, Volume 1, Issue 2-4, pp 93-110,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 05 Nov 2009

The “European Aeolian Sand Belt”: Geoconservation of Drift Sand Landscapes


The aeolian geological record for Europe, as reflected in the “European sand belt” in the northern European Lowlands, which extends from Britain to the Polish–Russian border and beyond, is known in detail. Mainly in the western part of this sand belt, extensive Late Holocene moving sand areas developed due to overexploitation (deforestation, sheep and cattle grazing, cutting of heather sods for plaggen agriculture, etc.) of the sandy soils. In the past, these man-made deserts were considered as wastelands as moving sands threatened to cover arable fields and villages. However, the majority of these drift sand regions have now been stabilized by a natural or artificial vegetation cover. In the Netherlands, almost all dune fields were transformed into pine (Pinus sylvestris) plantations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Of the originally approximately 950 km2 of actively moving drift sand areas, only 15/16 km2 remains today. It is increasingly realized that these small remaining areas represent a unique ecosystem characterized by current geomorphic (aeolian) processes, primary vegetation succession, and a special floral and faunal composition adapted to extreme environmental conditions. New perceptions in nature management and geoconservation led to the view that reactivating some of the formerly bare drift sand areas will strongly increase their geomorphological, ecological, and educational importance. Careful and efficient management requires detailed knowledge of the interaction of the many geomorphological, ecological, and land use processes. After reviewing the distribution, origin, and geomorphic properties of drift sand landscapes, reactivation projects and plans in the Netherlands are discussed.

Presented at the ProGEO Meeting WG3—Northern Europe. Geodiversity, Geoheritage, and Nature and Landscape Management, 19–23 April 2009, Drenthe, the Netherlands