The Mainz Sand Dunes Nature Reserve

The 70 hectares Sand Dunes area on the west edge of the city of Mainz, Germany, with its unique nature landscape and its rare steppe vegetation is one of the most important nature reserves in Europe. The Autobahn 643 runs through the area and divides it into two parts, Mainzer Sand I and II, which are connected by a bridge.

Landscape

The Sand Dunes are part of a drifting sand area with sand heaths between Mainz and Ingelheim in Rhinehessen. The soil consists of fine-grained, nutrient-poor fluvial sand. That sand has been drifted by the wind from the riverbed of the Rhine river to the slopes of the Rhinehessian plateau after the last Ice Age (app. 12,000 years ago). The dunes have been preserved over thousands of years by the surrounding pine woods.

The climate in the Middle Rhine Valley is continental at relatively high summer temperatures and low annual precipitation. Due to the dry climate, and since the sandy soil can store only small quantities of water and nutrients, a remarkable steppe vegetation has grown in this area.

Plants

In the Mainz Sand Dunes, many kinds of steppe plants, which spread from the east and from the Mediterranean to Central Europe 8,000 to 12,000 years ago, have been preserved.

Central Europe was a steppe landscape after the Ice Age. Starting about 8,000 years ago, forests spread across the continent, and the steppe plants were superseded by the woods.
In the Mainz Sand Dunes, these plants have remained nearly untouched thanks to a lack of woods and the dry climate.

View the Mainz Sand Dunes Image Gallery >

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1996-2002 Ralf Eichberger