Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE1.9b Inland sanddrift and dune with siliceous grassland

Inland sanddrift and dune with siliceous grassland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE1.9b
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)


These are open grasslands on inland sand-drift areas, dunes and other sites with poorly developed sandy, acidic and nutrient-poor soils, characterized by a pattern of small tussocks of the grass Corynephorus canescens and/or patches of the stoloniferous graminoids Agrostis vinealis and Carex arenaria in a matrix of lichens, mosses and open sand. The habitat has its main distribution in the North Central European lowland of the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, and in this region the large open landscapes formed by the habitat are known as ‘Atlantic deserts’. The habitat is considered to be the result of overexploitation of woodlands and heathlands since the Middle Ages, and these sand drifts had their largest distribution in the middle of the 19th century.

The open sand is an extreme habitat, with high temperatures and extreme drought during summer, where only a few plants and animals can live. Some of the characteristic fauna here have their main distribution in the Southeast European steppes, for example the grasshopper Oedipoda caerulescens and the butterfly Hipparchia semele semele.

Soil development occurs very slowly, due to wind erosion and nutrient poverty. In the Netherlands and Germany the following succession stages have been distinguished: open sand, pioneer communities with Polytrichum piliferum, lichen-rich open grassland with Corynephorus canescens, lichen-rich open grassland with Agrostis vinealis and Festuca spp., and more closed grasslands with Carex areanaria and Deschampsia flexuosa with few lichens. Further development leads to heathland with Calluna vulgaris. This succession is exaggerated by nutrient input, for example from nitrogen deposition, which also favours the dominance of the non-native moss Campylopus introflexus. Characteristic lichens of the younger succession stages are Stereocaulon condensatum and small-cup lichens, like Cladonia pulivinata, Cladonia cervicornis, Cladonia glauca, Cladonia strepsilis and Cladonia borealis. The Agrostis vinealis stage is also indicated by Cladonia portentosa, Cladonia zopfii and Cladonia uncialis. Where wind erosion of sand occurs up to a deeper soil layer, moist depressions develop, in which typically Juncus sqarrosus is found.

The habitat occurs in mosaics with heathland, scrub and forest, and such mosaics are an especially suitable habitat for birds like Lullula arborea and Anthus campestris. Small patches of open Corynephorus vegetation occur as open spots in heathlands, but in such cases these patches should be considered as part of dry heathlands, providing some differentiation in structure and some additional species diversity and therefore adding to the quality of the heathland habitat.

Outside the North Central European plains, the habitat is found in lowlands of southern Central Europe, the Baltic states, Southern Sweden and Denmark, Western Ukraine and the region Aquitaine of Southwest France. It occurs rarely in the UK, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.

Habitat type E1.9b represents the part of the phytosociological order Corynephoretalia canescentis with its only alliance Corynephorion canescentis that occurs on sites not located close to the sea coast. On coastal dunes, there are floristically and ecologically very similar to indistinguishable stands, which in the current typology are considered as part of the habitat type B1.4a − Atlantic and Baltic coastal stable dune grasslands (grey dunes).

With decreasing sand mobility, the natural succession of the habitat type typically leads to meso-xeric sandy grasslands with closed swards (order Trifolio arvensis-Festucetalia ovinae; habitat type E1.9a − Oceanic to sub-continental inland sand grassland on dry acid and neutral soils). Under subcontinental to continental climates on base-rich soils, often sandy grasslands of the order Sedo acris-Festucetalia (habitat type E1.1a Pannonian and Pontic sandy steppe) are inserted in this sequence, while under the most oceanic climates and most acidic soils, Deschampsia flexuosa grasslands or Calluna vulgaris heaths of the class Calluno-Ulicetea might follow more or less immediately.

Indicators of good quality

  • Maintenance of open sand, and open grassland in different stages of succession
  • Active processes of sand transport by wind
  • High diversity in lichens
  • Presence and maintenance of populations of characteristic fauna (birds, insects)
  • Part of a landscape mosaic with forest and heathland
  • No dominance of non-native species, such as Campylopus introflexus
  • Little or no regeneration of trees
  • Absence of high levels of nitrogen deposition

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Based on a 50 year reduction in quantity of more than 70%, this habitat type is assessed as Endangered (EN) both in EU28 and EU28+. Furthermore, long-term reduction data from just a few countries indicate a similar level of threat, while a significant reduction in biotic and abiotic quality results in a near-threat status (NT).
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered A1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Endangered A1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground
  • Pollution
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species
    • Problematic native species
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession

Habitat restoration potential

When severely damaged, i.e. normally meaning a development towards a denser/higher vegetation on more nutrient-rich, fixed soils, the habitat can recover its typical character only via intervention, i.e. removing the nutrient-rich top-soil (or turning it upside-down) and/or reintroducing soil disturbance. If this is done and there are still diaspores of the typical species available, a recovery is possible within a few years.

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 most extensive and best developed stands of this habitat type are currently found on active military training areas where soil disturbance continues through driving of tanks with no agricultural nitrogen input. This seems to be the most effective way to retain the habitat in a good state. In abandoned military training areas and other sites with this habitat type, year-round grazing with robust cattle, sheep and other herbivores in large-scale pasture landscapes seems to be the most promising approach. Human activities like walking on the dunes or motocross (as often) should not be forbidden because they keep the habitat alive, except in places with occurrences of particularly rare species. New stands of this habitat can emerge from open lignite mining, when extremely nutrient-poor, acidic sand is exposed to the surface. In such cases therefore part of the former mines should be excluded from usual kinds of recultivation.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats


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 0.08 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 2 Decreasing Decreasing
Denmark Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Estonia Present 0.5 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 30 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 81 Decreasing Decreasing
Latvia Present 4.3 Decreasing Decreasing
Lithuania Present 4.7 Decreasing Decreasing
Netherlands Present 43 Decreasing Stable
Poland Present 68 Stable Unknown
Portugal mainland Present 40 Unknown Stable
Romania Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Slovakia Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Spain mainland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Sweden Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Belgium Present 8.4 Decreasing Decreasing
Finland mainland Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Hungary Present 1.3 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 0.034 Unknown Decreasing
Luxembourg Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Aland Islands Uncertain Unknown Unknown Unknown
Ireland 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)
Kaliningrad Present Unknown Unknown Unknown
Norway Mainland 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 2811350 1241 380 Provided country data say 284 km², but several countries with occurrences did not provide data and figures for Germany and Poland appear too low
EU28+ 1241 400 Kaliningrad and possibly Norway
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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