Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE1.2a Semi-dry perennial calcareous grassland

Semi-dry perennial calcareous grassland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE1.2a
Threat status
Europe Vulnerable
EU Vulnerable
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)

Summary

These grasslands generally dominated by broad-leaved graminoids (especially Brachypodium pinnatum agg. and Bromus erectus) are typical of traditionally-managed pastures and meadows developed on relatively deep, nutrient-poor, usually calcareous soils from sea-level to the montane belt throughout temperate Europe.  The swards are generally closed, with a plant cover of more than 80% and often are very rich in species, for which reason they are of high interest for nature conservation. Sites that harbour a conspicuous orchid flora – both in number of species and in number of individual plants – are given a priority status by Natura 2000. The centre of distribution is in suboceanic and submediterranean regions, and outside this range, the communities can be found only under specific conditions: towards northwestern Europe where they are more confined to relatively warm and dry, southern exposed calcareous slopes or, as in the Baltic islands of Öland and Gotland, on low altitude limestone pavement (alvar).  The species composition varies over the geographical range, reflected by different sets of companions: in southern Europe, there are many sub-mediterranean species, whereas in Eastern Europe continental species are of more importance.

Syntaxonomically, the semi-dry perennial calcareous grasslands form a separate order (Brachypodietalia pinnati) within the class Festuco-Brometea. Here we also include the remaining meso-xeric types that are currently still placed in other Festuco-Brometea orders, namely most of the East-European meso-xeric order Galietalia veri as well as the alliance Brachypodion phoenicoidis from North Iberia and South France (traditionally in the order Brachypodietalia phoenicoidis) and the Illyrian Scorzonerion villosae (traditionally placed in the order Scorzonero villosae-Chrysopogenetalia grylli).  The specific characteristics  of mostly closed swards, deep soils, semi-natural character and temperate climate help delineate this habitat type from similar vegetation types on rocky calcareous soils (E1.1g) or under drier conditions in Eastern Europe (E1.2b), both of which are generally dominated by narrow-leaved graminoids.

Being mostly semi-natural and needing management, i.e. grazing by sheep and/or cattle and hay-making, where these practices have ceased for economic reasons throughout Europe, abandonment is one of the main threats when tall grasses (e.g. Brachypodium pinnatum agg., Calamagrostis epigejos) and tall forbs will take over the vegetation within a couple of years, and eventual encroachment of woody species will transform the community first into scrub, then forest. Sometimes, the stands are burned in spring time to destroy standing dead material, which encourages the growth of grasses and so helps prevent any further development of shrubs and trees. Another serious risk is intensification, as deeper calcareous soils can be rather easily transformed into productive agricultural land when competitive grasses like Lolium perenne, Dactylis glomerata and Poa trivialis can outcompete the characteristic grasses and herbs. Nowadays, many sites are managed in the traditional way for the sake of nature conservation.

Indicators of good quality:

  • High species richness
  • Absence of nutrient-demanding and ruderal species
  • Long-term habitat stability
  • Generally closed sward with low vegetation structure
  • Traditional grazing/mowing regime
  • Low cover of encroaching tall grasses, shrubs and trees.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Based on a reduction in quantity over the past 50 years (> 30%) and in the longer term (> 50%) this habitat type is vulnerable both in EU28 and EU28+ (VU). Furthermore, a significant reduction in biotic and abiotic quality results in a near-threat status (NT).
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, A3
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1, A3

Confidence in the assessment

high
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Intensive mowing or intensification
    • Abandonment / Lack of  mowing
    • Intensive grazing
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground

Habitat restoration potential

Restoration of semi-dry calcareous grasslands from afforested sites is possible if there is still a seedbank available. Even arable fields can be reconverted to this habitat type under certain conditions (if they were hardly fertilized); this can be facilitated by hay transfer or other means of diaspore input of target species.

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 current main approach to maintain this enigmatic habitat type (because of its species richness and particularly its often many orchids) is to put it under legal protection as nature reserves. However, this alone does not help because E1.2a as a semi-natural habitat type needs regular low-intensity agricultural management, which is not automatically guaranteed through legal protection, indeed it is often even harder to manage areas by mowing or grazing when they are part of nature reserves. Maintaining or re-establishing low-intensity management of such low-productivity grasslands can be done by conservation NGOs (mowing) or subsidised shepherds, but probably this is realistic only on a small fraction of the remaining area. To retain bigger amounts of this habitat type, one probably has to think about other measures to halt succession that deviate from the traditional management of the region. Large-scale pasture landscapes with year-round multispecies grazing might offer an economically feasible solution. One also should take into account prescribed burning as a possible method, though more knowledge is needed here to decide under which conditions it is positive rather than counterproductive.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites

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)
Austria Present 48 Decreasing Decreasing
Belgium Present 4.3 Decreasing Unknown
Bulgaria Present 1611 Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Present 702 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 120 Decreasing Decreasing
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Estonia Present 90 Decreasing Decreasing
Finland mainland Uncertain 1.2 Decreasing Decreasing
Aland Islands Present 1.2 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 1750 Decreasing Decreasing
Corsica Uncertain 1750 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 380 Decreasing Decreasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Hungary Present 120 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Present 21 Decreasing Unknown
Sardinia Uncertain 3095 Decreasing Decreasing
Sicily Uncertain 3095 Decreasing Decreasing
Latvia Present 10 Decreasing Decreasing
Lithuania Present 27 Decreasing Decreasing
Luxembourg Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Netherlands Present 0.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 65 Decreasing Decreasing
Romania Present 1850 Decreasing Stable
Slovakia Present 198 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovenia Present 80 Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 1345 Unknown Decreasing
Sweden Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present 410 Decreasing Decreasing
Northern Island Uncertain 410 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)
Albania Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 1370 Decreasing Decreasing
Kaliningrad Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kosovo Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Liechtestein Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Montenegro Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Serbia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Switzerland Present 400 Decreasing Decreasing

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 5782200 7076 11000 Calculated with 1850 km² instead of 5.5 km² for Romania, which is still a low estimate
EU28+ 7738 14000
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 Lanius collurio
Flowering Plants Adonis vernalis
Flowering Plants Anacamptis pyramidalis
Flowering Plants Anthyllis vulneraria
Flowering Plants Arabis hirsuta
Flowering Plants Brachypodium phoenicoides
Flowering Plants Brachypodium pinnatum
Flowering Plants Brachypodium rupestre
Flowering Plants Briza media
Flowering Plants Bromus erectus
Flowering Plants Calamagrostis epigejos
Flowering Plants Campanula glomerata
Flowering Plants Carex caryophyllea
Flowering Plants Carex flacca
Flowering Plants Carlina acaulis
Flowering Plants Carlina vulgaris
Flowering Plants Centaurea scabiosa
Flowering Plants Chrysopogon gryllus
Flowering Plants Dactylis glomerata
Flowering Plants Danthonia alpina
Flowering Plants Dianthus carthusianorum
Flowering Plants Eryngium campestre
Flowering Plants Euphorbia cyparissias
Flowering Plants Festuca guestfalica
Flowering Plants Festuca rupicola
Flowering Plants Filipendula vulgaris
Flowering Plants Fragaria viridis
Flowering Plants Galium pumilum
Flowering Plants Galium verum
Flowering Plants Gentiana cruciata
Flowering Plants Gentianella ciliata
Flowering Plants Gentianella germanica
Flowering Plants Gymnadenia conopsea
Flowering Plants Helictotrichon pratense
Flowering Plants Hypochoeris maculata
Flowering Plants Knautia illyrica
Flowering Plants Koeleria pyramidata
Flowering Plants Leontodon hispidus
Flowering Plants Linum catharticum
Flowering Plants Lolium perenne
Flowering Plants Lotus corniculatus
Flowering Plants Neotinea ustulata
Flowering Plants Onobrychis viciifolia
Flowering Plants Ononis spinosa
Flowering Plants Ophrys apifera
Flowering Plants Ophrys insectifera
Flowering Plants Orchis mascula
Flowering Plants Orchis militaris
Flowering Plants Orchis morio
Flowering Plants Orchis purpurea
Flowering Plants Orchis ustulata
Flowering Plants Plantago media
Flowering Plants Poa trivialis
Flowering Plants Polygala comosa
Flowering Plants Potentilla heptaphylla
Flowering Plants Primula veris
Flowering Plants Ranunculus bulbosus
Flowering Plants Salvia pratensis
Flowering Plants Sanguisorba minor
Flowering Plants Scabiosa columbaria
Flowering Plants Scorzonera villosa
Flowering Plants Thymus pulegioides
Flowering Plants Trifolium montanum
Flowering Plants Veronica prostrata
Flowering Plants Veronica teucrium
Invertebrates Papilio machaon
Mosses & Liverworts Ctenidium molluscum
Mosses & Liverworts Entodon concinnus
Mosses & Liverworts Homalothecium lutescens
Mosses & Liverworts Hypnum cupressiforme
Mosses & Liverworts Thuidium philibertii
Reptiles Lacerta agilis
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Lanius collurio Red-backed Shrike Birds
Adonis vernalis Flowering Plants
Anacamptis pyramidalis Flowering Plants
Anthyllis vulneraria Flowering Plants
Arabis hirsuta Flowering Plants
Brachypodium phoenicoides Flowering Plants
Brachypodium pinnatum Flowering Plants
Brachypodium rupestre Flowering Plants
Briza media Flowering Plants
Bromus erectus Flowering Plants
Calamagrostis epigejos Flowering Plants
Campanula glomerata Flowering Plants
Carex caryophyllea Flowering Plants
Carex flacca Flowering Plants
Carlina acaulis Flowering Plants
Carlina vulgaris Flowering Plants
Centaurea scabiosa Flowering Plants
Chrysopogon gryllus Flowering Plants
Dactylis glomerata Flowering Plants
Danthonia alpina Flowering Plants
Dianthus carthusianorum Flowering Plants
Eryngium campestre Flowering Plants
Euphorbia cyparissias Flowering Plants
Festuca guestfalica Flowering Plants
Festuca rupicola Flowering Plants
Filipendula vulgaris Flowering Plants
Fragaria viridis Flowering Plants
Galium pumilum Flowering Plants
Galium verum Flowering Plants
Gentiana cruciata Flowering Plants
Gentianella ciliata Flowering Plants
Gentianella germanica Flowering Plants
Gymnadenia conopsea Flowering Plants
Helictotrichon pratense Flowering Plants
Hypochoeris maculata Flowering Plants
Knautia illyrica Flowering Plants
Koeleria pyramidata Flowering Plants
Leontodon hispidus Flowering Plants
Linum catharticum Flowering Plants
Lolium perenne Flowering Plants
Lotus corniculatus Flowering Plants
Neotinea ustulata Flowering Plants
Onobrychis viciifolia Flowering Plants
Ononis spinosa Flowering Plants
Ophrys apifera Flowering Plants
Ophrys insectifera Flowering Plants
Orchis mascula Flowering Plants
Orchis militaris Flowering Plants
Orchis morio Flowering Plants
Orchis purpurea Flowering Plants
Orchis ustulata Flowering Plants
Plantago media Flowering Plants
Poa trivialis Flowering Plants
Polygala comosa Flowering Plants
Potentilla heptaphylla Flowering Plants
Primula veris Flowering Plants
Ranunculus bulbosus Flowering Plants
Salvia pratensis Flowering Plants
Sanguisorba minor Flowering Plants
Scabiosa columbaria Flowering Plants
Scorzonera villosa Flowering Plants
Thymus pulegioides Flowering Plants
Trifolium montanum Flowering Plants
Veronica prostrata Flowering Plants
Veronica teucrium Flowering Plants
Papilio machaon Swallowtail Invertebrates
Ctenidium molluscum Mosses & Liverworts
Entodon concinnus Mosses & Liverworts
Homalothecium lutescens Mosses & Liverworts
Hypnum cupressiforme Mosses & Liverworts
Thuidium philibertii Mosses & Liverworts
Lacerta agilis Sand lizard Reptiles

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 E1.2 Perennial calcareous grassland and basic steppes narrower
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