Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB1.9 Machair


Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB1.9
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU Least Concern
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Machairs are complex landscapes that support more or less extensive, short-turf dune grasslands in mosaics with calcareous lochs, saltmarshes, fens and other coastal habitats. In the National Vegetation Classification of the United Kingdom, twelve vegetation types have been mentioned belonging to the machair landscape. The grassland part is generally considered as ‘machair in the strict sense’ or ‘machair grassland’. The landscape always shows a long history of human intervention, especially through grazing, low-intensity systems of rotational cropping and fishery-related activities. Grazing may include cattle and/or sheep grazing, sometimes grazing by horses or goats is involved. Grazing by rabbits is an important natural phenomenon. The habitat type is found along the Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland (where the largest and richest examples are found on the Outer Hebrides), characterised by a moist and cool climate, on calcareous sandy soils, that are blown inland from the shores by strong prevailing western winds, overlying peat or impermeable bedrock. The pH values are normally above 7.0. The dynamics of the system are enhanced by the digging and trampling activities of rabbits and domestic animals. The name machair is derived from the Irish word magh, meaning low-laying, fertile plain. A smooth surface is often considered an important criterion, like in the definition of Curtis: ‘systems in which the bulk of the area consists of a flat to gentle-sloping landform from which ridges are absent or very restricted and with a consequent restriction of the area of Ammophila’. The more or less humid sandy soils contain a significant proportion of shell fragments (up to 60 % of the soil or even more), producing lime-rich conditions. During winter, the low-lying parts of the system are flooded or at least waterlogged. The grasslands are dominated by rather generalist grasses including Poa pratensis and Festuca rubra, but a species- and flower-rich herb layer attracts many insects, whereas the complex landscape setting is important for breeding waders and other birds. As an example, at present, machairs support the healthiest western European population of the threatened Corncrake (Crex crex). On the European continent, to some extent, similar landscapes can be found, but not in the same complex landscape setting. In the Netherlands, for instance, low-lying, undulating plains with species-rich dry to humid dune grasslands do occur on old grazing grounds in the southwestern part of the country (vroongronden), but these sites are not dynamic and to a large extent decalcified. Calcareous, dynamic grasslands with a long history of human interference can be observed in the mainland dunes of Holland province (zeedorpenlandschap), but these are lacking the other landscape elements and wide-ranging grazing.

Indicators of good quality: 

The following characteristics can be considered as indicators of good quality:

  • High richness in herb species
  • Long-term, non-intensive human land-use, including grazing
  • Complex landscape setting, with grasslands and small water bodies and other elements

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

This habitat type is not endangered in either EU28 or EU28+. The habitat has lost a small area during the last 50 years, while about 1/3 of the remaining part is slightly negatively affected in quality. The habitat has a restricted range, but values for EOO and AOO are well above the thresholds for criterion B.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Agricultural intensification
    • Intensive grazing
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Golf course
    • Camping and caravans
  • Natural System modifications
    • Water abstractions from groundwater

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat type needs continuous human intervention for maintenance and/or restoration, by safeguarding or re-introducing traditional grazing regimes and maintaning or improving the hydrological conditions.

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

The best way to preserve this (from the point of nature conservation highly respected) habitat type is the continuation of the traditional management practices, including extensive grazing. In the UK, a Machair Habitat Action Plan has been launched to safeguard these complex habitats. So far, the machairs are still in good condition, both in quantity and quality.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring/Improving the hydrological regime
  • 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)
Ireland Present 29.4 Decreasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 145 Decreasing 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)

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 142950 129 174.6
EU28+ 129 174.6
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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