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Les géomorphosites du Sud-Ouest de l’Allemagne : un patrimoine naturel et culturel de grande valeur, mais négligé

Geomorphosites in South West Germany - a neglected natural and cultural heritage of high value
Heidi Megerle
p. 157-170


Malgré la grande diversité des formations géologiques du Bade-Wurtemberg, il existe encore actuellement une différence évidente entre la protection des biotopes et celle des géotopes. Cela concerne également la perception des géotopes géomorphologiques (i.e. géomorphosites) et leur intégration aux activités touristiques ou dans les offres d´éducation à l'environnement. Jusqu´à aujourd'hui, les géotopes géomorphologiques ont suscité peu d´attention en Allemagne, même chez les spécialistes. Cela pourrait s’expliquer par le fait que la nécessité de protéger les “paysages non-vivants” n’est pas assez comprise, et, par ailleurs, parce que pratiquement aucun thème géomorphologique n'est integré aux programmes scolaires. La reconnaissance de la « Schwäbische Alb » comme géoparc a largement contribué à améliorer la perception des géotopes géomorphologiques. Mais il n'y a malheureusement aucune certitude que le géoparc puisse être maintenu, depuis que la « Schwäbische Alb » a été déclarée Réserve de biosphère.

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1The state of Baden-Württemberg in the south-west of Germany features an extremely diverse array of geological and geomorphological structures. The geological spectrum ranges from pre-Variscan basement with an age of ca. 900 million years (Geyer, Gwinner, 1991, p. 19) over very heterogeneous Permian, Triassic and Jurassic sedimentary rocks up to recent formations of calcareous tufa. Baden- Württemberg features as well multifaceted past and present geomorphological processes and therefore an extremely diverse range of geomorphosites in a comparatively small area.

2Despite this high geodiversity a considerable discrepancy between the level of conservation of biotic and abiotic structures can be observed. This is similarly valid for the public perception and nature of tourism attractions or environmental education. Even the terms “geotope” and “geomorphosite” are largely unknown outside the tight circle of professionals.

3In contrast to the term “biotope”, which is colloquially rarely used according to its correct scientific definition, but can be stated as common knowledge, the level of knowledge about the much newer term “geotope” barely extends beyond the sphere of the State geological authorities and a small group of geoscientists (Katalyse Institut, 2002). To a greater extent, this applies to the term “geomorphosite”, only introduced at the end of the 1990s (Grandgirard, 1997 ; Panizza, 2001), and until today not well-known even within professional circles. (See also Tooth (2009) in reference to the generally widespread invisibility of geomorphology). To complicate the matter, the cumbersome translation of geomorphosites in the German speaking world with “geomorphologische Geotope” (geomorphological geotopes) (Reynard, Coratza, 2007, p. 138), seems hardly suitable to be understood or even noticed outside of a narrow circle of expert groups. Even within the expert group of German geomorphologists, to date this term has received little attention. Papers or presentations, dealing with geomorphosites are neither found within the German geomorphology working group nor in the peer-reviewed international Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie (Journal of Geomorphology).

4As the term “geomorphosite” has so far in Germany neither found its way into the scientific literature nor into the work of the State geological offices (see above), geomorphosites are mostly subsumed under the term “geotope”. Therefore the term geotope will be used regularly in the following text.

5The aim of the article is to identify possible reasons for the limited visibility, protection and insufficient recognition of geomorphosites in Germany. At first an analysis of legal conservation regulations in Germany and especially in Baden-Württemberg is carried out to explain the existing discrepancy between conservation and perception of bio- and geodiversity. To illuminate the insufficient integration of geomorphosites in tourist attractions as well as environmental education, the Geopark Swabian Jura, one of the oldest Geoparks in Germany, is used as a case study. Based on these empirical data, conclusions can be drawn on possible causes for the depicted discrepancies.

Baden-Württemberg: high geological and geomorphological diversity

6The state of Baden-Württemberg offers an appropriate setting for an investigation of the perception of geomorphosites and their integration into conservation, tourism and environmental education, in that it not only has an extremely rich geological and geomorphological heritage, but also a very long tradition in geoscientific research. Thus, the name Triassic for the Mesozoic system was introduced here and Quenstedt developed the Jurassic stratigraphy based on the Jurassic formations in Württemberg (Geyer, Gwinner, 1991, p. 1).

Geological and geomorphological diversity of Baden-Württemberg

7A large part of Baden-Württemberg is a cuesta landscape composed of Triassic as well as Jurassic sediment layers. Through the inclination of these layers due to the alpine orogeny and the formation of the Upper Rhine Rift Valley, a "classic example of an almost undisturbed cuesta landscape" (Geyer, Gwinner, 1991, p. 1) could have formed. In the south west the pre-Permian basement crops out as a result of the erosion of the overlying sedimentary cap rocks. In the alpine foothills are mighty molasse deposits and a multitude of glacial geomorphosites is to be found (fig. 1).

Figure 1 : Geological map of Baden-Württemberg (Author’s design ; Data sources: Rosner, 2008)

Figure 1 : Geological map of Baden-Württemberg (Author’s design ; Data sources: Rosner, 2008)

Geological and geomorphological characteristics of the Swabian Jura

8The Swabian Jura and its foothills, extending 220 km from the south-west to the north-east between the Upper Danube and the Nördlinger Ries crater, form the top layer of the south-west German cuesta landscape (fig. 1). Lower (Lias) and middle (Dogger) Jurassic sediments shape the foothills, while Upper Jurassic sediments (Malm) form the steep escarpment (called Albtrauf), rising up to 400 metres (fig. 2). The flat south-easterly facing plateau of the Jura, due to the prevailing limestone, represents the largest karst region in Central Europe. Hence, karstic geomorphosites dominate the geomorphological formations and are repeatedly found in "textbook-style manifestations". Especially to be mentioned are caves, dolines, dry valleys and calcareous tufa formations (Heizmann, Speidel, 2008, p. 177).

Figure 2 : Albtrauf and foothills in the area of Bad Urach (Megerle, 2011)

Figure 2 : Albtrauf and foothills in the area of Bad Urach (Megerle, 2011)

9In the Tertiary, volcanic formations with altogether 360 volcanic pipes were created by the so-called "Swabian Volcano" with a central magma chamber near Bad Urach. The Jura became known internationally because of the craters, which formed through the impact of a meteorite. A smaller crater is located in Steinheim in Baden-Württemberg. The larger crater, the Nördlinger Ries, is in Bavarian territory, though situated on the immediate border (Geyer, Gwinner, 1991, p. 329ff) (fig. 1).

10In the year 2007, the German Academy for Geosciences and Geotechnologies (Akademie für Geowissenschaften und Geotechnologien e.V.) selected the so-called “national geotopes”, which incorporate the most significant German geotopes. From a total number of 77 national geotopes in Germany, eleven are situated in Baden-Württemberg, of which seven are in the Swabian Jura and in its immediate surroundings. This allocation highlights the outstanding geodiversity of the German South-West (fig. 1 and table 1).

Table 1: National geotopes in Baden-Württemberg

(Author´s design; Data source: Akademie für Geowissenschaften und Geotechnologien, 2011)

The time lag between the conservation of geotopes and biotopes

11Up to the present day there exists a clear discrepancy between biotope and geotope conservation in Germany. In contrast to the well-known term biotope, used for a long time already, the term geotope in its present form was only introduced in professional circles in the 1990s (Wardenbach et al., 2009, p. 496). In 1996, the groundbreaking manual Geoconservation in Germany was published (BfN, 1996), which served as the basis for a standardized geotope mapping in Germany. The manual differentiated between exposures, landforms and springs or artesian basins, a structure which is reflected in geotope mapping in south-west Germany. Geomorphosites were not specially taken into account. They can be found under the generic term “landforms” (BfN, 1996, p. 9).

Legal conservation regulations

12Some of the earliest geoconservation is found within Germany such as the conservation and visitor control from 1668 in the showcave Baumannshöhle (Erikstad, 2008, p249). Also the oldest legal conservation regulations in Germany were related to the conservation of its geoheritage. As early as 1836, the exploitation of trachyte at the Drachenfels in the Siebengebirge was forced to discontinue by intervention of the Prussian king, in order to put a stop to the destruction of the volcanic landscape. In 1840, Ludwig I decreed the protection of the Weltenburger Enge (a gorge formed by the Danube) in Kelheim because the "romantic rocks" were threatened by quarry operations. Hereby, he created the first nature reserve in Bavaria (Glaser, Lagally, 2003, p. 44). The designation of the world's first national park in Yellowstone was also based primarily on the unique geopotential of the area (Vollmer, 2008, p. 194).

13However, nature conservation in the Federal Republic of Germany is today mainly associated with plants, animals and ecosystems. The conservation of biological heritage has a comparatively broader acceptance, whereas the conservation of geological heritage still represents mainly an academic debate. Only in this context, recent deliberations can be seen to consider an internationally significant geological outcrop like the Messel Pit near Darmstadt as a possible site for a landfill (Katalyse Institut, 2002).

14To this day, the conservation of geotopes has not officially been incorporated into the German nature conservation laws. The term "geotope conservation" is not even within the 2010 amended version of the federal nature conservation act. Geotopes therefore only receive conservation status when they are classified as biotopes (§ 30) especially worthy of protection or designated as a natural monument. While rocky coasts are listed under § 30, witnesses to Earth’s history such as drumlins or dolines are lacking, because they do not necessarily provide habitat for animal or plant species worthy of protection. This is equally the case for other possible geomorphosites. A conservation status which would be comparable to the French ‘reserve géologique’ does not exist in the German legislation (Megerle, 2008, p. 165). Geotope conservation in Germany so far therefore has not been based on systematic and thorough mapping and evaluation, but resulted mainly in response to official or individual initiatives (BfN, 1996, p. 3).

15A general conservation of all geotopes is not intended anyway. The only geotopes which should be offered protection are those "which are of particular value for science, research and teaching as well as for natural and local history, which are renowned because of rarity, uniqueness or beauty and display special significance to the Earth’s history" (BfN, 1996, p. 6). Wardenbach et al. (2009, p. 497) however plead for the inclusion of the term "geotope" into the German environmental law in order to provide legal security.

16By virtue of the federal structure of Germany, environmental law may differ considerably in the individual states. In Baden-Württemberg, fossils or fossil excavation sites as well as erratic blocks can be protected under the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act (DSchG) as so-called excavation conservation areas or cultural monuments. The Baden-Württemberg state nature conservation act mentions neither the terminology "geotope" nor "geomorphology" or geomorphosites. Therefore, geomorphosites can only be designated as natural monuments according to § 31, subparagraph 2 and 3, “provided that the protection is necessary due to scientific, ecological, natural historical and regional or cultural reasons as well as their uniqueness, rareness, beauty or representation of a particular landscape" (Baden-Württemberg, 2006). In contrast to national nature conservation legislation, the State Nature Conservation Act in Baden-Württemberg (according to § 32) permits the protection of dolines and caves, open rock formations, open natural stone runs, scree and talus, clay- and loess walls as well as ravines as biotopes (Baden-Württemberg, 2006). With respect to this, Steinmetz (2005, p. 9) criticizes that geotopes listed without any transparent systematics and subsumed under the generic term of "biotope worthy of protection" are to be offered protection as biological habitat. Only a posteriori are some geoscientific components read into this protection procedure.

17The "time lag" for geoconservation in comparison with biotic nature conservation is astounding in this respect, as geomorphosites by means of their evolutionary history - in contrast to some biotic habitats - are almost always irreplaceable. Consequently, the loss of a geomorphosite is always simultaneously also a loss of information about the Earth’s history. Nevertheless, to this day, the necessity for geoconservation is not only largely unknown to citizens but also to the decision makers (Lagally, 2007, p. 91). It is noteworthy in this respect that even the Ministry of the Environment indicates "the legal deficit for geotope conservation" (Umweltministerium Baden-Württemberg, 2011).

Discrepancies in Biotope- and Geotope conservation in Baden-Württemberg

18Despite the very high geodiversity as indicated above, which is under no circumstances inferior to the equally high biodiversity in Baden-Württemberg, a considerable discrepancy exists to this day concerning the protection of bio- and geopotential. This can be clearly recognized upon a closer survey of designated natural monuments, where a distinction between biotopes and geotopes can be made. This distinction is not so evident in other conservation categories. The designation of larger nature reserves, for example, is mainly based on a bundle of factors, including biological as well as geological and geomorphological aspects. The award of the title “national geotope” (see above) does not include any legal protection. However all national geotopes in Baden-Württemberg are either protected as nature sanctuaries or as nature parks or landscape protection areas.

19An analysis of the reasons for the conservation of natural monuments in the four administrative districts of Baden-Württemberg generally showed a clear discrepancy between the protection of biotopes and geotopes. The greatest proportion of protected geotopes was found in the administrative district of Freiburg with 15%, followed by Stuttgart and Tübingen with 11% and last was Karlsruhe with only 5% (fig. 3).

Figure 3: Percentage of geotopes listed as natural monuments in Baden-Württemberg along with the four administrative districts

Figure 3: Percentage of geotopes listed as natural monuments in Baden-Württemberg along with the four administrative districts

20In the entire state of Baden-Württemberg a total of 14 331 natural monuments is listed as protected. Of these, a total of 1 599 are geological natural monuments, which represents a proportion of 11%. A further 1 122 geotopes are classified as worthy of protection. Although the mapping of geotopes in the four administrative districts was realized consecutively, so that in the meanwhile changes in the absolute number could have arisen, the trend is still a very clear discrepancy between biotope and geotope protection.

21A reverse inspection showed that from 5 200 geotopes, which were included in the state-wide geotope mapping in Baden-Württemberg, 2 458 are legally protected, i.e. 47 %. Given that in this mapping, only geotopes which were classified as worthy of protection were listed, inferentially this means that 53% of the present geotopes classified as worthy of protection are not given any conservation status (LGRB, 2007, p. 2).

22An analysis of the recorded geotopes in relation to the geological situation in Baden-Württemberg shows that Triassic and Jurassic geotopes dominate (fig. 4). The greatest protection deficits are with geotopes of scarcely represented geological periods, particularly the Carboniferous and Permian (fig. 2).

Figure 4: Categorization of the recorded geotopes according to geological period and protection status

Figure 4: Categorization of the recorded geotopes according to geological period and protection status

23Based on the description of recorded geotopes, a categorization was carried out to ascertain the proportion of geomorphosites. The analysis showed that in south-west Germany geomorphosites possess greater protection status than other geosites. They represent over 60% of the protected sites, but just over 20% of the unprotected yet protection worthy geosites (fig. 5). The highest proportion of geomorphosites worthy of protection, but without any official protection status was found in the administrative district of Tübingen, in which a large part of the Swabian Jura geopark is located.

Figure 5 : Categorization of the recorded geotopes grouped according to characteristics and protection status

Figure 5 : Categorization of the recorded geotopes grouped according to characteristics and protection status

24Since legal protection is only offered to some geomorphosites, and their significance to the general public and even within professional classes is poorly known (Reynard, Panizza, 2005, p. 177), geodidactics has attained growing importance. Geodidactics here means a specific form of environmental education with the aim being to raise a “geo-awareness”. Specially designed geotouristic attractions can stimulate interest in geological and geomorphological themes. Through this, an increased understanding of the necessity of conservation measures for geomorphosites can be gained, leading hopefully to a better visibility and protection of geomorphosites (Megerle, 2008, p. 81).

Integration and visibility of geomorphosites in tourism offers

25In contrast to forms of tourism concentrated on the biological potential (fauna, flora, nature reserves), geology, geomorphology and palaeontology have only in recent times received stronger interest from a tourism perspective. The trigger for this has been a growing interest in geological themes by the general public (Meyer, 2003, p. 77), as well as the designation of the first geoparks in the 1990s. Geoparks try to combine geotourism offers, sustainable regional development and the protection of geotopes included in the park area. Previously, geotourism consisted of experts’ excursions, mainly of collecting trips in regions rich in minerals and fossils, with the latter having highly negative consequences for the regional geoheritage (Megerle, 2008, p. 21).

26Initially, geotourism was seen as a further form of niche tourism, which appealed to a rather narrow participant group, primarily dominated by specialists (Hose, 2008, p. 35). Steingrube (2004, p. 68) considered geology as being a scientific discipline with only a “very low touristic attraction potential”. However, regions where geoparks had been established, rated geotourism as a highly expandable sector (Zimmer et al., 2006, p. 18ff). Meanwhile, geotourism has developed into a tourism sector with high dynamics and still growing demand (Dowling, Newsome, 2006, p. xxvi).

27The beginning of geotourism in south-west Germany is correlated with the designation of the Swabian Jura and Bergstraße-Odenwald geoparks in 2002, together with the establishment of a specialist department “Geotourism” in the State Office for Geology (LGRB). The significant increase in geotourism attractions since then has had direct effects on the visibility of geopotential and also on awareness-raising in relation to the necessity of geoconservation. This will be shown in detail in the following section, using the example of the Swabian Jura Geopark.

Development of geotourism in the Swabian Jura Geopark

28The Swabian Jura is listed, after the Black Forest and Lake Constance, as the most important tourist destination in south-west Germany. With a 17.7% rise in overnight stays within the time period 2004-2008, the Swabian Jura achieved the second best result in the country (Burzinski et al., 2009, p. 19). Concerning geoscience, it has already been for a long time an important destination for scientists and amateurs interested in geology and geomorphology. However, spectacular geomorphosites such as the waterfalls near Bad Urach or the numerous caves in the Jura attract many visitors who show no special interest in geology or geomorphology.

29The beginning of geotourism as understood today can be connected to the publication of the first edition of the brochure "Adventure Geology" in the year 1999. This brochure was initiated by the tourism community of the Swabian Jura. It was the first attempt to present geology in a popular scientific way and in a manner to arouse the interest of laypersons. Contrary to the expectations of both the initiators as well as the authors, the brochure sparked phenomenal interest. In the fifth edition, information about the newly established geopark was included, and in the meantime a sixth edition has been published. In total, approximately 100 000 copies of the brochure have been printed (Kraus, 2011). Although no evaluation was conducted on the impact of this brochure on tourism demand and awareness-raising for geotopes and geomorphosites, it can be presumed that the brochure did make a relevant contribution. This can be substantiated by the fact that class sets of the brochure are frequently requested by teachers in order to include geological phenomena in geography or local history lessons.

30In the year 2002, the Swabian Jura was recognized as a national geopark and two years later certified as a European as well as a UNESCO geopark (Heizmann, Speidel, 2008, p. 176). Meanwhile, there are fourteen information points plus numerous geotourism offers for various target groups.

31However, there still exist considerable shortcomings. The current tourism concept of the state of Baden-Württemberg emphasizes the outstanding potential of geoheritage and the significant opportunities for further development, but criticizes the present "touristic under-utilization of the geoparks and the lack of an appropriate market position" (Burzinski et al., 2009, p. 29). Also, public relations have been so far insufficient. A survey in the geopark Swabian Jura revealed that the term geopark was unknown to three quarters of those surveyed (Erath, Henkel, 2005, p. 46). The blame is also certainly due to insufficient signage. Even at the access path to the waterfalls near Bad Urach there is no reference to the geopark, whereas on the access road to Bad Urach there are already large-scale signs on the roadside for the biosphere reserve being designated almost a decade later. Among other reasons, this is also a result of a severe shortage of personnel and financial resources for the geopark, hardly allowing sufficient supervision of the extensive area (Nagel, 2011). Complicating the matter are the parish-pump politics of various regions and local stakeholders, each being responsible for sub-areas. Most of them are also sceptical toward geology and geomorphology, regarding these subjects as "difficult and hardly communicable" (Speidel, 2011).

Importance and visibility of geomorphosites in the Geopark Swabian Jura

32As explained above, the Swabian Jura Geopark features an outstanding geodiversity. Geomorphosites like the world-famous caves, home of the oldest known human sculpture, paintings and musical instruments, show a remarkably cultural value (Conard, Wertheimer, 2010). Geomorphosites like the waterfalls near Bad Urach possess a very high value for geotourism (see below) and the national geotope “Posidonia shale near Holzmaden” not only offers an exceptionally high scientific value but also a considerably high economic value (Geyer, Gwinner, 1991, p. 320).

33However, many of the geomorphosites are not perceived as such by visitors. Therefore, it is evident that successful geotouristic attractions have to arouse the interest of visitors and simultaneously raise awareness for the conservation necessity at least of certain geomorphosites. This is elucidated in the following, using the case study of the geotouristic highlights of the Swabian Jura Geopark, the tufa cascades near Bad Urach.

The tufa cascades near Bad Urach as valuable geomorphosites of limited visibility and protection

34The waterfall near Bad Urach is deemed to be the most beautiful in the Swabian Jura (Huth, Junker, 2006, p. 316). The very high annual production of calcareous tufa of an estimated 5 m³ per year has led to the formation of a large moss-covered tufa ridge at the base of the 37 m high free-falling waterfall.

35The Güterstein waterfall located north-west of the Uracher Waterfall shows the same genesis. The annual growth rate of calcareous tufa of 1-3 cm is one of the highest in the Geopark (fig. 6).

Figure 6: Güterstein Waterfall – a highly dynamic geomorphosite (Megerle 2006)

Figure 6: Güterstein Waterfall – a highly dynamic geomorphosite (Megerle 2006)

36Both waterfalls have been documented as geotopes (Schöttle, 2007, p. 431). Yet they are not protected as geomorphosites, but instead as FFH- (fauna flora habitat) and nature reserves based on their biological potential. Calcareous tufa formations are generally not included in the mandatory protection according to § 32 LNatSchG.

37Both waterfalls belong to the most popular excursion destinations in the Swabian Jura and are visited by approximately 50,000 visitors a year (Manow, 2009), whereby most of the visitors concentrate on the more easily accessible and more attractive waterfall near Bad Urach. Although both waterfalls are included in almost every hiking guide and in other popular scientific information about the Swabian Jura, geomorphological facts are mentioned in only individual cases, and the anthropogenic reshaping of both geomorphosites is almost completely left unmentioned. Through this, the survey results of Beuter (2010, p. 69) are comprehensible.

38While almost 80% of the visitors presumed a high or very high impact on mammals or plants caused by abandonment of paths, just over 60% thought this to be the case in relation to the very sensitive calcareous tufa. Only for calcareous tufa did some visitors presume no damage at all or did not give any estimation, based on a lack of knowledge (fig. 7). These assessments are reflected in the nevertheless considerable impact on both waterfalls caused by footstep damage due to ignorance of the visitors (fig. 8 and Megerle, Beuter, 2012), leading to a very high need for action to conserve the geomorphosites (map 2).

Figure 7: Visitor assessment of damages caused by abandonment of paths

Figure 7: Visitor assessment of damages caused by abandonment of paths

Figure 8: Impact on calcareous tufa caused by visitors’ footsteps (Megerle, 2010)

Figure 8: Impact on calcareous tufa caused by visitors’ footsteps (Megerle, 2010)

Approaches to reduce the invisibility of geomorphosites

39By virtue of the clearly growing necessity to reduce the limited visibility as well as the appreciation of geomorphosite significance and worthiness of protection, several innovative approaches have been undertaken.

40As a basis to judge which geomorphosites in the Jura could be integrated into geotourism attractions, a set of criteria was developed. Incorporated are criteria like nature conservation, carrying capacity, authenticity, visitor safety and heritage interpretation.

Table 2: Evaluation of the geotourism potential for selected karstic geomorphosites in the area of Bad Urach

Table 2: Evaluation of the geotourism potential for selected karstic geomorphosites in the area of Bad Urach

41The application of the criteria revealed that heritage interpretation for the wider public is very difficult in respect to dolines and dry valleys, whereas visitor safety or conservation aspects play no essential role in these cases. However, conservation aspects are crucial with the calcareous tufa cascades. In respect to caves, safety aspects represent a deciding factor, whereas there are no problems with heritage interpretation. Therefore, appropriate attention should be given to the crucial factors when geotourism attractions are being developed (see also Pralong (2006) for tourist values of geomorphological sites).

42Various geotourism attractions were developed based on this set of criteria. Making use of heritage interpretation methods, these offers should help to raise the visibility of geomorphosites.

43Since 2001, nature guides have been trained in the Jura and now offer a broad range of personal interpretation. As seen in figure 9, the nature guides (Albguides and Trüpguide = special guides for the former military training area near Münsingen) in the Jura are integrating a much greater extent of geology and geomorphology into their attractions in comparison with nature guides in the rest of Baden-Württemberg. A survey confirmed the great demand for the Albguide tours as well as their success in strengthening the "interest in uniqueness of nature" for 62% of those surveyed (Martens, 2004, p. 89). Since 90% of the tour participants were from the surrounding areas, the personal interpretation certainly contributed to an improvement in geomorphosite visibility in the Jura.

Figure 9: Extent of integration of geology and geomorphology in guided nature tours in Baden-Württemberg

Figure 9: Extent of integration of geology and geomorphology in guided nature tours in Baden-Württemberg

44For self-guided tours, the Albhoftour (Cycling tour) (Münch, Traub, Megerle, 2003) and the Expedition Swabian Jura (Hiking Tour) (Schwäbischer Albverein, 2004) should be mentioned. Both books contain descriptive landscape hiking and cycling tours. They received very positive feedback and great demand, with each leading to successive editions. The visibility of geomorphosites, especially for both waterfalls, was clearly promoted by methods of heritage interpretation used in these books (Nagel, 2011).

Changes caused by the recent designation of the Swabian Jura Biosphere Reserve

45The decision to give up the military training area near Münsingen provoked intensive discussions as to whether this area of high ecological value would not be worthy to obtain the status of biosphere reserve. Having the support for this proposal by state politicians from the outset, the Swabian Jura Biosphere Reserve was declared in 2009 and gained official recognition by UNESCO. In contrast to the geopark, which until today has received less acceptance and therefore also a diminutive personnel and financial endowment, the biosphere reserve is strongly supported by not only political stakeholders in state, regional and communal levels, but is also provided with the appropriate personnel and material expenses. The intensive public relations ensured that the biosphere reserve received much greater publicity than the considerably older geopark within a short time. Whether the geopark having the same core zone as the biosphere reserve can be upheld long-term is questionable. Since the focal point of the biosphere’s tourist attraction relates mainly to cultural landscape (Biosphärengebiet, 2011), this may mean less integration of geomorphosites in tourism attractions in the medium term under these circumstances, and an associated decline in visibility.

Integration and visibility of geomorphosites in environmental education

46Due to the lack of knowledge of geomorphological processes and formations as well as the diverse values of geomorphosites, appropriate educational action is urgently required (Giusti, 2010, p. 125). However, geomorphology has taken a rather subordinate position in educational programmes in Germany for a long time. A survey of educational nature trails in the federal republic showed that from a total of 660 analysed trails only ca. 20 i.e. 3% dealt with geology as a subject area (Ebers, 1998, p. 14). Geomorphology was not even mentioned.

47This began to change slightly at the end of the 1990s relating to the designation of the first geoparks. European Geoparks have to support environmental education for the wider public and therefore develop educational methods to explain their geological heritage (European Geoparks, 2010). In the Year of Geosciences 2002, the so-called “day of the geotope” was introduced in Germany. Since then it has been repeated annually on the third Sunday of each September and contributed decisively to the enhanced public awareness of geotopes and geomorphosites (Schöttle, 2007, p. 7). Visibility of geosciences was further increased through the International Year of Planet Earth. Multi-faceted activities enhanced awareness of geoheritage for both policy makers as well as the public (Cayla, 2009, p. 35).

48Investigations by Clement (2008, p. 190f) in the Vulcaneifel Geopark showed that 88 % of the surveyed tourists and day trippers were generally interested in environmental education. Concerning geoheritage, the greatest demand was for self-guided geological trails, followed by specialized and theme based museums. It was found that the number of people attending geological educational activities could be increased significantly, for the simple reason that a low demand was mostly not attributed to a lack of interest, but rather an inadequate supply of information. Such was the experience for many visitors who, only when surveyed about the local attractions, learnt of them (Clement 2008, p. 191). The situation in the Swabian Jura Geopark is similar. In principle, the interest in geo-themes is high. However, the level of information is startlingly poor, with 75% of those surveyed three years after the designation of the geopark having never heard of the term, with even less having heard of the concept of European Geoparks (Erath, Henkel, 2005, p. 46). In contrast, 45% of visitors knew that they were in a biosphere reserve just one year after its designation and 90% knew they were inside a nature reserve (Beuter, 2010, p. 70).

49The results of the surveys are astonishing in so far as, at least since the establishment of the Swabian Jura Geopark in 2002, a growing number of geological and geomorphological environmental courses as well as geotourism attractions have been developed. The training of the Albguides, the brochure “Adventure Geology” and hiking guides with special emphasis on geoheritage should be especially mentioned (see above). In 2003, a geotouristic map of the Swabian Jura was published (Huth, Junker, 2003), which integrated 333 geotouristic destinations, among which were 83 geomorphosites.

50Although geological environmental education has significantly improved in the past decade, the enquiries of Beuter (2010) showed that a deficit of information still exists. On the one hand, more than 50% of visitors saw no necessity in procuring (new) information, having already visited the Swabian Jura on numerous occasions (Beuter, 2010, p. 66). On the other hand, simple and easily accessible information, for example information panels, are missing in the direct vicinity of the geomorphosites. The high degree of damage to the waterfall near Bad Urach (see above) could be reduced considerably with short notices referring to the necessity of conservation, in order to enhance visitor awareness. Improvements could otherwise be achieved with at least a temporary deployment of rangers, such as has already proven successful in other sensitive nature areas (e.g. Feldberg) and at geomorphosites of higher value (e.g. Wutachschlucht).


51The general time lag of geotope conservation in comparison to biotope conservation is certainly in part due to a lack of understanding of the necessity to conserve "lifeless" rocks and landscape formations in contrast to the easily communicable worthiness of protection for living plants and animals. Wardenbach et al. (2009, p. 497) observe the need for additional information not only for lay persons, but also for biologists and conservationists to better accept the “protection of dead rocks”. Investigations by Beuter (2010, p. 69) supported these statements (see above). Geosciences are also confronted by existing structures of nature conservation authorities and organisations, which are not directly transferrable to the requirements of geoconservation (Cayla, 2009, p. 13). Additionally, key positions in nature conservation authorities were and remain in a disproportional manner occupied by biologists. On the other hand geoscientists omitted for a long time a systematic mapping of geotopes and geomorphosites worthy of protection as well as a scientific discussion about appropriate conservation criteria. During this time nature conservation has become increasingly oriented towards biology (Steinmetz, 2005, p. 9). As protection of geoheritage is a complex task, including multifaceted aspects, geoconservation needs to be established as an independent subject in its own rights (Gray, 2004, p. 367).

52The significant temporal delay of the integration of geology and geomorphology into tourism attractions as well as the development of environmental education, resulting from the presumed lack of consumer interest, correlates partially with the school curriculum in Germany. Whereas biology as a school subject is covered in the complete school career, geological and geomorphological topics are dealt with in very restricted depth in geography lessons. In Germany, geology does not exist as an independent school subject. This is further aggravated by the fact that geography as a school subject receives only little attention in educational curriculum and in recent years significant curtailments have had to be accepted to the extent of it being completely left out in individual school grades or it being focused on human geography (Hemmer, 2008, p. 104).

53In more recent years, the significant growth in interest for geology and geomorphology has been to an increasing extent taken up by various stakeholders and institutions. However, there is generally still a significant lack of simple, comprehensible and accessible information. Especially geomorphology is often not mentioned at all or appears for example in the media as “often vague, even distorted” (Giusti, 2010, p. 125). What is required is more and better information in the direct vicinity of highly valuable and endangered geomorphosites. Through this, an increased awareness of the general public can be ensured. This will hopefully contribute to an enhanced visibility of geomorphosites and thereby also a better understanding of the necessity to conserve them.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 : Geological map of Baden-Württemberg (Author’s design ; Data sources: Rosner, 2008)
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Titre Figure 2 : Albtrauf and foothills in the area of Bad Urach (Megerle, 2011)
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Titre Figure 3: Percentage of geotopes listed as natural monuments in Baden-Württemberg along with the four administrative districts
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Titre Figure 4: Categorization of the recorded geotopes according to geological period and protection status
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Titre Figure 5 : Categorization of the recorded geotopes grouped according to characteristics and protection status
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Titre Figure 6: Güterstein Waterfall – a highly dynamic geomorphosite (Megerle 2006)
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Titre Figure 7: Visitor assessment of damages caused by abandonment of paths
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Titre Figure 8: Impact on calcareous tufa caused by visitors’ footsteps (Megerle, 2010)
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Titre Table 2: Evaluation of the geotourism potential for selected karstic geomorphosites in the area of Bad Urach
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Titre Figure 9: Extent of integration of geology and geomorphology in guided nature tours in Baden-Württemberg
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Heidi Megerle, « Les géomorphosites du Sud-Ouest de l’Allemagne : un patrimoine naturel et culturel de grande valeur, mais négligé », Géocarrefour, Vol. 87/3-4 | 2012, 157-170.

Référence électronique

Heidi Megerle, « Les géomorphosites du Sud-Ouest de l’Allemagne : un patrimoine naturel et culturel de grande valeur, mais négligé », Géocarrefour [En ligne], Vol. 87/3-4 | 2012, mis en ligne le 18 avril 2013, consulté le 19 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Heidi Megerle

Hochschule für Forstwirtschaft Rottenburg, Schadenweilerhof, D-72108 Rottenburg am Neckar, Tel.: 0049 (0) 7472-951-243, Fax: 0049 (0) 7472-951-200

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