Nature Reserve Management and Action PlanGovernment of Gibraltar Department of the Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change and Heritage
- JNCC – Invasive species in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
- Kew RBG – UKOTS Online Herbarium
- RSPB – South Atlantic Invasive Species Strategy
- RSPB – UKOTs Wildlife Stocktake 2014 (external link)
- Virtual tours of the UKOTs, by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum