Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB1.5a Atlantic and Baltic coastal Empetrum heath

Atlantic and Baltic coastal Empetrum heath

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB1.5a
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)


This habitat comprises decalcified fixed dunes dominated by relatively low Empetrum nigrum heaths along the cooler parts of the northern Atlantic and Baltic coasts, south to the mainland Dutch dunes, north to northern Norway (Finnmark) and Iceland.  It includes both dry dunes as well as moist dune slacks with dominant Empetrum nigrum, both of which are late succession stages in the development of stable dunes and dune slacks, and which may be long maintained under light grazing pressure or other factors (like salt spray) which limit the development of scrub and woodland. In northern Estonia, and possibly also in Iceland, some sites of the habitat are dominated by Empetrum hermaphroditum.

In the dry dune subtype Calluna vulgaris may co-dominate, but Calluna-heath without Empetrum nigrum is considered under B1.5b Atlantic coastal Calluna and Ulex heath. Especially in the Wadden Sea area and the Baltics it may be difficult to distinguish between these two types but the presence of Empetrum may be considered to assign communities to this habitat B1.5a. Within this geographical range Calluna vulgaris-dominated heathlands without Empetrum nigrum occur often more locally on dunes, as in relatively old grey dunes, where cover of Calluna can slowly increase. Empetrum nigrum in general is able to outcompete Calluna on slightly deeper  and better soils and on more moist sites such as north-facing slopes. In dry dunes, mosses and lichens form an important part of the plant diversity.

In the wet dune slack subtype, Erica tetralix may grow as a co-dominant and Empetrum nigrum may actually be absent, but in such cases these heathlands can still be included here, as the complete species composition is not very different.  In some situations, the non-native cranberry Oxycoccus macrocarpus (=Vaccinium macrocarpon) may become dominant, providing an important food source for man and animals. In relatively stable hydrological conditions, Sphagnum spp. may reach high cover. In dune slack heathlands Carex trinervis is a common associate, within the small range of its distribution.

Indicators of good quality:

An optimal state of this habitat type is a low scrub formed by heaths, sedges and grasses, and mosses and lichens, with few open patches and without non-native species, trees or tall shrubs. Indicators of good quality are:

  • relatively low, closed structure
  • dominance by heath sub-shrubs
  • presence of high diversity of mosses and lichens
  • absence of non-native, invasive species
  • absence or low abundance of trees and tall shrubs
  • occurring both in dry dunes and dune slacks

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Based on a large historical decline in area, especially in Denmark where most of the surviving extent occurs, and a serious decline in quality affecting more than 50% of the area in the last 50 years, the habitat is assessed as Vulnerable.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3, C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3, 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
    • Urbanised areas, human habitation
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Outdoor sports and leisure activities, recreational activities
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat can spontaneously regenerate after some disturbance in coastal dune landscapes where the sands have become stabilised.

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

In general little management is needed to sustain coastal dune heath, but in areas where dunes become too stabilised, nitrogen build-up in the soils is high and plantations with non-native trees can be close, some measures may be needed to prevent invesion of shrubs and trees and succession towards forest. The best management seems the traditional extensive grazing, but additional removal of trees or non-native species may be required.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • 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)
Denmark Present 238 Stable Decreasing
Estonia Present 0.6 Stable Stable
Finland mainland Present 0.4 Decreasing Decreasing
Aland Islands Uncertain 0.4 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 15 Stable Decreasing
Ireland Present 0.01 Stable Unknown
Latvia Present 0.7 Decreasing Stable
Lithuania Present 0.2 Decreasing Decreasing
Netherlands Present 25 Stable Increasing
Poland Present 0.1 Decreasing Decreasing
Sweden Present 3 Decreasing Unknown
United Kingdom Present 3.2 Unknown Unknown
Northern Island Uncertain 3.2 Unknown Unknown
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Iceland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kaliningrad Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present Unknown 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 1821000 286 285
EU28+ 289 290
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
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
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