Red List habitat classification > RLE - Grasslands > RLE4.4a Arctic-alpine calcareous grassland

Arctic-alpine calcareous grassland

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLE4.4a
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)


This type of grasslands occurs in the alpine or subalpine belts of the high mountains of the nemoral zone, being best developed in the Alps but occurring also in boreal Scotland and Scandinavia, in the Carpathians and Pyrenees, and with small fragmentary stands also in the Sudetes. The cover of these grasslands varies considerably between 20 and 100%, depending mainly on soil depth (deeper soils usually support denser vegetation). The dominant species are graminoids such as Sesleria caerulea, S. bielzii, S. tatrae, Carex austroalpina, C. ferruginea, C. firma, C. sempervirens, Festuca versicolor or Kobresia myosuroides. In the matrix of graminoids numerous non-graminoid herbs occur. On south-facing slopes in the subalpine belt, mountain calcicolous species can be mixed with some species of lowland dry grasslands such as Carex humilis. In general, these grasslands are rich in species and colorful at the peak of the growing season. They occur on limestone or dolomite slopes and ridges, most typically on shallow soils of the Rendzic Leptosol type. On steeper slopes these soils are affected by solifluction. Tussocks of the dominating graminoids can act as small dams that prevent downslope movement of fine soil particles, which results in a stairway-like appearance of these grasslands with fine-scale mosaic of patches with soil erosion and accumulation. Calcareous grasslands above the timberline are natural vegetation, occasionally used as summer pastures. Below the timberline, these grasslands occur either as natural vegetation on steep slopes and rock outcrops, or as secondary vegetation of mountain pastures at the sites of potential spruce, larch or beech forests.

Indicators of good quality:

Calcareous grasslands above the timberline are natural vegetation which is generally rather stable. In some places it is disturbed by tourism, e.g. trampling, skiing or building touristic infrastructure, but these negative effects tend to be rather localized. More endangered are the calcareous grasslands below the timberline, which were traditionally grazed by cattle but are currently being abandoned and overgrow by shrubs and trees.

The following characteristics can be considered as indicators of good quality:

·        High species richness.

·        No encroachment of trees and shrubs.

·        No spread of tall-growing herb species after abandonment of grazing.

·        In the subalpine belt, continuation of traditional management by grazing.

·        Absence of overgrazing that would strongly reduce grassland cover or disturb the soil.

·        No signs of disturbance by trampling, skiing or construction works.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Despite missing data from Sweden, Norway and some non-EU28 Balkan states, the available data seem to reflect the pan-European situation well. The calculated decreases in quantity and quality are well below the thresholds to qualify for Near Threatened category. The geographic distribution is not restricted (EOO ≥ 50000 km², AOO ≥ 50). The overall red list category is Least Concern.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern A1, B1, B2, C/D1
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern A1, B1, B2, C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Grazing
    • Intensive grazing
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Outdoor sports and leisure activities, recreational activities
    • Sport and leisure structures
    • Skiing complex
  • Climate change
    • Changes in abiotic conditions

Habitat restoration potential

Calcareous grasslands above the timberline are natural vegetation. Once destroyed or severely damaged (e. g. due to construction of skiing complexes), the recovery of the habitat type by natural succession processes will take a very long time. Semi-natural habitats of the subalpine zone with modified species composition due to abandonment of traditional land-use practices need human intervention for restoration. This can be achieved by re-introducing of traditional pastoral systems.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Stable Stable
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

To delimit both overgrazing in easily accessible areas and prevent biocoenotic evolution due to cessation of land-use in heavily accessible areas of the subalpine zone it is necessary to develop suitable management strategies. This can probably be achieved best in protected areas. To avoid an ongoing loss of habitats due to construction of skiing complexes and transportation corridors further protected areas have to be established in ecologically sensitive areas.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Other agriculture-related measures
    • 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)
Slovakia Present 8 Decreasing Decreasing
Austria Present 1905 Decreasing Decreasing
Czech Republic Present 0.03 Stable Stable
France mainland Present 2500 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 280 Decreasing Decreasing
Greece (mainland and other islands) Present - -
Italy mainland Present 2946 Unknown Stable
Poland Present 13.5 Stable Decreasing
Slovenia Present 105 Stable Stable
Spain mainland Present 106 Unknown Stable
Sweden Present - -
Ireland Present 1 Unknown Unknown
United Kingdom Present 12 Unknown Stable
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 1250 Decreasing Decreasing
Albania Present - -
Andorra Present - -
Kosovo Present - -
Montenegro Present - -
Norway Mainland Present - -
Serbia Present - -

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 1111850 1793 7876 no data from Sweden, Greece
EU28+ 1793 9126 no data from Sweden, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, 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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1050 Copenhagen K
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