Gibraltar's natural history, like so many aspects of the Rock, is the richer for Gibraltar's strategic position. For all lovers of nature, Gibraltar is full of surprises. Much of the Upper Rock has been declared a Nature Reserve with the aim of conserving its natural environment, unspoilt and beautiful, for future generations. In terms of birdlife, indeed, it is of international importance. During the long migratory seasons in spring and autumn, Gibraltar is for millions of birds, an invaluable staging post linking Europe and Africa.
The number of individual birds, especially birds of prey, exceeds even that found at the Bosphorous. To birdwatchers, high season extends from February to June, and from July to October, although even winter is excellent. In addition to these passage migrants, the Rock has an unusually large and varied list of resident species, including one - the Barbary Partridge found nowhere else on the mainland of Europe.
Apart from the Barbary Macaques, common mammals include rabbits and bats (including the large mouse-eared bat, the size of a kestrel). Dolphins such as the Common, Bottlenosed and Striped varieties provide an excuse for a boat trip out to the bay, where they may often be seen at play. Insects are abundant. In season, the skies are shared by large numbers of migratory butterflies of painted lady, while on the ground the praying mantis may capture even small lizards.
The Rock is home to several notable reptile species among them the Octellated Lizard (Europe's largest) and the scrub-loving large Psammodromus. Snakes include the long Horseshoe Whip Snake, which is the most common snake on the Rock. Spring within the Nature Reserve, Upper Rock sees the appearance of the unique Gibraltar Candytuft. The alkaline soil, which differs from that of the surrounding countryside, encourages the growth of many shrubs, including the ubiquitous wild olive and other aromatic species. Among the herbs, rosemary, sage and lavenders add fragrance to the scent-laden air.
The lower Rock is unashamedly Mediterranean, its more plentiful soil allowing the fig and almond to flourish among palms and bougainvillaea. A wealth of blooms and blossoms makes Gibraltar a paradise as much for the serious botanist as for the less demanding rambler among peaceful, leafy lanes.