Hiking on the Karst Trail through the Southern Harz gypsum karst landscape: enjoying and preserving a singular landscape
The Southern Harz gypsum karst landscape is a narrow belt extending through Lower Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. Owing to unusual geological conditions - it is the most important area with an extensive gypsum rock cover in Middle Europe -, a unique variety and density of karst phenomena have developed over many thousand years: more than 20,000 sink holes, dolines, uvalas, springs, caves, swallow holes and other karst phenomena can be found within a confined space. The outcome of these natural conditions combined with largely extensive management has been a vast mosaic of closely intermeshed, diverse habitats: dry meadows, limebeech forests, gypsum escarpments, stony terrain, spring bogs, and water-filled fens. Unfortunately, more and more of this landscape is being destroyed by quarries. So far, only Saxony-Anhalt has protected its share of the gypsum karst belt in form of a Biosphere Reserve. The environmental organisations in Lower Saxony and Thuringia vigorously object to the issuing of new extraction permits. In order to ensure the long-term protection of the gypsum karst landscape they demand the establishment of a cross-boundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, designated "Karstlandschaft Südharz", and the nomination of more parts of the gypsum karst landscape as Natura 2000 sites.