The Gibraltar Government and GSD Opposition furiously clashed last night over the conditions of the Upper Rock nature reserve.
The GSD initiated the exchange with a statement in which it insisted the Government must do something to rectify the “appalling lack of care and maintenance” in the nature reserve.
It described the situation as “utterly unacceptable” and claimed that many areas are covered in litter, whilst barriers fences and stairs are in a state of disrepair and the pools designed to provide a supply of water for the monkeys’ lie stagnant and abandoned.
But the GSD’s criticisms drew a stinging response from the Government who accused the party of ‘plumbing the depths’.
The Government insisted that it has improved the Upper Rock almost beyond recognition when the GSD had “totally abandoned” the area.
In a statement the Government said: “It does accept that the current cleaning regime, set by the GSD administration in its arrangements with Master Service, is unsatisfactory.”
“However, from 1st September the contract with the new operator will provide an extended cleaning regime aimed at improving the removal of litter, particularly from tourist hotspots, which are the areas of most concern.”
With regards to the supply of water for the macaques the Government said that for decades, with the exception of one pond at Apes’ Den, water for them was provided in plastic containers – or not at all.
“Several years ago, this Government established the whole network of ponds. Ponds are a challenge in our climate in the summer.”
“The growth of green algae, however, is perfectly natural and does not adversely affect water quality for wildlife: wild macaques in North Africa drink safely from much murkier natural water sources.”
“Despite this, and because perception is important, the Upper Rock ponds are all equipped with pumps and filters, which usually do the job effectively, especially in the cooler months.”
It conceded that the pump in one pond has broken down but explained that whilst it expects a replacement pump to arrive imminently, in the meantime the water is being changed more frequently but, as is to be expected, still looks green.
“Environmental experts do not recommend the use of anti-algal chemicals, used in swimming pools, for use in wildlife ponds,” the Government said.
It added that the GSD cannot get away with the wider implication about the Upper Rock.
“The number of improvements in the past few years is tremendous, even leaving aside the major new features: the Skywalk and Windsor Bridge.”
“Paths – including the Footpath to Town – have been refurbished, picnic tables have been installed in different locations, Princess Caroline’s Battery and Genoese Battery have been opened to the public, the exhibitions at O’Hara’s Battery have been improved, the World War II Tunnels Experience is enhanced, wildlife has been restored by the re-introduction of Barbary Partridges and wild rabbits, and both Lower and Upper St Michael’s Cave have been improved.”
The Minister for Environment, Dr John Cortes said: “The Upper Rock is a much better place that it was just a few years ago.”
“Once the new cleaning contract has dealt with the litter hotspots and we put into effect a number of other planned changes, it will be even better.”
Trevor Hammond, GSD Spokesman for the Environment and Tourism said: “While I would remind people that we all have a responsibility for looking after our environment and not littering, this does not excuse Government from providing proper cleaning and maintenance to our number one tourist attraction.”
“Better enforcement of the litter laws would also help,” he said adding: “It needs to be remembered that Government has now taken to charging tourists £5 to visit the Upper Rock on foot.”
“I don’t disagree with this but it means the product should be in top condition and it is not, that revenue is clearly going elsewhere.”
He added: “The condition of the drinking areas for our macaques is of great concern; they seem to have been abandoned.”
“Millions of people come to Gibraltar every year to see our monkeys, they are a tremendous asset to our tourist product and they must not only be looked after but they must be seen to be looked after, leaving their drinking holes stagnant gives a strong impression of neglect which in turn raises issues of animal care generally and whether other things are also being mismanaged.”
“There is a need for a review of macaque management to ensure all issues around their care are sensitively and efficiently dealt with.”
“Unfortunately Government’s complete disregard for the cleanliness and maintenance of our community, something that I and others have been highlighting for a very long time now, sadly to no effect, has spread even to the Upper Rock Nature reserve.”
“Whether in our urban areas or our natural areas, the Government simply does not care about the terrible state of neglect that it has allowed to develop.”
“The Minister responsible really should be ashamed”.