It is probably fair to say that, despite many decades of research, our understanding of the operation of geomorphological processes in hyperarid, arid and semi-arid regions lags behind that for other climatic domains. Whilst, in itself, this may not seem especially important, the ‘knowledge-gap’ has major implications for the interpretation of sedimentary deposits in the geological record, much of which relies on the use of appropriate modern analogues. This, in turn, has economic significance, since ancient dryland sedimentary sequences now host many of the world's major hydrocarbon reservoirs. The papers in this special issue were originally presented at a joint conference of the British Sedimentological Research Group (BSRG) and British Geomorphological Research Group (BGRG) which aimed to bridge the gap between ‘process’ and ‘form’ by bringing together researchers working on modern and ancient dryland sedimentary environments. The conference, Drylands: Linking Landscape Processes to Sedimentary Environments, was held at the Geological Society, London, UK, from 2 to 4 February 2005, and convened by David Nash (University of Brighton), Joanna Bullard (Loughborough University) and Colin North (University of Aberdeen). The primary goals of the meeting were to improve our understanding of arid zone processes and landforms and the factors influencing the preservation of dryland successions in the geological record. As the studies included within this collection suggest, the meeting more than exceeded these aims. A further set of seven papers with a greater emphasis on the operation of dryland surface processes will also be published in the Elsevier journal Geomorphology.