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)


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.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Vulnerable A3

Confidence in the assessment

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


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

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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