Sandstone landscapes in Europe
Past, present and future

English version  Version française
Vianden (Luxbg.)
25-28 May 2005

1st | 2nd circular

Programme Registration Photos Contact Links

First circular

Download 1st circular (revised 13.12.2004) as pdf-file (225kB)

Background and aims of the conference

There are many sandstone regions scattered over Europe. They host specific flora and fauna; they support landscapes where dynamic geomorphologic processes occur at rates unseen in landscapes that surround them. Pronounced geomorphologic features create strong gradients in mesoclimatic conditions and vegetation zone inversions; in addition, they generate high levels of natural disturbance and resulting patch dynamics. Recently, they have often witnessed disastrous spread of invasive species; although the true reason is unknown, it may be facilitated by the fact that these habitats support so many highly disturbed patches ideally suited for an opportunistic plant invader. All these features make them very distinct from the surrounding landscapes, both now and in the past. Much of the Holocene they seem to have supported ecosystems and species markedly different from the other landscapes; some of the species occurring there are of distinctly relict nature. Much later, when agricultural practices changed the European landscape, sandstone regions usually remained forested to a much greater degree than other landscape types.

Sandstones are not only a phenomenon of geological and biological interest. Strong geomorphologic gradients forced people living there to adopt specific agricultural practices and to live in specific kinds of settlements. Bizarre landscapes of sandstone regions have attracted human attention, particularly since the Romantic period; then they became major tourism destinations with a specific settlement structure developing around an early tourism industry.

We believe the uniqueness of geomorphologic and ecological processes in sandstone regions calls for a much more intimate link between geomorphology, climatology, landscape history and biology/ecology. We see this as a challenge for science: in no other landscape type botanical research would be in a stronger need for data on geomorphology, or a geomorphologist on hydrology; many similar examples can be named. A tentative list of topics that we consider really interesting may include:

  • Sandstone surfaces as a "memory" of past environmental processes
  • Formation of sandstone landscapes: deposition and erosion
  • Vegetation history and palaeoecology
  • Interaction of vegetation and sandstone relief
  • Sandstone regions as islands in the current landscape mosaic hosting relict species of plants and animals
  • Forests in sandstone regions
  • Case studies of individual sandstone regions: natural history, history and conservation history
  • History of human settlement in sandstone regions
  • Romantic painters' discovery of sandstone regions
  • Tourism - history, present impacts and future
  • Ecological fragility of sandstone systems in the modern landscape: effects of management change, invasive/alien species

This 2nd international conference on sandstone will try to continue the effort devoted to bridging all these disciplines initiated at the 1st conference in Doubice (2002, CZ). We hope that this conference will

  • identify which general research topics can use sandstone regions as particularly suitable model systems (habitat islands, patch dynamics in a landscape with high disturbance rates, interactions of vegetation and climate);
  • facilitate comparisons of different sandstone regions over Europe and elsewhere;
  • establish contacts and collaboration among people interested in sandstone regions, both across different fields and over geographic space;
  • address conservation issues specific for sandstone regions (tourism, rock climbing, restoration management).

Preliminary programme

The scientific programme will consist of plenary lectures, poster sessions, workshops and excursions. All participants will be limited to one oral or poster presentation.

We expect to organize the conference on 4 major topics:

1. Evolution of sandstone landscapes : geology and geomorphology

Sandstone is a quite common rock type, which characterizes different regions and yet each sandstone formation differs somehow from the other by its mineralogical composition or by its origin. Today the geological evolution of these areas shows a landscape revealing many erosion features, joint patterns and rockslides from recent time, as well as a lot of elements from the geological past. The erosion often formed either narrow valleys into a sandstone plateau, or slopes of a cuesta, or buttes as residual hills or outliers...

Today man takes advantage of the picturesque landscape developed in the sandstone formation through leisure and sporting activities. He extracts material for construction as sand, gravel or stone and drinking water, filtered and stocked in the underground. For a long time man took profit from the specificities of this region: of it's cliffs for protection, of it's plants for food, of it's wood for heating, of it's springs as water supply, of it's river for hydraulic power...

2. Archaeology of sandstone landscapes : from Prehistory to the Middle Ages

The topic includes the various contributions of archaeology to the knowledge of the old populations within the limits given by the subject.

The communications will be able to consist of syntheses, regional or correlating various European areas, or in presentations of actuality on a precise site or topic, relating to one of the following points:

  • the habitat and its additional activities, architecture, 
  • burials, anthropology and taphonomy in sandy context, 
  • petroglyphs and rupestral art.

3. Flora, fauna and microclimate of sandstone ecosystems

Sandstone formations with their typical erosion features are known for special microclimatic conditions. Great variations in both humidity and temperature - including temperature inversion - are responsible for a huge diversity of plants and animals. The proliferation of Atlantic and sub-Atlantic species is remarkable, the presence of mountain and sub-mountain species is significant.

Besides higher plants, the diversity of pteridophytes and the richness of nonvascular cryptogams like bryophytes and lichens of sandstone regions is in general outstanding. On the other hand, the sandstone outcrops, as well as extended woods and moist valleys offer habitats for a rich wildlife and host some rare or interesting animals.

4. Human impact on sandstone landscapes: threats and protection

The sandstone landscapes aren't so frequent in Europe and it should be noted that a considerable amount of these exceptional sites became the victims of their own successes. Exploited and inhabited by man since prehistory, visited and solicited by modern man, who seeks relaxation and ventures in these spectacular landscapes, the fragile sandstone habitats are threatened more and more. The majority of the impacts and their intensity are in direct correlation with the number of visitors. Many damages are crawling and appear initially on the level of the ground, the small structures and the micro-habitats, from where the difficulty for uninitiated persons to recognize and avoid them. But, among all the threats which currently weigh on the diversity of species and ecosystems associated to sandstone landscapes, there are also some which by no means are due to the direct presence of the man. Air pollution, urban sprawl of the landscapes, genetic insulation of the species and the populations and possibly climatic change are as many serious problems and much more difficult to control and fight than the direct impacts of visitors and tourists.

It is to be welcomed that persons in charge and decision makers start to recognize that sandstone ecosystems are rare and exceptional in Europe, but that they are at the same time threatened and that they thus deserve all efforts of possible safeguard and protection. Whereas the direct impacts of man are relatively quickly controllable by campaigns of information and prevention, the task will be much more difficult to avoid the indirect damages and the exit of this difficult combat will be much more dubious.

Preliminary schedule


May 24 2005

arrival and registration


May 25 2005

pre-conference excursion


May 26 2005

late registration, conference session


May 27 2005

conference session


May 28 2005

conference closing, post-conference tour


May 29 2005


Conference venue

The venue has been transferred from Luxembourg to the city of Vianden due to lack of available accommodation because of the many events in the frame of the Presidency in Luxembourg city.

Vianden is a small medieval touristic town close to the German border in the north east of Luxembourg. The conference will be held in the 'Centre culturel Larei', a huge building complex with all the needed facilities and comfort.

The Larei is located in the very heart of Vianden within less than five minute walk from each hotel. The city is surrounded by an impressing slate scenery (don't worry, the Luxembourg sandstone area is within a 10 minutes ride away :-). More information about Vianden and surroundings at http://www.islekercard.org.


The conference languages will be English and French. Interpretation will be provided in the plenary sessions. The conference documents will be in both languages. The conference proceedings will be in the language the long abstracts are submitted in.


One pre- and one post-congress excursion will be offered. They will mainly cover the landscapes of the Luxembourg Sandstone (Mullerthal, Echternach, Luxembourg-city and surroundings). We expect the excursions to cover the following themes:

  • geology, mineralogy, geomorphology, palaeontology and hydrology of sandstone areas;
  • vegetation of sandstone ecosystems with special emphasis on cryptogams and forest management;
  • historical aspects (pre-historical sites, recent discoveries), tourism and leisure.

Call for talks and posters

There will be a possibility of presenting both talks (15 + 5 min discussion) and posters. All presentations will be in plenary. We plan to organize several workshops according to the interests of the participants.

If there should be too many oral contributions, preference will be given to those that fall better into the scope of the conference, whereas the remaining ones may be asked to be presented as posters.

Call for abstracts

Please submit abstracts of your presentations, both talks and posters (max. 400 words or 3000 characters) electronically to the following e-mail address: sandstone@symposium.lu, as a MS-Word (*.doc) or Rich text-format (*.rtf). Please use your full name as a file name. If you have no access to e-mail, please send a floppy disk with the file to the conference secretariat (see address below). Deadline for submitting abstracts is 15th January, 2005.

Make sure that the file contains following information: (1) is it an oral communication or a poster presentation, (2) abstract title in bold, (3) presentation of author and his/her address, (4) abstract text, (5) keywords.


Each participant has to book him-/herself an accommodation (except for the people presenting an oral communication). A list of hotels in Vianden will be proposed by the organizer. Early booking is recommended.


Reduced fees will apply to students of all member states and to scientists from new member states of the European Union. The total conference fee will be according to the time of payment:


Early booking
until January 15th 2005

Late booking
from January 16th 2005

Full price

90 €

110 €

Reduced fee

45 €

55 €

This fee includes admittance to conference sessions, conference documents including abstract volume, reception, lunch and coffee breaks as well as both pre- and mid-conference excursion.


For registration please use the → registration form on the conference homepage and send it electronically (http://www.symposium.lu/sandstone/). Or fill in the enclosed form and send it by mail or fax to the conference secretariat. Please note that the conference capacity is limited. Deadline for registration is February 15th, 2005.


Before you pay, send first registration form and wait for a reply of the conference secretariat. You will be informed if conference places are still available. After this assurance you can pay the conference fee. Please pay the conference fee in Euro and free of charge by bank transfer to account n° IBAN LU54 1111 1329 0010 0000 of the 'TRESORERIE DE L'ETAT CPTE MUSEE NAT D'HIST. NATURELLE' at Bank 'P&T Luxembourg, L-1090 Luxembourg', BIC code 'CCPLLULL'. Please use the conference abbreviation (Sandstone 2005) as the payment identification. Deadline for early payment is January 15th, 2005.


The Luxembourg monetary unit is the Euro (EUR, €).


Cancellations have to be sent in writing to the conference secretariat address. If your cancellation is received before March 25th 2005 your payment will be refunded (minus bank costs of the transfer). No refunds can be made for cancellations after this date.

Information about the organizing institutions

Conference organizing committee

Georges Bechet, director of the National Museum of Natural History; Guy Colling, researcher at the National Museum of Natural History; Alain Faber, conservator at the National Museum of Natural History; Yves Krippel, research associate of the National Museum of Natural History; Frantz-Charles Muller, president of the Foundation 'Hëllef fir d'Natur' and NATURA; Christian Ries, president of the Luxembourg Naturalist Society, conservator at the National Museum of Natural History; Jean-Marie Sinner, head of Diekirch forestry district, Administration of Water and Forests; Fernand Spier, president of the Luxembourg Prehistory Society; Norbert Stomp, former director of the National Museum of Natural History; François Valotteau, researcher at the National Museum of Art and History; Jean Werner, president of the Study group for the preservation of the natural heritage of Luxembourg Little Switzerland.

Final circular

The final circular with detailed travel and programme information will be distributed in March 2005. It will also be presented on the conference homepage.

Practical information

For practical information, e.g. registration, transport, accommodation etc., please contact the Conference Secretariat:

Mr. Christian RIES
Sandstone 2005 coordination
c/o Musée national d'histoire naturelle
25, rue Münster
L-2160 Luxembourg
Phone: (+352) 46 22 33 - 416
Fax: (+352) 46 22 33 - 441
e-mail: sandstone@symposium.lu

Conference homepage


Scapania mucronata (Hepaticae). On shaded sandstone amidst the City of Luxembourg (Petrusse valley) - ©  by L. Reichling

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In the frame of the Luxembourg precidency of the Council of the European Union in 2005 and with support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment and the National Research Fund.

Luxembourg Ministry of Environment

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