Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF4.1 Wet heath

Wet heath

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF4.1
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

Typical Atlantic to sub-Atlantic heathland, dominated by Erica tetralix, is found on moist to wet, nutrient-poor acidic soils and shallow peats in sandy and rocky landscapes of Southwestern Norway, the northwest-European plain and the warmer Atlantic regions of France and northern Iberia, becoming rare southwards and eastwards with some scattered localities in the Baltic States. In many cases, the habitat exists due to human activities, like grazing, sod cutting or mowing and continuation of traditional management is needed for its maintenance. In other situations it forms a natural succession stage towards woodlands.

In its heartland, Erica tetralix is accompanied by Carex panicea, Trichophorum cespitosum, Juncus squarrosus, Drosera rotundifolia, Gentiana pneumonanthe, Lycopodiella inundata, Sphagnum compactum, S. tenellum, S. molle and Narthecium ossifragum, typical Ericion tetralicis. Such vegetation may also be found on the margins of bogs where the peat cover thins, on drained peatlands and on the shores of oligotrophic waters and in seepage areas on the edge of brook valleys.  In the last situation, Molinietalia species such as Dactylorhiza maculata and Pedicularis sylvatica occur. Molinia caerulea is itself a common species of the habitat and may become dominant if there is some strong water table fluctuation during the year, either natural or through anthropogenic deterioration of the hydrology, or after burning.  Much more rarely, Erica tetralix-dominated wet heath is found in fen areas in the Northwestern plain (Netherlands, Germany, Poland), where it forms a late succession stage in the development of transitional mires (alliance Oxycocco-Ericion) when accompanying species can include Phragmites australis, Sphagnum palustre, Drosera rotundifolia, Molinia caerulea and Aulacomnium palustre.

In the warmer and more humid oceanic climate of south-west England, Brittany and south-west France wet heath can also include Erica vagans, E. ciliaris, E. mackaiana and Ulex minor and in the foothills of northern Iberia Erica tetralix is accompanied by Genista micrantha, Genista anglica, Potentilla erecta and Thymelaea dendryobryum. 

In landscapes which include drier acidic soils the habitat forms mosaics with F4.2 Dry heath where Calluna vulgaris usually dominates but where Erica tetralix may remain abundant on intermediate soils and on north-facing slopes or become dominant where a thickening humus layer maintains a moister surface or where moisture collects in depressions left by sod cutting. In dunes, Erica tetralix vegetation may be part of B1.5a Empetrum heathlands or B1.8a Wet dune slacks.

Indicators of good quality

  • Dominance of Erica tetralix
  • No overwhelming encroachment of grasses (notably Molinia caerulea), shrubs (for example, Myrica gale) or trees (for example, Betula pubescens).
  • Occurring as part of a wider heath landscape, forming mosaics with drier heath, mires and water bodies.
  • Long continuation of management (grazing, mowing, sod-cutting or combinations of these).

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Although there have been very large historical losses in extent and widespread declines in quality, stability or lower trends in countries where the extent is large average the European trend to a threat category of Vulnerable (VU), based on negative trends in quality (criterion C/D1). However, data are partly incomplete and uncertain (especially for the UK, Ireland and Spain) and further investigations are needed for a more certain assessment.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable C/D1
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable C/D1

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground
  • Pollution
    • Air pollution, air-borne pollutants
    • Nitrogen-input
  • Natural System modifications
    • Human induced changes in hydraulic conditions

Habitat restoration potential

If the soil have been perturbated, resilience of the habitat is affected and restoration always needs some traditional management.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Stable Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

Wet heath has traditionally been subject to light grazing by stock and wild herbivores, mowing and sod-cutting or combinations of these and abandonment of such interventions allows invasion by shrubs and trees. Site designation always needs follow up by extensive agricultural management.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • Measures needed, but not implemented
  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Maintaining grasslands and other open habitats

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)
Belgium Present 50 Increasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 170 Decreasing Stable
Germany Present 18 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Present 1430 Increasing Decreasing
Netherlands Present 34 Unknown Stable
Spain mainland Present 1839 Stable Stable
Sweden Present 3 Decreasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 4680 Decreasing Stable
Northern Island Present 4680 Decreasing Stable
Latvia Present 3.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Portugal mainland Present 81 Unknown Increasing
Denmark Present 72 Unknown Decreasing
Poland Present 4.7 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)
Norway Mainland Present 231 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 3461950 3222 8285 Based on existing data provided by EU member States.
EU28+ 3231 8516 Insufficient data to make a total calculation
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.
Ferns Lycopodiella inundata
Flowering Plants Betula pubescens
Flowering Plants Calluna vulgaris
Flowering Plants Carex panicea
Flowering Plants Dactylorhiza maculata
Flowering Plants Drosera rotundifolia
Flowering Plants Erica ciliaris
Flowering Plants Erica mackaiana
Flowering Plants Erica tetralix
Flowering Plants Erica vagans
Flowering Plants Genista anglica
Flowering Plants Genista micrantha
Flowering Plants Gentiana pneumonanthe
Flowering Plants Juncus squarrosus
Flowering Plants Molinia caerulea
Flowering Plants Myrica gale
Flowering Plants Narthecium ossifragum
Flowering Plants Pedicularis sylvatica
Flowering Plants Phragmites australis
Flowering Plants Potentilla erecta
Flowering Plants Trichophorum cespitosum
Flowering Plants Ulex minor
Invertebrates Maculinea alcon
Mosses & Liverworts Aulacomnium palustre
Mosses & Liverworts Campylopus brevipilus
Mosses & Liverworts Sphagnum compactum
Mosses & Liverworts Sphagnum palustre
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Lycopodiella inundata Ferns
Betula pubescens Flowering Plants
Calluna vulgaris Flowering Plants
Carex panicea Flowering Plants
Dactylorhiza maculata Flowering Plants
Drosera rotundifolia Flowering Plants
Erica ciliaris Flowering Plants
Erica mackaiana Flowering Plants
Erica tetralix Flowering Plants
Erica vagans Flowering Plants
Genista anglica Flowering Plants
Genista micrantha Flowering Plants
Gentiana pneumonanthe Flowering Plants
Juncus squarrosus Flowering Plants
Molinia caerulea Flowering Plants
Myrica gale Flowering Plants
Narthecium ossifragum Flowering Plants
Pedicularis sylvatica Flowering Plants
Phragmites australis Flowering Plants
Potentilla erecta Flowering Plants
Trichophorum cespitosum Flowering Plants
Ulex minor Flowering Plants
Maculinea alcon Alcon Blue Invertebrates
Aulacomnium palustre Mosses & Liverworts
Campylopus brevipilus Mosses & Liverworts
Sphagnum compactum Mosses & Liverworts
Sphagnum palustre Mosses & Liverworts

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 F4.1 Wet heaths same
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