Stevns Klint is a globally exceptional testimony to the evidence of the Chicxulub meteorite impact that took place at the end of the Cretaceous Period, c.65 million years ago. This impact is widely believed by modern scientists to have led to the extinction of more than 50% of life on Earth. This is the most recent of the major mass extinctions in Earth’s history. The outstanding fossil record at Stevns Klint provides a succession of three biotic assemblages including the most diverse late Cretaceous marine ecosystem known. The fossil record shows which taxa became extinct and which survived and reveals the tempo and mode of evolution of the succeeding post-impact fauna that diversified to the marine fauna of today.
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
2014: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under Natural Criterion viii
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:
Stevns Klint is a globally exceptional testimony to the impact of meteorite impact on the history of life on Earth. The property provides evidence of the Chicxulub meteorite impact that took place at the end of the Cretaceous Period, c.67 million years ago, and is widely believed to have caused the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. The property has further iconic scientific importance due to its association with the radical theory for asteroid driven extinction developed through the seminal work of Walter and Luis W. Alvarez, with their co-workers. Stevns Klint is highly significant in terms of its past, present and future contribution to science, and makes these values accessible to the wider global community as a whole.
Criterion (viii): Stevns Klint is a globally exceptional testimony to the impact of meteorite impact on the history of life on Earth. The property provides a globally exceptional representation of the evidence of the Chicxulub meteorite impact that took place at the end of the Cretaceous Period, c.67 million years ago. This impact is widely believed by modern scientists to have caused the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs, and led to the extinction of more than 50% of life on Earth. This is the most recent of the major mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Comparative analysis indicates this is the most significant and readily accessible site, of hundreds available, to see the sedimentary record of the ash cloud formed by the meteorite impact, the actual site of the impact being deep underwater offshore the Yucatan peninsula. In addition, the site has iconic scientific importance as the most significant and accessible of the three localities where the radical theory for asteroid-driven extinction was developed through the seminal work of Walter and Luis W. Alvarez, with their co-workers. Stevns Klint is highly significant in terms of its past, present and future contribution to science especially pertaining to the definition and explanation of the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary.
The outstanding fossil record at Stevns Klint provides a succession of three biotic assemblages including the most diverse end-Cretaceous marine ecosystem known. The million years recorded in the rock at Stevns Klint provides evidence of a climax pre-impact community, fauna that survived a mass extinction event, and the subsequent faunal recovery and increased biodiversity following this event. The fossil record shows which taxa became extinct and which survived and reveals the tempo and mode of evolution of the succeeding post impact fauna that diversified to the marine fauna of today, thus providing important context for the main K/T boundary layer exposed at Stevns Klint.
The property contains the coastal rock exposures that are of Outstanding Universal Value. There is a small break in the site where an active quarry is located, in the buffer zone, resulting in the site being a serial property. Boundaries along the cliff address and accommodate the natural erosion processes of the sea, and include the beach area where eroded blocks fall as natural erosion progresses. The landward and seaward buffer areas are adequate. Existing human made exposures landward of the cliff also support the integrity of the site. These exposures are in areas that include two abandoned quarries and tunnels that had historically been used for military purposes. The inclusion of these areas enhances opportunities for visitor services and interpretation and supports further understanding related to the three dimensions of the paleo-seascape. These anthropogenic features, based on calculated rates of sea level rise and planned coastal management strategies, are durable as accessible exposures for hundreds of years.
Protection and management requirements
The property benefits from overlapping national and local legislation, and has an up to date management plan supported through local government planning strategies. The property is protected from development and will continue to evolve as a natural and unprotected stretch of coastline. A specific organizational structure for management of the property has been designed to support the management needed following inscription on the World Heritage list. The site is governed and managed through a steering group with representation from the state, regional governments, and landowners including private (majority of the property is privately owned) and public. The steering group is complemented by a local organization with a board of directors, a secretariat supported by a Director and Site Manager, and two standing committees (a local reference group and a scientific reference group). There is strong community support for the nomination, and a co-management approach with a range of partners including local government, the local museum, NGOs and private sector interests. Sustained and adequate finance for the management of the property is a long-term requirement. Project funding has been secured with a plan for securing sustainable funding based on a five-year management cycle. Ongoing management funding will be provided through the local government. Both national level and private sector involvement in the management of the site will also provide support to the property.
There are some threats to the property that require continued attention. There is notable visitation, and projections that this will increase. This has the potential to negatively impact the fossil heritage through uncontrolled/poorly managed fossil collecting. This threat is managed through the legislative framework for protection of natural heritage in Denmark and regional and municipal planning to support the protection of the property. Guidelines are in place that regulate collecting and also zoning the property for managing visitation along the coast. It will be of additional importance that tourism and visitation is part of a local strategy for sustainable tourism, and that effective education, interpretation and curation facilities are provided.
The property is protected from extractive use, in line with the principle that such uses are incompatible with World Heritage property status, and the State Party has provided a series of examples of cases where government has denied requests for extraction of resources to ensure the protection of natural heritage values. A dormant claim for quarrying adjoining the property expires in 2028 and will not be renewed, nor activated prior to its expiry.
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
Middle European Forest (2.11.5)
Stevns Klint (N 55o16’02o E 12o25’24o) is found on the eastern Zealand coast within Stevns Municipality, approximately 40km directly south of Copenhagen, Eastern Denmark. The property extends no more than one kilometre inland, and predominantly covers the coastal and marine environments. The site follows the island of Zealand’s eastern coast from Bøgeskov Havn in the north down to Rødvig in the south.
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
2014: Inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site in two closely adjoining sections.
In broad terms there are two forms of ownership at Stevns Klint: Public (governmental and municipal) and private (associations, companies and individuals). The cliff itself is primarily private property with the local Gjorslev Gods estate being the largest owners. Holtug Kridtbrud, the abandoned quarry, belongs to the state while Boesdal Kalkbrud, the other abandoned quarry belongs to the municipality. Overall, 98% of Stevns Klint is privately owned (95% being owned by Gjorslev), and the remaining 2% being publicly owned by the State and Stevns Municipality (1% each respectively).
The area is coastal, and rises from sea level to approximately 40 m above sea level at the highest point at Stevns Fyr.
Due to the site’s importance in providing essential information on the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event (Premovic, 2009), there has been much attention paid to the geology of the site. The Cretaceous is represented by a soft chalk constituting a characteristic example of deposition in the relatively deep epicontinental Chalk Sea that covered most of NW Europe in Late Cretaceous times. The Cretaceous chalk deposits exposed at Stevns Klint were deposited in water depths of at least a hundred metres. The chalk is composed of tiny skeletal fragments from unicellular coccolithophorid protists that lived in the uppermost water masses and used sunlight for photosynthesis. Chalk is typically an oceanic sediment type, but in the Late Cretaceous times when the sea-level was much higher than today, this sediment spread out over the flooded continents. Northwestern Europe was a region with only limited and local tectonic activity and the landmasses surrounding the Chalk Sea were worn down. The combination of arid climate, sparse localised tectonic activity, and worn-down landmasses resulted in a very limited supply of clay that would normally reach the sea through rivers. This explains the purity of the white chalk that is primarily composed of pure skeletal fragments.
At Højerup, located centrally along the cliff, the Cretaceous chalk is visible in the lower half of the cliff below the pronounced overhang of Lower Tertiary, Danian limestone, marking the top of the Cretaceous deposits and its boundary with the overlying Tertiary deposits. Along the length of the cliff, the position of the boundary varies from about five metres below the present-day sea level in the southern part to about 35m above the present-day sea level in the northern part of the cliff. The lower part of the chalk exposed in the northern part of Stevns Klint shows irregular low-amplitude mounded bedding outlined by thin layers of nodular flint. The bedding illustrates that the local seafloor topography was formed by a system of gentle, large-scale structures, including relatively long mounds with smaller mounds superimposed forming structures on a broad range of scales. The boundary clay at Stevns Klint consists of a thin and dark clay bed, and is found in a series of shallow troughs between the mounds at the end of the Cretaceous. The boundary clay is typically up to 10cm thick, but can be up to 30cm in some parts. The Tertiary at Stevns Klint, notably the Danian, is represented by large bryozoan limestone mounds outlined by thick black flint bands, which illustrate the dimensions, geometry, and architecture of on the finest, ancient cool-water carbonate mound complexes in the world. Due to the continuous erosion from the sea, the profile of the cliff is continually evolving and well exposed.
Stevns Klint is located approximately 70km away from Copenhagen by land, but by sea it is only across the Kage Bugt bay, and is considerably closer. Climate information is not available for Stevns Klint itself but the average high temperatures in Copenhagen range from 1.9oC in January to 20.4oC in July. Precipitation in Copenhagen is also highest in July at 68mm, with the lowest monthly rainfall occurring in February (30mm). The Copenhagen region is in the oceanic climate zone.
The vegetation of the cliff face is generally sparse due to the constant erosion and high levels of exposure that only a minority of species can survive. Small areas of higher stability form unique microhabitats with a range of species characteristic of calcareous grassland flora. In the abandoned quarries, the lack of a mull layer provides a rare nutrient-poor environment, leading to sparse open vegetation. Over recent years, 43 ha of previously agricultural land have been transformed into grassland, which cliff flora are beginning to inhabit. A total of 243 species of plant have been recorded, 97 of which are characteristic of calcareous grassland. Some of the more iconic species include: bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus and pigeon’s scabious Scabiosa columbaria, as well as common species such as yarrow Achillea millefolium.
In the marine ecosystem, species of macroalgae are mainly found on boulders and the chalky seabed. Seaweed species are entirely dominated by red algal species that completely cover all boulders to a water depth of 15m.
The white cliffs of Stevns Klint provide a unique combination of geography and topography that makes it a significant site for migrating birds on a regional scale. A total of 260 species have been observed along the cliff, an estimated 200 of which are migratory in nature. Based on the annual passing of 20,000 migratory birds of prey, Stevns Klint has been registered as an Important Bird Area. Stevns Klint is located on an important avian migratory route connecting the large breeding areas of northern Scandinavia with the winter grounds in the Mediterranean and tropical Africa. Despite disappearing as a nesting bird from Denmark in 1972, the peregrine falcon Falco peregrines has now returned and since 2007 is nesting on Stevns Klint (Pihl et al., 2006). The peregrine falcon is listed as Vulnerable on the Danish Red List of Threatened Species along with the common merganser Mergus merganser, which nests in small caves along the cliff. The cliff is inhabited by one of the largest populations of common house martins Delichon urbicum in Europe. Resident mammalian species are representative of the wider area, encompassing species such as fox, hare and roe deer. Worthy of note is the presence of seven species of bats, which reside in various habitats throughout the site. All bat species are included in the EU Habitats Directive Annex IV and Natterer’s bat Myotis nattereri is listed as Vulnerable on the Danish Red List 2010.
The warm microclimates experienced at Stevns Klint make it a favourable habitat for a wide array of insects. A number of insects considered rare in Denmark are found at Stevns Klint, For example the Rove Beetle Tomoglossa luteicornis is only found at Stevns Klint. The flowering dry grasslands in particular offer favourable conditions for butterflies, as shown by the 22 species of both common and rare butterflies and moths.
Stevns Klint’s reptilian population includes the common European viper Vipera berus and the sand lizard Lacerta agilis. Ponds in the abandoned quarry of Holtug Kridtbrud support a sizeable population of smooth newt Triturus vulgaris and the rarer great crested newt Triturus cristatus which are both protected by the EU Habitats Directive Annex II and IV.
Stevns Klint is a globally exceptional testimony to the impact of meteorite on the history of life on Earth. The property provides a representation of the evidence of the Chicxulub meteorite impact that took place at the end of the Cretaceous Period, c.65 million years ago (Machalski & Heinberg, 2005). This impact is widely believed by modern scientists to have caused the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs, and led to the extinction of more than 50% of life on Earth. This is the most recent of the major mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Comparative analysis indicates this is the most significant and readily accessible site, of hundreds available, to see the sedimentary record of the ash cloud formed by the meteorite impact. The outstanding fossil record at Stevns Klint provides a succession of three biotic assemblages including the most diverse end-Cretaceous marine ecosystem known. The million years recorded in the rock at Stevns Klint provides evidence of a climax pre-impact community, fauna that survived a mass extinction event, and the subsequent faunal recovery and increased biodiversity following this event. The fossil record shows which taxa became extinct and which survived and reveals the tempo and mode of evolution of the succeeding post impact fauna that diversified to the marine fauna of today.
Throughout history Stevns Klint has perhaps been most famous for its flint resources, which grew into a proper industry during the late Neolithic approximately 4,000 years ago. The use of flint is associated with Epipaleolithic times, however, it was used more in the mid 19th Century due to the high demand as a component for flintlock weaponry. The production of over 1.6 million gun stones was recorded from the wider Stevns Klint area, with flint also being used for faience and earthenware. Today this trade has stopped and there is no longer any production of flint from Stevns Klint.
The pale limestone rock of Stevns Klint was used to construct more than 80 churches in the nearby countryside. The local stone has also been used to fortify buildings, notably Copenhagen Castle (1167), the Citadel of Copenhagen, as well as Kronborg Castle (1570s). At first the stone was located from blocks that had fallen off the cliff, but eventually tools were used to loosen and shape the stone directly from the cliffs in small quarries. This quarrying continued in the early part of the 20th Century but had largely ceased by the 1980’s.
Due to its strategic location for control of the western part of the Baltic Sea and its proximity to Sweden, Stevns Klint has an established military history. Only a few traces remain from defence installations from early historical times, with the first actual fortification of Stevns Klint occurring during the numerous wars between Denmark and Sweden in the period between 1596 and 1720.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
The property does not include any local inhabitants. Within the broader buffer area there are scattered private houses and small farms in the terrestrial component. The landscape is an agricultural matrix, and therefore the rural population is fairly dispersed with only 165 inhabitants found within the buffer zone.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
Despite Stevns Klint having been a national tourist attraction for over a century, the number of tourists is limited and there has only been little development in the local tourism industry. In 2008, the Cold War fortress Stevnsfort was transformed into a museum, which, in combination with the nomination of Stevns Klint to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, has created increased tourism interest in the area. In light of the new interest, Stevns Municipality, the local official tourism agency and the local geological museum have increased cooperation so as to secure sustainable tourism. The Tourist Policy Report by Stevns Municipality concluded that the current levels of tourism do not produce significant adverse impacts on the surrounding property. Most visitors to Stevns Klint arrive at the scenic areas of Højerup and Rødvig, which have been developed for tourism but will require expansion in the near future so as to meet the rising tourist pressures. The Cold War Museum states approximately 40,000 visitors a year, whereas the Stevns Museum at Højerup counts about 5,000 visitors. The Stevns Nature Centre has about 3,000 visitors a year on guided tours and an estimated 60,000 people visiting the main Stevns Klint site at Højerup. The Ostsjaellands Museum is responsible for the dissemination and education of information about the geology at Stevns Klint, as well as the natural and cultural history of the site.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
Fossil collection is an essential aspect of research at Stevns Klint, without which the fossils would be washed out to sea and lost. An active collection programme for the fossils is planned so as to maximise the efficacy of fossil collection. Currently, fossil collection is undertaken as part of scientific studies, by skilled amateurs and by tourists. Particularly valuable fossils are protected under the Museum Act which protects fossils with unique scientific or exhibition value.
The Heritage Agency of Denmark, Stevns Municipality and Ostsjaellands Museum representatives form the basis of the Steering Group that was responsible for the preparation of the nomination dossier. They have the responsibility for setting out general guidelines to ensure protection, conservation and presentation of the property, ensure involvement of stakeholders in the process of preparation of the Management Plan and secure funding for implementation of the Plan. The Management Plan dates from 2011.
The implementation of the Management Plan takes place in collaboration between a number of stakeholder groups, including Stevns Municipality and Ostsjaellands Museum, with collaboration of the Heritage Agency of Denmark, the Danish Nature Agency, Selskabet Hojeruplund Society, Foreningen Boesdal, Stevns Tourist Association and the Danish Society for Nature Conservation, as well as private landowners.
The Stevns Klint Management Plan 2011, which is due to be implemented by autumn 2014, has been drawn up with a high degree of inclusion of the local residents, interested organisations, experts and other stakeholders. It provides a vision, objectives, and targets for the protection, presentation and sustainable use, including but not limited to the geological values. The plan includes objectives in relation to conservation, education, science, as well as local engagement and sustainable tourism. Together with the legislative provisions, the Management Plan sets out an effective framework for protection of the property, its buffer zone and wider landscape.
Some of the historical use of the property has had some impacts, but these are minor in relation to the geological values that are represented. In terms of current threats, the site has a substantially eroding coastline. Currently it is forbidden to create breakwaters to lessen the impact of the waves so the cliffs will continue being eroded. No major developments, such as golf courses or wind farms, which could have a negative effect on the property, are allowed in the buffer zone. Furthermore, the property is largely inappropriate for infrastructure development due to physical constraints, topography and the limited access. There is however a small gap in the nominated property at Stevns Kridtbrud, where an active quarry exists, with an additional quay for seaborne export. Extraction is permitted at this quarry until 2033, but it is clear that no extensions will or can be given to the quarry. One threat is the potential increase in fossil collecting, which could reduce the value of the fossil heritage at the property. In response to this, regulations for fossil collection and the zonation of the property have been formulated.
The Ostsjaellands Museum handles research and dissemination in Stevns Municipality and the neighbouring Faxe Municipality. The staff includes two expert communicators, and five qualified researchers, who span the fields of geology, biology and history, and who all have expert knowledge and conduct research. Additionally, the museum now has some 25 part-time guides and expects to see this rise in number.
The expansion and maintenance of infrastructure at Stevns Klint is included as part of the operating budget of the Stevns municipality. The Municipal Council of Stevns municipality has allocated 3 million kroner (\$ 476,232) for the years 2012 to 2015. The money is earmarked for the tasks that are to be carried out according to the Management Plan.
Stevns Municipality Postboks 83, 4660 Store Heddinge, Denmark
The principal sources for the above information were the original nomination for World Heritage status, the advisory body evaluation and the site’s management plan.
Machalski, M. & Heinberg, C. (2005). Evidence for ammonite survival into the Danian (Paleogene) from the Cerithium Limestone at Stevns Klint, Denmark. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark, 52 (2), 97-111.
Pihl, S., Clausen, P., Laursen, K., Madsen, J. & Bregnballe, T. (2006). Conservation status of bird species in Denmark covered by the EU Wild Birds Directive. National Environmental Research Institute. 128 p. - NERI Technical Report no 570. http://faglige-rapporter.dmu.dk.
Premović, P. I. (2009). The conspicuous red “impact” layer of the Fish Clay at Højerup (Stevns Klint, Denmark). Geochemistry International, 47 (5), 513-521.