Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB1.4a Atlantic and Baltic coastal dune grassland (grey dune)

Atlantic and Baltic coastal dune grassland (grey dune)

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB1.4a
Threat status
Europe Vulnerable
EU Vulnerable
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Stabilized or semi-stabilized dune grasslands or chamaephytic vegetations (grey dunes) of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts, dominated by grasses, herbs, mosses and/or lichens. This habitat is usually dominated by perennial species, with a certain proportion of therophytes. The type is distributed along the Baltic coast and the Atlantic coast, from southern Norway to halfway Portugal, including the British Islands, Ireland and (marginal) Iceland.

It is a grassland type of dry dune sands that has a broad diversity in species composition. Species composition changes over the climatic north-south and west-east gradients, but differs also within one site on different soils (acid to slightly calcareous sands) and under different microclimates (especially north versus south exposition). Most species of the European temperate coastal grasslands are also found in inland sand grasslands, but several dune chamephytic species have their optimum in the coast. Especially in the south (Southwest-France to Portugal) communities of the order Crucianelletalia contain several coastal dune restricted  and endemic species.

The occupied area of the type depends on the size of the dunes, which is relatively large along shallow, sandy seas with relatively large tidal differences. In stretches of rocky coast dunes and the associated grasslands are limited to small parts in the estuaries of rivers. In dynamic dune landscapes these grasslands may form temporary natural succession stages, which could be overgrown with shrubs, overblown with sand, or washed away during severe storms. Such situations are rare, however. In more stabilized dunes these grasslands are maintained by natural dynamics like wind, salt spray, drought and grazing (rabbits), in combination with semi-natural management by cattle and sheep grazing (decreasing drastically or abandoned in certain areas) or rarely by mowing.

Indicators of good quality:

In good conditions these grasslands are rich in forbs, mosses and lichens. They are threatened by natural succession towards shrubland (a.o. Hippophae rhamnoides, Salix repens subsp. arenaria) and forest (Quercus spp, Pinus spp),  and by encroachment of tall or dense grasses (a.o. Calamagrostis epigejos, Ammophila arenaria, Festuca rubra), herbs and shrubs (incl. non-native species like Prunus serotina) under suboptimal conditions (for instance high atmospheric deposition, low dynamics, no grazing, eutrophication linked to human frequentation). The habitat is also locally threatened by trampling. Also the non-native moss Campylopus introflexus behaves as an invasive species. In cases of overgrowth with grasses, shrubs and trees, more intensive management may help maintenance of species diversity. A patchy pattern of grassland and shrubs on a landscape scale is, on the other hand, of importance for several typical bird species of coastal dune complexes.

The following characteristics may be considered as indicators of good quality, but these indicators differ in different regions:

·     High species richness

·     Presence of rare and/or threatened species (characteristic communities species)

·     Absence or low presence of invasive or nitrophilous species

·     Diversity within the type within an area and over the whole range

·     High cover of lichens (in some varieties)

·     Low vegetation structure

·     Low cover of encroaching tall grasses, tall herbs and shrubs

·     Low cover of alien and ruderal species

·     Presence of typical fauna (birds, lizards, butterflies, other invertebrates)

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat is on the Red List as Vulnerable (VU) due to large declines in area (criterion A1) and large remaining areas negatively affected in quality (criterion C/D1). The decline in area is very close to the threshold for the category Endangered (EN).
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Continuous urbanisation
    • Discontinuous urbanisation
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Trampling, overuse
  • Pollution
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Species composition change (succession)

Habitat restoration potential

The recevory process of degraded grey dunes is very low and as its structure and functionality have been affected. It requires physical protection to avoid frequentation and especially trampling.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

This habitat has a low resilience and needs to be protected against too much trampling as it takes several decades to recover. In the northern regions mowing or grazing is needed to prevent succession towards dune scrubland and forest.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • No measures needed for the conservation of the habitat/species
  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring coastal areas
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites


For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

EU28 Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Belgium Present 6.7 Decreasing Increasing
Finland mainland Present 2.4 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 124 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Present 73 Unknown Increasing
Lithuania Present 8 - Stable
Netherlands Present 163 Decreasing Stable
Portugal mainland Present 13 Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 16 Unknown Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 224 Unknown Decreasing
Denmark Present 154 Decreasing Unknown
Estonia Present 7 Unknown Stable
Germany Present 40 Decreasing Decreasing
Latvia Present 12 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 23 Decreasing Decreasing
Northern Island Present 224 Unknown Decreasing
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Guernsey Present Unknown Unknown
Jersey Present Unknown Unknown

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 3602600 1462 866 Based on existing data provided by EU member States
EU28+ 1480 app. 900 no available additional data
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
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