The quarries in the great basalt edifices of Pöhlberg, Scheibenberg and Bärenstein are a distinctive sight. Quarrying activities have revealed columns – usually hexagonal – measuring up to 40 metres tall and standing alongside each other like the pipes of an organ. These columns were formed in the Tertiary Peri-od from lava, which flowed into an enormous river valley and solidified there. Today, the rubble heaps created by quarrying provide a home for many now rare animal and plant species. Plants, such as rare small ferns, also colonise cracks in the largely smooth, vertical cliff faces. The extent of the basalt col-umns and their vegetation is unique in Saxony. The basalt mountains of the central Erzgebirge have been declared a Natura 2000 European protected area in recognition of their exceptional characteristics.
The heaps of serpentine stone at Zöblitz and Ansprung have also been placed under European protection. Here, too, we find plant species that are just as rare, endangered and threatened with extinction. The ferns that grow directly on the serpentine stone are of supra-regional importance. The serpentine spleen-worts are highly specialised plants that are in the process of speciation; they are, effectively, still evolving as a species.
The chalk quarry at Hammerunterwiesenthal is also worth mentioning here. Part of the quarry, which is still in use today, has been designated as a protected area. This natural environment is special as it is the highest chalk deposit in Saxony. This has allowed a unique variety of flora and fauna to develop. Habi-tats of pan-European importance such as basophilic pioneer grasslands, mountain hay meadows, silicate rubble heaps, chalk heaps, chalk cliffs with crevice vegetation and silicate cliffs are found in close prox-imity to one another here.