Friday, January 21, 2022

Geomorphological heritage and beyond

by Enrico Cameron*

* National Coalition of Independent Scholars

Picture above: Santa Maria di Leuca (LE) - Spiaggia e Punta Meliso, Italy

Enrico Cameron
Landforms, including anthropogenic ones, influence and are influenced by ecosystems over a wide range of scales. They are structural elements of landscapes (which in turn play a major role in people’s quality of life everywhere) and may be part of world heritage sites or be important only to local communities or single individuals. What is more, various authors have pointed out the importance of sites with former geomorphic features destroyed or hidden by human activities (e.g. Clivaz and Reynard 2017; Pica et al. 2017) and the archaeo-historical value of several anthropogenic landforms (e.g. Fouache and Rasse 2009; Pica et al. 2016; Brandolini et al. 2019).

Outside protected areas such as geosites, geoparks and others, the importance of landforms is often underrated and the protection (if any) of potentially interesting geomorphic features is frequently limited or poorly targeted. These features, therefore, are often carelessly altered or removed, particularly during the building of infrastructures or the expansion of urban and agricultural areas.

In a paper recently published on the Springer’s journal Geoheritage (a view-only version is available at I argue that outside protected areas the conservation of landforms would benefit from specific approaches, and propose one such approach based on methods originally developed for assessing the value of geomorphological heritage sites (e.g. Reynard 2009, Mucivuna et al. 2019). These methods involve considering a number of relevant characteristics of a site (from its scientific importance to its cultural significance) which are usually evaluated separately and assigned qualitative scores, that are then weighted and summed to obtain the site overall value. The assumption underlying the paper is that every landform has a value that should be acknowledged, can be ranked on a qualitative scale using the methods mentioned above and must consistently be taken into account – particularly when planning land use changes - in order to decide whether and how to protect the geomorphological features of an area.

Furthermore, the work put forward the notion of an "exclusion approach" to geomorphological protection, whereby all landforms deserve some form of conservation except those whose value (potential or actual) is considered too low. How and to what degree the other landforms should be conserved is a problem that must be dealt with case by case. The goal of such an approach is not to prevent anthropogenic geomorphological changes, but rather to promote changes based on knowledge (about the presence and relevance of landforms), responsibility (what landforms to conserve, to what degree and how) and caution (in altering and eliminating landforms) in accordance with the principles and values of geoethics and sustainable development (Di Capua et al. 2017 and 2021; Gill and Smith 2021; Peppoloni and Di Capua 2021). The pros and cons of the proposed method and of the exclusion approach are of course open to debate, but perhaps it can be agreed that geoconservation should be further extended to everyday territories as much as ecological conservation cannot be identified anymore with protected areas only.


Brandolini F, Cremaschi M, Pelfini M (2019) Estimating the Potential of Archaeo-Historical Data in the Definition of Geomorphosites and Geo-Educational Itineraries in the Central Po Plain (N Italy). Geoheritage. 10.1007/s12371-019-00370-5.

Cameron E (2022) Outside Geomorphosites. Geoheritage.

Clivaz M, Reynard E (2017) How to Integrate Invisible Geomorphosites in an Inventory: a Case Study in the Rhone River Valley (Switzerland). Geoheritage.

Di Capua G, Bobrowsky PT, Kieffer SW, Palinkas C (eds., 2021) Geoethics: Status and Future Perspectives. Geological Society of London Special Publication 108.

Di Capua G, Peppoloni S, Bobrowsky PT (2017) The Cape Town Statement on Geoethics. Annals of Geophysics, 60, Fast Track 7.

Fouache E, Rasse M (2009) Archaeology, geoarchaeology and geomorphosite management: towards a typology of geoarchaeosites. In: Reynard E, Coratza P, Regolini – Bissig G (eds.) Geomorphosites. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, pp. 213-223.

Gill JC, Smith M (2021) Geosciences and the Sustainable Development Goals. Springer.

Mucivuna VC, Reynard E, Da Glória Motta Garcia M (2019) Geomorphosites Assessment Methods: Comparative Analysis and Typology. Geoheritage.

Peppoloni S. and Di Capua G. (2021). Geoethics to Start Up a Pedagogical and Political Path towards Future Sustainable Societies. Sustainability, 13(18), 10024.

Pica A, Luberti GM, Vergari F, Fredi P, Del Monte M (2017) Contribution for an urban geomorphoheritage assessment method: proposal for three geomorphosites in Rome (Italy). Quaestiones Geographicae 36(3):21-37.

Pica A, Vergari F, Fredi P., Del Monte M (2016). The Aeterna Urbs Geomorphological Heritage (Rome, Italy). Geoheritage 8:31-42.

Reynard E (2009) The assessment of geomorphosites. In: Reynard E, Coratza P, Regolini – Bissig G (eds.) Geomorphosites. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, pp. 63-71


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IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

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