Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB3.4a Atlantic and Baltic soft sea cliff

Atlantic and Baltic soft sea cliff

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB3.4a
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)


The habitat refers to coastal loamy cliffs, with a bedrock of clays, shales or loamy sands, sometimes mixed with layers of pebbles, peat or gravel, which erode much quicker than cliffs with a hard bedrock. Erosion may be caused by storms, rain, waves and seepage from the inland, causing landslides, resulting in many sites in less steep cliffs than hard cliffs. The vegetation cover is low, with pioneer species prevailing, but sometimes with more closed grassland, shrubs and trees on the highest and less eroded parts, and also on parts of the cliff that have shifted downward by landslides. Because of soil movements and water streaming down the rock, many micro-habitats exist. Differences in bedrock layers, sediment size, soil chemistry, water flow and erosion patterns result in a widely varied habitat, with different species composition in different places.

In general, most species on the Atlantic and Baltic soft sea cliffs are common, widely spread ruderal species, that have adaptations to survive the turbulent conditions, for example deep rooting systems, broad spreading rhizomes or stolones, or a short life cycle. Examples of such common pioneers are Tussilago farfara, Calamagrostis epigejos, Petasites spurius, Petasites hybridus, Hieracium umbellatum, Equeisetum arvense and Arabidopsis thaliana. Where grasslands succeed to develop Cynosurus cristatus, Dactylis glomerata, Daucus carota subsp gummifer, Agrostis spp and Festuca spp are found. Several salt-tolerant species may be found, like Plantago coronopus, Armeria maritima and Plantago maritima. A rather characteristic species combination on soft cliffs along the Channel is Brassica oleracea and Silene maritima. Several rare species may be found on Baltic soft cliffs, like Linaria loeselii, Tragopogon heterospermus and Alyssum gmelinii. Scrub communities with Rubus sp., Ulex sp., Prunus spinosa can develop op long-time stable parts of the cliffs. On seepage areas Phragmites australis, Salix ssp and Alnus glutinosa may settle. Rumex rupestris, Apium graveolens, Sonchus maritimus and Sonchus arvensis grow together on soft cliffs of the western most coasts of the UK, France and Spain.

Coastal soft cliffs are a much rarer habitat than hard cliffs along the Atlantic coasts and in the northern and Baltic coast, but are relatively common on the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, with some large examples in the Wolinski National Park in Poland. More rarely soft cliffs are found in the Wadden Sea (for example the red cliffs of Sylt) and along the Channel coasts.

Indicators of good quality:

  • diversity in micro-habitats, resulting in rich structural diversity
  • diversity between cliffs in different localities and along the altitudinal gradient
  • absence of invasive species

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

There are relatively few data on this habitat available and provided information is only from EU28 countries. Overall there is a negative trend in quantity, but just not severe enough to meet the threshold for Near Threatened. Some negative trends in quality were indicated as well, but here data are deficient for an overall European assessment.
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

  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Discontinuous urbanisation
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Outdoor sports and leisure activities, recreational activities
    • Trampling, overuse
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Erosion

Habitat restoration potential

The habitat has no capacity to recover naturally because it is the result from natural geological and geomorphological processes.

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

Strict protection of coastal sites is the best conservation measure for this habitat.

List of conservation and management needs

  • 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 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Germany Present 8 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Present 64-98 Unknown Unknown
Poland Present 3.5 Unknown Decreasing
Portugal mainland Present 0.2 Decreasing Decreasing
Portugal Azores Uncertain 0.2 Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 2.4 Decreasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 1500 Unknown Unknown
Northern Island Uncertain 1500 Unknown Unknown
Latvia Present 0.5 Decreasing 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)

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 919000 138 > 72
EU28+ 138 > 72
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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