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What is a Geosite?

The importance of nature conservation and environmental protection has been growing continuously since the 1980s, and it is of great public interest. In the early days, however, biological aspects were the primary focus of attention, so that biotopes and biotope protection are already familiar terms to most people today. The inanimate part of nature was considered merely part of the ecosystem, without being afforded any necessary protection. For a long time, therefore, no technical term existed for describing special geoscientific objects in German-speaking countries. Inanimate natural formations such as outcrops, landscapes, geological formations and the like were often referred to as “natural creations, structures, formations, features” etc. In German, they were also referred to as “Geowissenschaftlich schutzwürdige Objekte” (objects worthy of geoscientific protection), or “Geologisches Naturdenkmal” (geological natural monuments).

At the beginning of the 1990s, the working group “Geotopschutz in deutschsprachigen Ländern” (Geotope Protection in German-Speaking Countries) applied the geosite concept to “recognizable parts of the geosphere that are on Earth’s surface, or are otherwise accessible from it, which are geographically limited and clearly distinguishable from their surroundings, in the geoscientific sense”. According to this definition, a geotope, analogous to a biotope, is a geographically limited place (Greek: “topos”), in which the structure, development and properties of the Earth (Greek: “ge”) are of particular significance. These can be natural or man-made outcrops, landscapes or features that reveal the action of geological forces and the traces of fossil life. In addition to the protection and preservation of geoscientific objects, the idea of communicating knowledge about Earth’s history also plays an essential role. For this purpose, a system for the identification and evaluation of geosites was developed, which should provide transnational comparability in the assessment of their worthiness of protection. “Geosites worthy of protection” are geosites that are characterized by their special geological significance, rarity, peculiarity or beauty. They are documents of particular value to science, research and education, as well as to nature and local history. However, geosites themselves are not a separate category of protection