Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB3.1a Atlantic and Baltic rocky sea cliff and shore

Atlantic and Baltic rocky sea cliff and shore

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB3.1a
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)

Summary

This is a linear, narrow habitat of rocky cliffs and shores along the coasts of the Arctic Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (southwards until Oporto, Portugal). In most cases it is related to eroding coasts, where the bedrock is exposed due to the eroding energy of the sea, but in some cases (like in the upheaval area of the Bothnian Gulf) rocky shores are found on sedimentary coasts. The habitat is restricted to hard cliffs, made of granite (crystalline rocks), sandstone, limestone, marble or schists. Soft, quickly eroding cliffs (for example with a loamy soil) are under habitat B3.4a. Pebble beaches are not included here, but considered part of shingles (habitat B2.1-3a). Littoral caves (HD Annex 1-type 8330) are considered under marine types. Anthropogenic rocky shores (dikes, stone walls) may contain several of the same species as sea cliffs, but are not considered part of this natural habitat. The habitat is dominated by exposed bedrock, while vegetation cover is low. The slopes are in many cases steep. Erosion at sea level causes the fall of higher parts of the cliffs, which conserves the steepness of cliffs, but in hard bedrock erosion rates are insignificant. Near the shoreline sometimes a notch is seen, where waves have eroded the bedrock surface. Elevation ranges from a few to several hundreds of meters. Amongst the highest sea cliffs in Europe are Slieve League in County Donegal, Ireland, reaching about 600 meters above the sea, and the cliffs on the West-coast of Iceland (more than 400 meters). The majority of the bedrock sea shores along the Baltic Sea are low with smoothed and rounded slopes, which are products of glacial abrasion. Cliffs are primary habitats on which no or little succession takes place, due to constant disturbance and ecological constraints by waves, wind and salt spray, combined with a lack of available water in the substrate. There is some influence of grazing, especially on cliff tops. But in many cases this habitat is inaccessible and rather undisturbed, the latter being a rarity on the European continent. Exceptions exist however, like in the Baltic Sea area, where summer houses are built also on sea cliffs. Rocky sea cliffs show gradients in species composition along the climatic gradient from south to north; besides three altitudinal zones are distinguished, from the supralittoral belt to the cliff top. The lowest, supralittoral zone is under the influence of waves, wind and sea spray and has a similar species composition as rocky shores, mainly consisting of lichens and algae. Also the middle cliff zone is very exposed, both wind and salt spray, and almost absent of soil development. Here a mixture of halophytic and chasmophytic vascular plant species is found. A species more-or-less restricted to this zone is the fern Asplenium marinum. The upper cliff and cliff top have a deeper soil, a higher vegetation cover and a vegetation which forms transitions towards grassland, heathland, shrub and forest habitats. In contrast to other regions in the world, hardly any shrub or tree species is found on the Atlantic cliffs, as few salt resistant species exist on the continent. The rocky shores of the Baltic Sea make an exception due to the low salinity of the sea. Also the gradient from south to north shows a shift in species composition in Europe. Common species over most of the latitudinal gradient are Armeria maritima, Crithmum maritimum, Plantago coronopus, Plantago maritima, Silene vulgaris subsp maritima, and on the cliff top Agrostis stolonifera and Festuca rubra. Typical northern cliff species are Cochlearia scotica, Ligusticum scoticum, Puccinellia maritima (on relatively wet sites), Saxifraga oppositifolia, Sedum (=Rhodiola) roseum and Silene acaulis. The lower cliff zone and rocky shores in boreal areas (like in the Baltic) contain few vascular plants, but are mainly occupied by filamentous algae and lichens (Caloplaca sp., Ramalina sp.). The arctic cliffs of Svalbard and Jan Mayen island contain Oxyria digyna and Chrysosplenium tetrandum as typical species, while (further) arctic elements are formed by Alopecurus alpinus, Taraxacum arcticum, Cerastium arcticum and several lichens. Cliff species with a relatively southern distribution are Catapodium marinum, Sagina maritima, Daucus carota subsp. gummifer, Euphorbia portlandica, Inula crithmoides, Spergularia rupicola, Plantago crassifolia, Plantago maritima, Frankenia laevis, Dactylis glomerata subsp. oceanica and several species of Limonium. Examples of Limonium species with a restricted range are Limonium binervosum agg., Limonium dodartii, Limonium dufourei, Limonium girardianum, Limonium normannicum, Limonium ovalifolium and Limonium virgatum. Along the coasts of the Channel, the rare Rumex rupestris (a species of the Annex II of the Habitats Directive) may be found in places where freshwater gathers on the lower part of cliffs, together with Apium graveolens, Samolus valerandi and Agrostis stolonifera. Halimione portulacoides and Salicornia ramosissima can grow in the most wind and salt spray exposed cliffs, like those of the Massif Armoricain. Some cliffs have a high diversity of saxicole lichens. Some rare species are characteristic for some biogeographic zones, like Teloschistes flavicans. The coastal cliffs of Europe are important breeding sites for large colonies of sea birds, amongst which puffins, northern gannets, guillemots and razorbills. Different birds nest in different parts of the cliffs, but in general steep cliffs are preferred (safe against predators) in areas where plenty of sea food is available. Bird colonies may harbour several nitrophilous plant species, due to the guano and trampling, like Tripleurospermum maritimum, Stellaria media, Cochlearia danica, Cochlearia officinalis, Atriplex ssp., Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, Sonchus oleraceus and Poa annua. In some cliffs of Brittany, the rare Asplenium obovatum subsp. obovatum is found.

Indicators of good quality:

The following characteristics are considered as indicators of good quality:

·     no disturbance by man

·     presence of sea bird colonies

·     presence of characteristic zonation belts

·     high diversity in lichens

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

All provided data lead to the conclusion that the habitat qualifies as Least Concern (LC) for both trends in quantity and trends in quality. For both indicators there is a slight negative trend, but their scores are relatively far from the thresholds for Vulnerable.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Discontinuous urbanisation
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Outdoor sports and leisure activities, recreational activities
    • Trampling, overuse
  • Pollution
    • Nutrient enrichment (N, P, organic matter)
    • Oil spills in the sea
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species

Habitat restoration potential

Natural restoration of degraded zones can be efficient after controling frequentation

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Stable Stable
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

Special attention should be paid to sectors with endemic chasmo-halophytic species and associations and to the steepiest cliffs where frequentation should be canalised in order to prevent trampling and erosion.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • No measures needed for the conservation of the habitat/species
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring coastal areas

Distribution

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)
France mainland Present 185 Stable Decreasing
Ireland Present 90 Unknown Stable
Portugal mainland Present 0.2 - Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 15 Decreasing Unknown
Northern Island Present 221 Unknown Decreasing
Estonia Present 0.9 Unknown Stable
Finland mainland Present 200 Stable Stable
Denmark Present 6.7 Unknown Stable
Germany Present 2 Decreasing Stable
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 Stable Stable
Isle of Man Present Unknown Unknown
Jersey Present Stable Stable
Faroe Islands 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 3363300 1512 497 area based on territorial data
EU28+ 4041 >500 AOO and EOO incl. potential distribution
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

The full list of characteristic species and genus are available above from the Summary. The species available in the EUNIS database are shown here.
Birds Alca torda
Birds Cepphus grylle
Birds Fratercula arctica
Birds Fulmarus glacialis
Birds Larus argentatus
Birds Larus canus
Birds Larus fuscus
Birds Larus hyperboreus
Birds Larus marinus
Birds Plautus alle
Birds Rissa tridactyla
Birds Sula bassana
Birds Uria aalge
Birds Uria lomvia
Ferns Asplenium marinum
Flowering Plants Agrostis stolonifera
Flowering Plants Allium schoenoprasum
Flowering Plants Alopecurus alpinus
Flowering Plants Anthyllis vulneraria
Flowering Plants Apium graveolens
Flowering Plants Armeria maritima
Flowering Plants Aster tripolium
Flowering Plants Atriplex prostrata
Flowering Plants Catapodium marinum
Flowering Plants Cerastium arcticum
Flowering Plants Cochlearia danica
Flowering Plants Cochlearia officinalis
Flowering Plants Cochlearia scotica
Flowering Plants Crithmum maritimum
Flowering Plants Dactylis glomerata
Flowering Plants Daucus carota
Flowering Plants Euphorbia portlandica
Flowering Plants Festuca rubra
Flowering Plants Frankenia laevis
Flowering Plants Inula crithmoides
Flowering Plants Lavatera arborea
Flowering Plants Ligusticum scoticum
Flowering Plants Limonium dodartii
Flowering Plants Limonium dufourei
Flowering Plants Limonium girardianum
Flowering Plants Limonium ovalifolium
Flowering Plants Limonium virgatum
Flowering Plants Lotus corniculatus
Flowering Plants Oxyria digyna
Flowering Plants Plantago coronopus
Flowering Plants Plantago crassifolia
Flowering Plants Plantago maritima
Flowering Plants Poa annua
Flowering Plants Puccinellia maritima
Flowering Plants Rumex rupestris
Flowering Plants Sagina maritima
Flowering Plants Salicornia ramosissima
Flowering Plants Samolus valerandi
Flowering Plants Saxifraga oppositifolia
Flowering Plants Sedum acre
Flowering Plants Silene acaulis
Flowering Plants Silene vulgaris
Flowering Plants Sonchus oleraceus
Flowering Plants Spergularia rupicola
Flowering Plants Stellaria media
Flowering Plants Taraxacum arcticum
Flowering Plants Tripleurospermum maritimum
Mosses & Liverworts Schistidium maritimum
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Alca torda Razorbill Birds
Cepphus grylle Black Guillemot Birds
Fratercula arctica Puffin Birds
Fulmarus glacialis Fulmar Birds
Larus argentatus Herring Gull Birds
Larus canus Common Gull Birds
Larus fuscus Lesser Black-backed Gull Birds
Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull Birds
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull Birds
Plautus alle Birds
Rissa tridactyla Kittiwake Birds
Sula bassana Birds
Uria aalge Guillemot Birds
Uria lomvia Brünnich's Guillemot Birds
Asplenium marinum Ferns
Agrostis stolonifera Flowering Plants
Allium schoenoprasum Flowering Plants
Alopecurus alpinus Flowering Plants
Anthyllis vulneraria Flowering Plants
Apium graveolens Flowering Plants
Armeria maritima Flowering Plants
Aster tripolium Flowering Plants
Atriplex prostrata Flowering Plants
Catapodium marinum Flowering Plants
Cerastium arcticum Flowering Plants
Cochlearia danica Flowering Plants
Cochlearia officinalis Flowering Plants
Cochlearia scotica Flowering Plants
Crithmum maritimum Flowering Plants
Dactylis glomerata Flowering Plants
Daucus carota Flowering Plants
Euphorbia portlandica Flowering Plants
Festuca rubra Flowering Plants
Frankenia laevis Flowering Plants
Inula crithmoides Flowering Plants
Lavatera arborea Flowering Plants
Ligusticum scoticum Flowering Plants
Limonium dodartii Flowering Plants
Limonium dufourei Flowering Plants
Limonium girardianum Flowering Plants
Limonium ovalifolium Flowering Plants
Limonium virgatum Flowering Plants
Lotus corniculatus Flowering Plants
Oxyria digyna Flowering Plants
Plantago coronopus Flowering Plants
Plantago crassifolia Flowering Plants
Plantago maritima Flowering Plants
Poa annua Flowering Plants
Puccinellia maritima Flowering Plants
Rumex rupestris Shore Dock Flowering Plants
Sagina maritima Flowering Plants
Salicornia ramosissima Flowering Plants
Samolus valerandi Flowering Plants
Saxifraga oppositifolia Flowering Plants
Sedum acre Flowering Plants
Silene acaulis Flowering Plants
Silene vulgaris Flowering Plants
Sonchus oleraceus Flowering Plants
Spergularia rupicola Flowering Plants
Stellaria media Flowering Plants
Taraxacum arcticum Flowering Plants
Tripleurospermum maritimum Flowering Plants
Schistidium maritimum Mosses & Liverworts

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

This habitat may be equivalent to, or broather than, or narrower than the habitats or ecosystems in the following typologies.
Classification Code Habitat type name Relationship type
EUNIS Habitat Classification 200711 B3.3 Rock cliffs, ledges and shores, with angiosperms overlap
EUNIS Habitat Classification 200711 B3.2 Unvegetated rock cliffs, ledges, shores and islets overlap
EUNIS Habitat Classification 200711 B3.1 Supralittoral rock (lichen or splash zone) overlap
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100