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Official opening of natural history museum at Parson’s Lodge - 691/2023

October 09, 2023

The announcement of a new natural history museum for Gibraltar was made in May of this year. Today, Professor John Cortes officially opened the new natural history museum at Parson’s Lodge. The new museum will be open to the public from Tuesday 10th October onwards.

The new natural history museum is the next stage in the development of museums and heritage services in Gibraltar. The ongoing expansion of galleries, laboratories and storage areas in the Gibraltar National Museum, at its Bomb House Lane premises, has reached saturation after many years of active development. The new museum is expected to provide a solution to this problem.

For over a decade, the Gibraltar National Museum has been actively researching the natural history value of the site which it also manages, known as Parson’s Lodge. Best known for its historical significance, Parson’s Lodge is also a site of natural history significance as the museum’s research is showing. It is part of the Gibraltar National Park and holds a rich plant and animal community; its strategic position makes it a staging post for migratory birds moving between Africa and Europe; and its proximity to the coastline gives it added value in terms of marine and intertidal biology.

Parson’s Lodge is situated on top of a rich fossiliferous vein, known as the Rosia breccias, which were first explored by the Reverend John White in the late eighteenth century. The breccias became internationally known as providing significant evidence of evolutionary processes and are considered a key site in the history of science. In fact, one of the terraces at Parson’s Lodge is dedicated to the Reverend White. Two others are dedicated to Victorian naturalists who made important contributions to the study of Gibraltar’s natural history: Willoughby Verner and Howard Irby.

It was logical that a solution to the museum’s expansion problems could be Parson’s Lodge, which will now become the dedicated site to the rich natural history of Gibraltar in the form of the Gibraltar National Museum (Natural History). The premises at Bomb House Lane will be fully dedicated to history and cultural heritage and all aspects of natural history (with the exception of Neanderthal-related exhibits) will be transferred to Parson’s Lodge. This will, in turn, release much-needed space at Bomb House Lane. The recent opening of a Great Siege Gallery at Bomb House Lane is an immediate example of the benefits of expansion into Parson’s Lodge.

The development of the Parson’s Lodge site will be phased over a number of years, following the successful model applied to Bomb House Lane, and the first phase is now ready for opening. During the first phase the museum will be open from Mondays to Fridays, inclusive, between the hours of 10am and 6pm, and Saturdays 10am till 2pm. The museum will also be available for opening additional hours if requested by tour operators, as happens at Bomb House Lane and at the Europa Advance Battery Viewing Platform. The demand will be monitored closely. Entry will be free for local residents. Additional events will be planned and announced. These will include bird migration observation days, open air lectures and discussions, hands-on and wildlife conservation activities. Curators and other specialists will be at hand to interact with the public during these events.

Use will be made of the natural assets at the site in turning the new museum into a living museum. A rewilding programme has already commenced with the release of Hermann’s Tortoises, once natural on the Rock, as well as Iberian Water Frogs and wild rabbits, adding to the rewilding work being done elsewhere in Gibraltar jointly by GONHS and the Department of the Environment. There are interpretation panels, open air and enclosed exhibits telling the story of our rich natural history. A member of the museum staff, with knowledge of the history and natural history of Gibraltar and, specifically, the site, will be in attendance during the opening hours. This person will be available to interact with visitors, providing additional information to that on display. There will be a strong educational element at the site, something which is already well-developed at Bomb House Lane, and already during the summer, in Parson’s Lodge. There will be opportunities to turn this into an interactive museum, with open air lectures and workshops being key components. Even though the focus is on natural history, the important history of the battery and, more widely, of the Rosia Bay area is also interpreted at the site.

Commenting on the development, Caretaker Minister for Heritage and the Environment Professor John Cortes expressed his delight: “I have been developing the joint heritage-environment potential of Gibraltar, with the expansion of our nature reserve, the development of nature trails, a network of bird migration sites (of which this is one), and finally the creation of our very own National Park. To now have a site dedicated as a museum of natural history would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. I am delighted and I wish to express my gratitude to the managers and staff of the Gibraltar National Museum for working with me so positively to achieve this goal. I sincerely hope that the public will now support this initiative and that tour operators will see the benefits of bringing tourists here. It can be the perfect introduction to a tour of the Upper Rock.”