Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE1.7 Lowland to submontane, dry to mesic Nardus grassland

Lowland to submontane, dry to mesic Nardus grassland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE1.7
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)


The grasslands characterized by Nardus stricta from the lowland areas up to the submontane belt of the mountains are separated from the Nardus communities in higher mountains (E4.3b), although Natura 2000 classifies them together in one type (H6230). This in spite of the naming of the habitat type in the EU Interpretation Manual: ‘Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)’. The habitat includes low-growing grasslands on nutrient-poor, acidic and moist to moderately dry soils. In most cases, the vegetation is grazed by sheep and/or cattle; occasionally, burning takes place. The species composition of the vegetation is closely related to the intensity and type of grazing.  Generally, Nardus stricta is the dominant species, providing the vegetation with a densely tufted structure. Even from a distance, the pale wiry foliage of the species helps marking out the stands; later in the season the leaves turn to a bleached straw colour. Occasionally, other oligotrophic grasses (such as Festuca filiformis, Agrostis capillaris and Deschampsia flexuosa) may dominate, as well as – less frequent – rushes like Juncus squarrosus, the latter on relatively wet soils and in regions with a high precipitation. The habitat is widespread in the temperate zone of Europe, from Western to Central Europe. In Northern Europe, it reaches to Southern Norway, Southern Sweden and Latvia, in Southern Europe to Spain and Italy. The Nardus swards prefer a rainy and cool climate; in Great Britain, for instance, the habitat is rather rare in the warmer and drier lowlands, but very common and widespread in the cool and wet mountains in the north.

In the widespread ‘sand landscape’ of the lowland regions in North-western Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and Southern Denmark), the Nardus grasslands are part of the traditional heathland systems, nowadays limited to nature reserves. Here, the communities are often restricted to small localities and highly endangered. Where the Nardus grasslands in Europe occupy larger areas, they tend to disappear due to abandoning at the one hand or nutrient enrichment on the other hand. In both cases, the sites are taken over by more competitive species.

Consequently to the abandonment of the traditional grazing activities, these grasslands are invaded by shrubs, such as Calluna vulgaris, Vaccinium sp. pl., Juniperus communis, or trees, e.g. Betula pendula, Pinus sylvestris, as well as Picea and Larix and, sometimes, Pinus cembra or Populus tremula.

Indicators of good quality:

·     Low and rather dense vegetation structure;

·     Absence of shrubs and trees.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat is assigned to the category Vulnerable (VU), both in EU28 and EU28+, based on the application of Criterion A1, since it was affected by a remarkable quantitative decline, with a loss of around 38% of its former area during the last 50 years. Quantitative trends from the United Kingdom, accounting for 3/4 of the total known surface, were not available and therefore a large rate of the total area remains not evaluated. Due to a wide and scattered distribution, the application of Criterion B results in the category Least Concern (LC) both in EU28 and EU28+. Also evaluating the decline in quality (Criterion C/D1) leads to the conclusion Least Concern (LC). Nevertheless, a serious qualitative decline is evident, showing a degree of severity around 48% affecting 36% of the total habitat surface. These values are close to the threshold of Near Threatened,a nd it should be stressed that a dramatic process of qualitative degeneration clearly affected these grasslands during the last 50 years and will probably continue, a situation that calls for urgent conservation actions.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Modification of cultivation practices
    • Agricultural intensification
    • Abandonment / Lack of  mowing
    • Grazing
    • Intensive grazing
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground
  • Pollution
    • Air pollution, air-borne pollutants
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession
    • Species composition change (succession)
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions

Habitat restoration potential

This habitat is represented by semi-natural plant communities, depending on traditional, extensive land-use practices for their maintainance. The time needed for their recovery depends on the type of damage and the level of decline. In case of massive recolonization by the shrub-dominated vegetation, a drastic removal of the wood vegetation is needed, followed by the re-introduction of not-intensive grazing. This process might give good results only on the medium-long term. In case of serious soil damage (with compaction, enrichment in nitrogen and nutrients, or breaking of the sward continuity) the needed time for restoration can be far longer. In any case, for the habitat recovery a direct human intervention is needed, otherwise the natural successional processes would fastly bring to the development of woody vegetation.

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 maintainance and promotion of traditional pastoral systems, with low intensity grazing, is an essential tool for the conservation of this habitat type and the related landscapes. At the same time, overgrazing should be carefully avoided, since it can provoke breaking of the sward continuity, soil transformation with enrichment in nitrogen and nutrients, ingression of ruderal species. The successional processes already ongoing should be halted by direct intervention, sometimes including mechanical eradication of shrub and tree species. Establishing protected areas and introducing (or reaffirming) the legal protection of habitats and species is necessary, because many times the traditional activities are not profitable in these areas and an economic support for their re-establishment is often needed.

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
    • Legal protection of habitats and species
    • Manage landscape features


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)
Estonia Present Unknown Decreasing Unknown
Ireland Present 27-55 Decreasing Unknown
Austria Present 36 Decreasing Decreasing
Belgium Present 10 Decreasing Decreasing
Bulgaria Present 500 Decreasing Increasing
Croatia Present 25 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 91 Decreasing Decreasing
Denmark Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Finland mainland Present 0.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Aland Islands Uncertain 0.5 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 750-1250 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 77 Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Present 1 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 278-729 Decreasing Decreasing
Latvia Present 5 Decreasing Decreasing
Lithuania Present 2-2.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Netherlands Present 8 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 125 Decreasing Decreasing
Portugal mainland Present 68 Unknown Decreasing
Romania Present 2,000 Decreasing Stable
Slovakia Present 199 Decreasing Decreasing
Spain mainland Present 228 Decreasing Decreasing
Sweden Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present 15,000 Unknown Unknown
Northern Island Uncertain 15,000 Unknown Unknown
Gibraltar Uncertain 15,000 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)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 10 Decreasing Decreasing
Norway Mainland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Switzerland Present 01-May 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 3,799,900 2,356 19,432-20,412 EOO+AOO to be corrected
EU28+ 2,364 19,443-20,427 EOO+AOO to be corrected
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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