Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE1.9a Oceanic to subcontinental inland sand grassland on dry acid and neutral soils

Oceanic to subcontinental inland sand grassland on dry acid and neutral soils

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE1.9a
Threat status
Europe Endangered
EU Endangered
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


This habitat comprises semi-natural, moderately open to closed, relatively low-grown meso-xeric grasslands on nutrient-poor, acid to neutral, sometimes slightly calcareous sands in the lowlands and middle high mountains throughout temperate Europe. These grasslands are mostly dominated by tussock-forming, narrow-leaved graminoids (hemicryptophytes) of the Festuca ovina aggregate (namely F. brevipila, F. filiformis, F. guestfalica, F. heteropachys, F. lemanii, F. ovina), often accompanied by Agrostis capillaris, Poa angustifolia or Carex praecox. In good conditions they are relatively rich in herbs, forming an important nectar source for insects.

Characteristic herbs of the habitat are Armeria maritima subsp. elongata, Artemisia campestris, Dianthus deltoides, Campanula rotundifolia, Galium verum, Sedum acre, Silene otites, Potentilla argentea agg., Thymus serpyllum, Trifolium arvense, Veronica prostrata and Herniaria glabra. Present in most sites of this habitat are Achillea millefolium, Plantago lanceolata, Hieracium pilosella, Rumex acetosella, Hypochaeris radicata and Jasione montana. More open examples of this habitat contain a high cover of mosses and/or lichens and are rich in annual vascular plants (therophytes). Several ‘steppe elements’ have a western or northern outpost in this habitat, thanks to the extreme micro-climate, with high temperatures during the day, dropping down quickly at night. Examples of such species (most of them characteristic of the class Festuco-Brometea) are Euphorbia cyparissias, Helichrysum arenarium, Phleum phleoides and Veronica spicata. On the Balkans the vicariant alliance Armerio-Potentillion is described, with Armeria rumelica, Agrostis castellana, Jasione heldreichii, Plantago subulata and Potentilla inclinata.

Especially, the more calcareous examples of the habitat contain several characteristic species of type E1.1g. On relative acid soils the habitat shows transitions towards grasslands of habitat ‘Lowland to submontane Nardus grassland’ (E1.7a, mainly alliance Violion caninae). More natural, pioneer stages of these grasslands, develop under relatively dynamic conditions along rivers, with active sand sedimentation. On inland sandy dunes the habitat forms a succession stage after the initial Corynephorus-grasslands (type E1.9b), as a result of humus accumulation. Some of the grasslands of this type are rather similar to Atlantic and Baltic coastal dune grasslands (type B1.4a), and such inland and coastal grasslands are united in the same alliances.

This habitat is found on high, rarely flooded levees in river valleys, on dry, sandy parts of plains and siliceous mountains, as well as on coastal sandy cliffs in the Baltics. Its main range covers France, the UK, the Netherlands, Northern Germany, South Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic countries. It is less frequent in the southern half of Central Europe (in siliceous mountain ranges and on dune systems along the big rivers), becomes rarer to the South (Northern Iberia, Central France) and East (e.g. restricted to the valleys of the big rivers in Ukraine). Based on available data on vegetation and soils, there seems to be a second centre of distribution in the central parts of the Balkan Peninsula (Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria).

The habitat type corresponds to the phytosociological orders Trifolio arvensis-Fetucetalia ovinae and Thero-Airetalia (class Koelerio-Corynephoretea), excluding their occurrences on coastal grey dunes. It occurs from the submediterranean to the southern boreal zones of Europe, where ever there are dry, moderately developed sandy soils, be it from dunes or as weathering product of siliceous bedrock. The range of E1.9a extends to Northern Iberia, France and the British Isles in the West, while in Eastern Central and Eastern Europe it co-occurs with the habitat type ‘Pannonian and Pontic sandy steppe’ (E1.1a, grasslands of the order Festuco-Sedetalia acris). There, type E1.9a is found on better developed soils, where it may be found side by side to habitat E1.1a on more xeric, poorly developed soils.

The habitat type mainly consists of five, largely vicariant alliances of meso-xeric perennial grasslands, differentiated by the matrix-forming graminoids: In the Atlantic region (mainly in the lowlands) the Sedo-Cerastion arvensis with Festuca filiformis occurs, in the subcontinental lowlands (mainly the areas covered by the Nordic Ice shield during the glaciations) the Armerion elongatae with Festuca brevipila and Armeria maritima subsp. elongata is widespread, the Hyperico perforati-Scleranthion perennis with Festuca ovina and F. guestfalica is mainly distributed in siliceous low mountain ranges and in Scandinavia, the Agrostion vinealis with Poa angustifolia and Agrostis vinealis is typical for the big river valleys of East Europe (but probably not within EU28+) and the Armerio rumelicae-Potentillion with various Agrostis species, Festuca valesiaca and Armeria rumelica occurs on the Central and Northern Balkan Peninsula. There are two more alliances of perennial tussock grasslands that potentially or partly belong here. The Koelerio-Phleion phleioidis, described from the lower siliceous mountain ranges in the southern half of Central Europe is a transition between the Hyperico perforati-Scleranthion perennis and the Armerion elongatae on the one side and the Festucion valesiacae (belonging to the habitat type E1.2b) on the other side, and not accepted in the EuroVegChecklist. The Armerion junceae from Southern France has been preliminarily placed in the Trifolio arvensis-Festucetalia ovinae by the EuroVegChecklist, but this position is questionable. Lastly, there are the grasslands rich in winter-annuals (Filago arvensis, F. minima, Vulpia spp., Aira spp., Trifolium spp.) of the order Thero-Airetalia with the single alliance Thero-Airion, which occurs under similar site conditions in the Submediterranean-Atlantic parts of temperate Europe (Northern Iberia, France, British Isles), but can be found in small patches at disturbed sited within Trifolio arvensis-Festucetalia ovinae stands also further to the east.

Indicators of good quality:

Continuation of management is important, but under very dry conditions the structure and species composition may remain unchanged for rather long periods without management. Inadequate management (burning, no management) may cause dominance of a single graminoid species, and finally succession towards scrub and woodland.

Indicators of good quality include:

·      Long continuation of management (grazing, hay making or a combination of both)

·      Occurrence of regional rare species (steppic elements) having an outpost in their European distribution range

·      High richness in herb species, no development of dense, species-poor grassland with thick litter accumulation

·      No encroachment of mosses (Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus), grasses (Calamagrostis epigejos, Arrhenatherum elatius), shrubs (Rubus caesius) or trees

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Based on a short-term reduction in area of 73% and a long-term reduction of even 77%, this habitat type is Endangered (EN) both in EU28 and EU28+. Furthermore, a significant reduction in biotic and abiotic quality results in a Near Threatened status (NT).
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered A1, A3
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered A1, A3

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Grassland removal for arable land
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground
  • Pollution
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession

Habitat restoration potential

If only a moderate succession/eutrophication of the habitat has occurred due to abandonment of grazing, often simply the reestablishment of a proper grazing scheme will suffice, potentially accompanied by some mechanical removal of woody encroachment at the beginning. Restoration of meso-xeric sandy grasslands from afforested sites is possible if there is still a seedbank in the soil. 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 main measure to maintain this habitat type and keep it in a good state is to continue or re-introduce low-intensity grazing systems, with sheep, cattle or best multi-species assemblages. With robust breeds that allow year-round grazing, the habitat type can even be maintained under current economic conditions via so-called large-scale pasture landscapes. Since this habitat type is still missing or neglected in many national habitat classifications, it is probably also underrepresented in the current network of conservation areas and thus well-developed large-scale examples should be put under legal conservation.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats
  • 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 Unknown Decreasing Unknown
Belgium Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Bulgaria Present 3 Decreasing Decreasing
Croatia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Czech Republic Present 38 Decreasing Decreasing
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Estonia Present 4.1 Decreasing Unknown
Finland mainland Present 0.7 Decreasing Decreasing
Aland Islands Uncertain 0.7 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 8.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 9 Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Ireland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Italy mainland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Latvia Present 9 Decreasing Decreasing
Luxembourg Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Netherlands Present 4 Decreasing Decreasing
Poland Present 52 Decreasing Unknown
Portugal mainland Present 43.4 - Unknown
Romania Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Slovakia Present 0.3 Decreasing Unknown
Slovenia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Spain mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Sweden Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Northern Island Uncertain 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)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kaliningrad Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Kosovo Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Montenegro Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Serbia Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Switzerland 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 2890200 2822 1900 The data provided by the country assessors (164 km²) was due to a misleading habitat description far too low; 1900 km² is a conservative assessment based on field and literature knowledge of J. Dengle
EU28+ 2832 2600 The data provided by the country assessors (164 km²) was due to a misleading habitat description far too low; 2600 km² is a conservative assessment based on field and literature knowledge of J. Dengle
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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