Red List habitat classification > RLF - Heathland and scrub > RLF4.2 Dry heath

Dry heath

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLF4.2
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

Heaths dominated by sub-shrubs of the genera Erica, Calluna, Vaccinium and Daboecia, with some species of woody, often spiny, legumes of the genera Ulex and Genista, grasses and other ligneous plants, occurring on siliceous soils, often podsolised but rarely or never waterlogged. This habitat has its main distribution in Atlantic Europe, a region of oceanic climate with high precipitation and a low continentality, with some extensions towards interior areas of the continent in some siliceous mountains and on sandy plains. To the north, where it extends to the western coasts of Norway, it behaves like a thermophilic unit under the warming effect of the Gulf Stream and, in the south, like a montane high moisture-demanding vegetation. Its optimum, in terms of floristic richness, is probably related with glacial refugia and is in SW Atlantic Europe, particularly in the northern and western Iberian Peninsula, areas from which the habitat has extended outwards. From NW Morocco, where it is found in the rainy areas of the western Rif, its range encompasses western and northern Iberia, western France, British Isles, Belgium, The Netherlands, NW Germany, Denmark, and SW Sweden, with some important occurrences in the inner Central European siliceous mountain systems. These heaths are transitional to subalpine and boreal heathlands of the Vaccinio-Piceetea (type F2.2a), common in northern Scotland and Scandinavia, while in the south there are transitions to the Mediterranean siliceous scrubs of the Cisto-Lavanduletea. In Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary) several pannonic species are associated with this habitat.

In most situations out of its primary stations, this habitat is associated with a particular well-defined and intense disturbance regime. Since early times (probably since the Neolithic), mowing, burning and grazing have been the main practices carried out by humans on heathlands and nowadays rural abandonment and the relaxation of such activities have triggered secondary succession and led to its disappearance in many locations. Many of the areas formerly and nowadays still covered by heaths are secondary stands resultong from such human interventions. Primary stations of this habitat type are most probably linked to the coastal cliffs of Atlantic SW Europe, where shallow soils in the rocky habitats provide the adequate conditions for preventing succession and even an adequate refuge for survival during Pleistocenic ice ages. Dry heaths form dense sub-scrubs in which dominance is dependent on the type of management: high fire frequency combined with grazing leads to the dominance of graminoids, even to a sort of grassland with small heaths; regular mowing without grazing leads to the dominance of heathers, gorses and ferns (particularly Pteridium aquilinum), in a treatment much oriented to obtaining large quantities of vegetative material for cattle bedding and for manuring. The model of management is particular for each of the regions involved and adapted to the natural conditions and to the associations present in those places.

In the vast range through which dry heaths develop, there can be quartzic coastal non-dune sands with Calluna vulgaris and Empetrum nigrum in northern Europe, mesophile or xerophile heaths on siliceous, podsolic soils in moist Atlantic and sub-Atlantic climates of plains and low mountains of Southern, Western, Central and Northern Europe and true coastal heaths occurring on maritime cliff tops where they survive under the strong wind conditions, low salt spray and low temperature oscillation regime determined by the proximity to the sea, originating typical prostrate maritime formations.

Indicators of good quality:

  • dense scrubs with many herbaceous plants: ferns, grasses, etc, without having a clear dominance of one particular species, nor heathers neither gorses or grasses.
  • evenness in the species populations, especially characteristic fauna, depending on microclimate and horizontal and vertical structure
  • presence of rare and/or threatened species
  • Absence of exotic species
  • Absence of nitrophilous species
  • Absence of trees and tall shrubs invading with lack of management
  • Presence of lichens and/or bryophytes
  • Presence of old Calluna shrubs with cycles of regeneration
  • Signs of traditional management including a low frequency fire, mowing, grazing, etc.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Recent losses in quality over the last 50 years indicate a category Near Threatened (NT), based on data with important gaps for Spain. At the same time a substantial decline in quantity occurred (-20%), but not large enough to meet the Near Threatened threshold. However, long-term trends indicate a much larger decline over 250 years, leading to the conclusion Vulnerable (VU) for criterion A3.
EU
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3
Europe
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3

Confidence in the assessment

medium
Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Agricultural intensification
    • Abandonment / Lack of  mowing
    • Abandonment of pastoral systems, lack of grazing
    • Fertilisation
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Artificial planting on open ground (non-native trees)
  • Pollution
    • Nitrogen-input

Habitat restoration potential

This habitat can recover in about less than 10 years provided traditional management techniques are included.

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

Although protected areas and regulatory instruments allow this kind of heath to be protected, extensive agricultural practises are essential to maintain it in good condition.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to agriculture and open habitats
    • Other agriculture-related measures
  • Measures related to wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats
    • Restoring coastal areas

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)
Spain mainland Present 11075 Decreasing Decreasing
Ireland Present 1094 Increasing Decreasing
Lithuania Present 10 Decreasing Decreasing
Belgium Present 93 Increasing Increasing
Bulgaria Present 2 Stable Increasing
Czech Republic Present 19 Decreasing Decreasing
France mainland Present 1200 Decreasing Decreasing
Germany Present 550 Decreasing Decreasing
Finland mainland Present 15 Decreasing Decreasing
Hungary Present 0.5 Decreasing Decreasing
Italy mainland Present 221 Decreasing Decreasing
Netherlands Present 258 Decreasing Stable
Romania Present 0.1 Stable Stable
Slovenia Present 2 Decreasing Decreasing
Sweden Present 132 Decreasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 8935 Decreasing Decreasing
Northern Island Present 8935 Decreasing Decreasing
Portugal mainland Present 204 Unknown Increasing
Denmark Present 238 Decreasing Decreasing
Slovakia Present 6.9 Stable Decreasing
Croatia Present 2 Stable Decreasing
Poland Present 128 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)
Guernsey Present Unknown Unknown
Isle of Man Present Unknown Unknown
Jersey Present Unknown Unknown
Bosnia and Herzegovina Present 12 Increasing Increasing
Norway Mainland Present 1625 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 7530700 8215 24185 Based on existing data provided by EU member States
EU28+ 8269 25822 Insufficient data for an accurate 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.
Birds Caprimulgus europaeus
Birds Sylvia undata
Ferns Pteridium aquilinum
Flowering Plants Agrostis curtisii
Flowering Plants Allium ericetorum
Flowering Plants Avenula lodunensis
Flowering Plants Avenula sulcata
Flowering Plants Calluna vulgaris
Flowering Plants Carex asturica
Flowering Plants Cistus psilosepalus
Flowering Plants Daboecia cantabrica
Flowering Plants Drosophyllum lusitanicum
Flowering Plants Empetrum nigrum
Flowering Plants Erica ciliaris
Flowering Plants Erica cinerea
Flowering Plants Erica mackaiana
Flowering Plants Erica scoparia
Flowering Plants Erica umbellata
Flowering Plants Erica vagans
Flowering Plants Erythronium dens-canis
Flowering Plants Genista anglica
Flowering Plants Genista germanica
Flowering Plants Genista pilosa
Flowering Plants Genista triacanthos
Flowering Plants Genista tridens
Flowering Plants Halimium alyssoides
Flowering Plants Halimium ocymoides
Flowering Plants Halimium umbellatum
Flowering Plants Lavandula viridis
Flowering Plants Lithodora prostrata
Flowering Plants Luzula lactea
Flowering Plants Pedicularis lusitanica
Flowering Plants Polygala microphylla
Flowering Plants Scorzonera humilis
Flowering Plants Stauracanthus boivinii
Flowering Plants Thymelaea coridifolia
Flowering Plants Thymus villosus
Flowering Plants Tuberaria lignosa
Flowering Plants Tuberaria major
Flowering Plants Ulex europaeus
Flowering Plants Ulex gallii
Flowering Plants Ulex jussiaei
Flowering Plants Ulex micranthus
Flowering Plants Ulex minor
Flowering Plants Vaccinium myrtillus
Flowering Plants Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Flowering Plants Viola lactea
Mosses & Liverworts Hylocomium splendens
Mosses & Liverworts Hypnum jutlandicum
Mosses & Liverworts Pleurozium schreberi
Reptiles Lacerta schreiberi
Species scientific name English common name Species group
Caprimulgus europaeus Nightjar Birds
Sylvia undata Dartford Warbler Birds
Pteridium aquilinum Ferns
Agrostis curtisii Flowering Plants
Allium ericetorum Flowering Plants
Avenula lodunensis Flowering Plants
Avenula sulcata Flowering Plants
Calluna vulgaris Flowering Plants
Carex asturica Flowering Plants
Cistus psilosepalus Flowering Plants
Daboecia cantabrica Flowering Plants
Drosophyllum lusitanicum Flowering Plants
Empetrum nigrum Flowering Plants
Erica ciliaris Flowering Plants
Erica cinerea Flowering Plants
Erica mackaiana Flowering Plants
Erica scoparia Flowering Plants
Erica umbellata Flowering Plants
Erica vagans Flowering Plants
Erythronium dens-canis Flowering Plants
Genista anglica Flowering Plants
Genista germanica Flowering Plants
Genista pilosa Flowering Plants
Genista triacanthos Flowering Plants
Genista tridens Flowering Plants
Halimium alyssoides Flowering Plants
Halimium ocymoides Flowering Plants
Halimium umbellatum Flowering Plants
Lavandula viridis Flowering Plants
Lithodora prostrata Flowering Plants
Luzula lactea Flowering Plants
Pedicularis lusitanica Flowering Plants
Polygala microphylla Flowering Plants
Scorzonera humilis Flowering Plants
Stauracanthus boivinii Flowering Plants
Thymelaea coridifolia Flowering Plants
Thymus villosus Flowering Plants
Tuberaria lignosa Flowering Plants
Tuberaria major Flowering Plants
Ulex europaeus Flowering Plants
Ulex gallii Flowering Plants
Ulex jussiaei Flowering Plants
Ulex micranthus Flowering Plants
Ulex minor Flowering Plants
Vaccinium myrtillus Flowering Plants
Vaccinium vitis-idaea Flowering Plants
Viola lactea Flowering Plants
Hylocomium splendens Mosses & Liverworts
Hypnum jutlandicum Mosses & Liverworts
Pleurozium schreberi Mosses & Liverworts
Lacerta schreiberi Schreiber's green lizard Reptiles

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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