LOST WORLD – Our heritage in print

The book is an attractive collection of nature pictures; what were the practical challenges of photographing fauna and sometimes flora if perched on accessible rocks? (For example, were you made to wait for hours or days for certain birds to fly over Gibraltar as part of their migrations etc.?)

Each picture has its difficulties – some far greater than others.

With regards to migration in Gibraltar, it has involved many hours waiting on cliffs to get the right images. This can involve waiting for the right wind, and light conditions, and the chance of getting the bird to come where you are.

Snowy Owl

People often tell us “Wow, what a great picture! You must have a fantastic camera!” What people don’t realise is how many hours we have spent without a camera, studying the subject, in order to get the right picture. Our photographs have involved a lot of background research and have taken us to worlds of extreme conditions. For example, when you see the photographs of the Snowy Owls you may not realise that they involved spending long, arduous hours over many days at temperatures of -30oC.

What were the practical challenges in working so close as a family? Is the rule ‘don’t bring your work home’ upheld in the household?

It can sometimes be difficult of course, and when we disagree, it can take the form of a lot of discussions when no-one wants to give way – but in the end, we have found that because we are so used to each other, we often think along the same lines, and that when it comes to our work, our ideas are very much in tune.

This book took a lot of planning, so we spent many hours putting our ideas together. Part of the ‘problem’ was not so much what to put in, but what to leave out!  It is a good thing that we can eventually come to a consensus, although at times, it was not that easy.

The rule ‘don’t bring your work home’ is just not applicable in our case – we have lived and braltarbreathed our work for so long, it is part of our lives.

Regarding the milk tooth found last summer; have further investigations been carried out?

Yes, it is in the process of being studied and we will reveal the information as it becomes available.

If Gibraltar was home to Neanderthals for so many millennia how come only two skulls have unearthed? Where would you expect to find others? Did Neanderthals have necropolises?

There is evidence that they had burial practices, but nothing like necropolises. You should bear in mind that 80% of the Neanderthal territory is now submerged as a result of sea level rise 10,000 years ago. Add to that the fact that they didn’t always live in caves, the thousands of years that have elapsed, and the fact there were many scavenging animals around at the time, it is actually quite good going that we have three finds in a place as small as Gibraltar. The passage of time takes its toll.

A year on, what scientific interest has the heritage site raised, and how has it done economically in terms of visitors? Have further advancements been made during the last excavations?

We are amazed at the interest that has been generated. We have only just opened the visitor site, so it is too early to say, but we do have a long waiting list to visit the actual caves themselves. Unfortunately, this is subject to a strict annual quota – as you can imagine, we just cannot have thousands of people walking into a sensitive archaeological site because of the damage that it would cause.

Moon rise from World Heritage Site
Tell us a little about your scientific adventure starting as ornithologists; Clive and Geraldine, how did your love for birds make you fall in love?

Right from the moment when we met, we have been working on our shared passion which is not just ornithology, but science in general.  We are both naturally curious people, in awe of nature and its secrets. We brought Stewart along with us from a very early age, and it clearly rubbed off.

Stewart; what do birds and bats mean in Gibraltar’s popular culture and history and how does it contrast from day to night? What is the relationship between man and nature in Gib back in time?
Black Vulture

As far back as the 1700s, when no-one understood anything about migration, and it was still thought that Swallows hibernated in the mud at the bottom of ponds, observations made in Gibraltar of these swallows flying past in large numbers led to the idea that they might be moving through to avoid the winter further north. Unfortunately, we have not been so enlightened about bats, and these have been declining all across Europe in the last few decades.

On ecology in Gibraltar in past and present; what steps should we take to appreciate and preserve biodiversity?

This is a complex subject. A very positive step forward was last year’s Calpe conference on the subject of ‘rewilding’. Certainly, bringing back species that once lived here is an exciting prospect, but we must first ensure that the conditions that made them leave in the first place, have now been addressed.

How long has it taken you to produce this book, and why? Have you chosen this point in time for a reason? Is it going to be the first episode of a series, as it were, or more of a magnum opus?

This book has taken us about 10 years to produce.  Nothing is ever finished – even now, we have images of species that are not featured in the book, and which were also here in the Ice Ages.  We continue to publish on many fronts, and as our rich caves produce more finds, we suspect that there will be a lot more publications to come.

As it stands, we are currently working on a very exciting discovery which, for reason of journal embargo, we cannot disclose: watch this space!

To purchase a copy of the book, please visit The Gibraltar Museum or email shop@gibmuseum.gi.