Red List habitat classification > RLC - Freshwater habitats > RLC5.1a Tall-helophyte bed

Tall-helophyte bed

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLC5.1a
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)


Habitat description Communities of tall helophytes characteristically occupy a zone from shallow water to upper parts of the geolittoral belt along lakes and rivers. Further they are found in nutrient-rich terrestrial sites on waterlogged ground. In marshes and large lakes tall helophytes, such as Phragmites australis or Typha angustifolia, together with other emergent herbs (e.g. Thelypteris palustris) can overgrow accumulations of plant residues and form with their rhizomes and roots floating carpets and islets on the water surface. This habitat often represents the shore component of the habitat types C1.1a, C1.1b, C1.2a, C1.2b and C1.4 and therefore is in contact with them. The habitat includes wide and dense stands along eutrophic water bodies, as well as tall-helophyte stands occurring as wide belts along larger oligo- and mesotrophic lakes. These communities have poor water exchange with the open water area, and show clear accumulation of organic material. Tall helophytes include grasses (Phragmites australis, Glyceria maxima, Scholochloa festucacea), bulrushes (Schoenoplectus spp., Bolboschoenus spp.), cattails (Typha spp.), horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), often accompanied by some broad-leaved emergent herbs (Rumex hydrolapathum, Cicuta virosa, etc.).

Reed bed vegetation belongs to the most productive European plant communities in terms of annual production of biomass. Shoot height is often 2-3 m, sometimes much higher. Because of competitive ability of tall helophytes, their stands are species-poor and often dominated by one species or by a few co-dominants. Main determinants for dominant species are substratum, water depth, duration of flooding anoxic periods, herbivory and human influence. Dominants grow in vigorous clones, and chance may play an important role in the arrival and establishment of potential dominants. Cover and composition of understorey vary according to the trophic state, substratum, succession stage, and disturbance (grazing, mowing, water level fluctuations, eutrophication, in the north also ice erosion). Grasses and herbs dominate in understorey, aquatic plants and shore mosses can occur, but are usually not abundant. An exception form initial phases towards mire succession, in which mosses may have a high cover.

Besides growing in the littoral zone of natural standing waters, reed beds grow also in anthropogenic standing water, like canals, stagnant dykes and reservoirs. Further, they are abundant alongside running waters in wetter parts of flood plains, and in rivers and streams. Both organic and mineral soils are colonized. In the northern boreal region helophyte stands are sparse and low due to the harsh climate and frozen soil, in arctic in alpine area they are lacking.

Also reed bed stands along brackish to freshwater coastal waters are included in this habitat, like those on the shores of the Baltic Sea and Black Sea or reed beds in the freshwater influenced parts of estuaries along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. As their functioning and species composition may somewhat differ from more inland stands, these coastal examples may be considered as a separate subtype of habitat C5.1a.

Reed bed vegetation has been influenced strongly by human activities. Earlier helophyte stands were largely grazed and mowed, resulting in lower vegetation. Eutrophication and cessation of shore grazing has led in many places to increase of reed beds and their density but with a higher abundance of nitrophilous species. Excessive nitrogen and prolonged anoxic condition of the sediments have in some cases caused dying of reed beds. Reed beds are also impacted by regulation of water levels, construction activities, clearing of agricultural land, boating and other recreational activities. Losses of reed beds are locally caused by herbivory (coypu, muskrats).

Indicators of good quality:

  • Reed beds with natural hydrology and water and substrate chemistry
  • Typical structure of vegetation and natural species pool (species poor stands)
  • Anthropogenic impacts low in terms of construction activities, eutrophication, drainage etc.
  • Natural density of helophyte stands, not enhanced biomass or density due to eutrophication
  • Absence of invasive alien species (also Glyceria maxima in the northern part of its range)
  • No or low abundance of ruderal and nitrophilus (tall-herb) species (Urtica dioica, Calystegia sepium, Bidens spp., Chenopodium spp., Amaranthus spp.)
  • No or low abundance of shrubs and climbing plants (e.g. Salix spp., Populus spp., Sambucus nigra, Vitis vinifera, Humulus lupulus)
  • Low cover of tall species from drier habitats (e.g. Cirsium spp., Galega officinalis, Eupatorium cannabinum, Sambucus ebulus)
  • Presence of characteristic breeding birds
  • Presence of characteristic insect fauna

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat qualifies as Least Concern (LC) in both the EU28 and EU28+, based on calculations of trend in quality and quantity, using data of many countries. The conclusions are dominated largely by a positive trend in Finland. Some countries report very large historic reductions in quantity (50-95%), but it is not known whether these values are representative for Europe.
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

  • Pollution
    • Nutrient enrichment (N, P, organic matter)
  • Natural System modifications
    • Landfill, land reclamation and drying out, general
    • Flooding modifications
    • Modification of hydrographic functioning, general
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession
    • Accumulation of organic material

Habitat restoration potential

Litter build up with scrub encroachment is rather irreversible, requiring soil scaping that cannot be conducted over large areas. Degradation caused by problems related to hydrological functioning (eg embankment, dams) can be compensated by adequate water control where applicable. Degradation caused by eutrophication can be most easily solved by drying out the water body in summer time or by insuring a regular water flow (input of oxygen-rich waters). Accelerated eutrophication caused by nutrient inputs from agriculture could be slow down by reducing fertilisant use.

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

Improving water quality: by reducing nitrate/phosphate inputs
Improving water level variation or water flow: In relatively small, confined water bodies (eg. marsh) the best water management for tall helophytes and their fauna is shallow water level in spring-summer (10-15 cm), with drawdown in late summer at least every five years. In large lake or estuaries where water level are typically higher (30cm), a good water flow is required to avoid anoxic/eutrophic conditions.
Vegetation management: Winter cutting of dry reed in mosaic (eg 25% each year) is a good way to slow down biomass accumulation and litter build up, providing a vegetation heterogeneity that benefits to the fauna.
Vegetation diversity: Maintaining gradual slopes will increase diversity of tall helophytes species and increase their area coverage.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring/Improving water quality
    • Restoring/Improving the hydrological regime
  • Measures related to hunting, taking and fishing and species management
    • Regulation/Management of fishery in limnic systems


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 May-20 Stable Decreasing
Belgium Present 30-80 Stable Stable
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
France mainland Present 499 Decreasing Decreasing
Corsica Present 499 Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Present 50 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Decreasing
Lithuania Present Unknown Stable Increasing
Netherlands Present 45 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 2 Stable Increasing
Slovenia Present 13 Decreasing Decreasing
Bulgaria Present Unknown Stable Increasing
Croatia Present 15 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 127 Decreasing Decreasing
Finland mainland Present 800 Stable Increasing
Germany Present Unknown Stable Decreasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present 330 Unknown Unknown
Romania Present 5 Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Sardinia Present 345 Decreasing Decreasing
Sicily Present 345 Decreasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 17 Unknown Decreasing
Cyprus Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Estonia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Italy mainland Present 345 Decreasing Decreasing
Latvia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Luxembourg Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Malta Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Poland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Portugal mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Portugal Azores Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Madeira Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Savage Islands Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Balearic Islands Present Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Canary Islands Uncertain Unknown Decreasing Decreasing
Sweden Present Unknown 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)
Switzerland Present 15 Increasing Decreasing
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 8 Decreasing Decreasing
Norway Mainland Present 109 Unknown Unknown
Albania Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Andorra Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Faroe Islands Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Guernsey Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Iceland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Isle of Man Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Jersey Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kaliningrad Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kosovo Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Liechtestein Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Monaco Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Montenegro Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
San Marino Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Serbia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Vatican City Uncertain 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 7108900 6494 2339 estimates provided for 15 countries only
EU28+ 6539 2362 estimates provided for 17 countries only
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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