Red List habitat classification > RLC - Freshwater habitats > RLC2.1a Base-poor spring and spring brook

Base-poor spring and spring brook

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLC2.1a
Threat status
Europe Near Threatened
EU Vulnerable
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Springs are habitats where groundwater discharges to earth surface or to a water body. Their microclimate, hydrology, water volume, chemistry and discharge type (rheocrene, limnocrene, and helocrene springs), and consequently animal and plant communities, are very variable. Sometimes springs are dominated by abiotic features, sometimes their biotic communities are very rich (particularly helochrenes with moss carpets, specialized plants and macroinvertebrates). Springs are usually small-sized but in some cases large complexes (up to several hectares) of pools, vegetation patches and moist seepage areas occur. As compared to other moist habitats spring habitats are characterized by low temperature, small annual fluctuation in the water temperature, and often by high content of oxygen in the water. These features are most representative in cold stenothermic springs where mean temperature is only a few degrees above 00C and the annual amplitude is very small. The pH of base-poor springs is typically from slightly acid, form pH > 5.5 to circumneutral or slightly alkaline. The diverse physical structure and the water chemistry are main determinants for spring biota, the former particularly to macroinvertebrates, the latter to bryophytes. Through groundwater, rich in nutrients and oxygen, springs have often locally enriching influence to adjacent habitats, for example to headwater streams or to mire, meadow or forest habitats. On the other hand, adjacent habitats, for example forest, can have strong influence on springs and spring brooks, both by shadowing and as a source of allochthonous material. The stenothermic springs in cold (arctic, alpine) areas are dominated by mosses, while cover of vascular plants (such as Saxifraga spp., Koenigia islandica, Epilobium hornemanni) is low or zero. In montane and subalpine springs vascular plants, representing alpine and arctic floristic elements, are more common, but in most cases moss communities prevail. In lowland springs vascular plants can be abundant. Due to their characteristic microclimate, with a low temperature during the growing season, springs can accommodate disjunct (often relict) occurrences of northern and alpine species. However, in northern locations, they can maintain also occurrences of species with southern origin, due to unfrozen water and soil during wintertime. Spring habitats are sensitive to disturbances, because they are affected by changes in their close surroundings but also in their catchment areas. Many springs have been destroyed or deteriorated in quality due to a range of activities related to groundwater abstraction, utilisation of spring brooks, forestry, clearing of agricultural land, soil and rock excavation, and construction activities. Threats include eutrophication and chemical contamination too. In arctic, alpine and north boreal areas spring habitats have remained to large extent in natural condition, in lowlands many of them have been destroyed or their quality declined.

Indicators of good quality:

  • Natural hydrology and water chemistry in springs and spring brooks,
  • Low anthropogenic influence (drainage, water exploitation, forestry, agriculture, eutrophication etc.) in springs, their surroundings and catchment areas,
  • Presence of plants and animals adapted to spring conditions, including threatened species,
  • High cover of mosses and specialized vascular plants,
  • Rich macro-invertebrate fauna,
  • Low cover of encroaching tall grasses and shrubs.
  • Absence of invasive alien species.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The area of the habitat has decreased in most countries, on average about 20% in Europe. The remaining area suffered a strong decline in quality (severity 45-65%, affected area 45-55%), resulting in the category Vulnerable (VU) for EU28. Data from EU28+ covered two additional countries, leading to similar trends. However, base-poor springs are widespread in Iceland and Norway, countries from which no data were available, and it is likely that the habitat is in a relatively good status there. As information from these countries is likely to decrease trend values, the lower category Near Threatened (NT) is applied for EU28+.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Near Threatened C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Pollution
    • Pollution to groundwater (point sources and diffuse sources)
    • Diffuse groundwater pollution due to agricultural and forestry activities
  • Natural System modifications
    • Human induced changes in hydraulic conditions
    • Landfill, land reclamation and drying out, general
    • Modification of hydrographic functioning, general
    • Water abstractions from groundwater
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions
    • Droughts and less precipitations
    • Changes in biotic conditions
    • Habitat shifting and alteration

Habitat restoration potential

In many cases the habitat has some capacity to recover, but in most cases interventions related to restoration of hydrology, decreasing nutrient loads and other type of pollution are required. Often spring vegetation and fauna require specific restoration measures. Various restrictions in land use and recreation activities are often needed in close surroundings. The habitat may be restored within a relatively short period, but for some of the biota it may take many decennia to return to the habitat, because of isolated populations and limited dispersal potential.

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

Maintaining natural hydrology and controlling eutrophication and contamination are main approaches in conservation of springs and their surroundings. Water protection measures are needed also in catchment areas. Springs and spring brooks are often small-size habitats (often from a few to some tens of m2), therefore their vegetation and fauna is sensitive to many kinds of changes. They should be taken into consideration when running agricultural and forestry practices. Representative spring sites should be legally protected. Sometimes it is necessary to develop specific management and restoration schemes to spring biota.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to forests and wooded habitats
    • Adapt forest management
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring/Improving water quality
    • Restoring/Improving the hydrological regime
    • Managing water abstraction
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Legal protection of habitats and species


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)
Austria Present marginal Decreasing Decreasing
Belgium Present Unknown Decreasing Unknown
Bulgaria Present marginal Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Present Unknown Stable Stable
Cyprus Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Czech Republic Present 9.6 Decreasing Decreasing
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Estonia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Finland mainland Present 30 Decreasing Decreasing
Aland Islands Present 30 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 75 Decreasing Decreasing
Corsica Present 75 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Crete Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
East Aegean Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Hungary Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Ireland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Italy mainland Present 26 Unknown Decreasing
Latvia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Lithuania Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Luxembourg Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Malta Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Netherlands Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Portugal mainland Present 0.6 Unknown Unknown
Romania Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Slovakia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Slovenia Present marginal Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 18 Decreasing Decreasing
Sweden Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present 4 Decreasing Stable
Northern Island Present 4 Decreasing Stable
Madeira Present 0.6 Unknown Unknown
Canary Islands Uncertain 18 Decreasing Decreasing
Gibraltar Present 4 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)
Albania Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Faroe Islands Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Iceland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kaliningrad Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kosovo Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Montenegro Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Serbia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Switzerland Present 18 Decreasing Decreasing
Svalbard 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 4707800 431 unknown Sites numerous, but usually small in size
EU28+ 894 unknown Sites numerous, but usually small in size
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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