Red List habitat classification > RLH - Sparsely vegetated habitats > RLH3.2e Boreal ultramafic inland cliff

Boreal ultramafic inland cliff

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLH3.2e
Threat status
Europe Data Deficient
EU Data Deficient
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


Boreal ultramafic inland cliffs are habitats which host unique serpentine plant communities. The concept ultramafic refers to rock types that have a low content of silica and rather high content of magnesium and iron. This kind of rock, in particular serpentinite, produces extreme edaphic conditions with low calcium-to-magnesium ratio, severe scarcity of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, and often also high levels of heavy metals such as nickel, chromium or cobalt. As a consequence of these chemical conditions, vegetation is often very scarce with large spots of bare rock. As an adaptation to harsh environment some species have developed morphological features of dry site plants.

Some plants have adapted to these harsh conditions. In the Boreal region, this group includes Arenaria pseudofrigida, Asplenium adulterinum, A. viride, Cerastium alpinum, C. fontanum ssp. vulgare, Dianthus superbus, Minuartia biflora, Sagina nodosa and Viscaria alpina var. serpentinicola. In addition to these special plants, some common plants also grow in serpentine environments, e.g. Calluna vulgaris, Juniperus communis, Deschampsia flexuosa, Festuca ovina and Sedum telephium.

Bryophyte and lichen communities of serpentine cliffs often show a special mixture of calciphilous and other species. Typical bryophytes include Campyliadelphus chrysophyllus, Encalypta streptocarpa, Sanionia uncinata, Schistidium apocarpum coll., Tortella tortuosa and Weissia controversa, but in contrast to calcareous cliffs they do not form luxuriant turfs. Both bryophyte and lichen vegetation cover is generally lower than on other kinds of rocks and large areas on rock walls are entirely unvegetated.

The relationship between serpentine plant communities and rock types is under discussion. All ultramafic rock types do not host distinct serpentine plant communities. For example, communities on unchanged peridotite usually resemble those of ordinary siliceous cliffs more than serpentine cliffs.

Ultramafic cliffs with serpentine plant communities occur from the lowlands of eastern Finland to the middle alpine zone of the Scandinavian mountains. Two vegetation types have been recognized: the more widespread Asplenium viride – Arenaria norvegica–type (with a variant without A. norvegica in the eastern parts of the region) and the oceanic Asplenium adulterinum–type.

Indicators of good quality:

  • bedrock intact (no quarrying)
  • presence of natural disturbance regime (relevant especially in forested areas: forest fires are prevented, which means that vegetation coverage is slowly increasing; on the other hand, intensive forestry and particularly clearcutting causes abrupt changes in microclimate, which destroy plant communities adapted to stable humid conditions)
  • absence of alien species

The species diversity varies enormously also in entirely natural communities in cliff habitats. Usually, the smallest rock formations with monotonous microtopography and little variation in rock types show low diversity, whereas larger cliff complexes with heterogeneous geomorphology and varying rock types may represent local biodiversity hotspots. Therefore, low species diversity or absence of rare species should not be interpreted by itself as an indicator of low habitat quality, unless it is caused by anthropogenic influence.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

The habitat has been assessed as Data Deficient (DD) due to missing detailed information on distribution, area and trends. Due to a lack of important data from Sweden and Norway, the calculation of trends in quality and quantity was not possible. Therefore, these criteria have not been evaluated.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Data Deficient -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Data Deficient -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Agriculture
    • Intensive grazing
    • Fertilisation
  • Sylviculture, forestry
    • Forest planting on open ground (native trees)
  • Mining, extraction of materials and energy production
    • Mining and quarrying
  • Transportation and service corridors
    • Roads, paths and railroads

Habitat restoration potential

if severely demaged, the recovery of the habitat will take a very long time, more than 200 years.

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

The habitats on ultramafic rocks are relatively stable, although some threats, e.g. degradation due to intensive pasturing and fertilisation near rocky outcrops can reduce the total area of the habitat. The management of those habitats requires an exclusion of direct inputs such as climbing and trampling. The best management policy is to protect these habitats as natural reserves.

List of conservation and management needs

  • No measures
    • No measure known / impossible to carry out specific measures
  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • 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)
Finland mainland Present 2.5 Stable Stable
Sweden Present 400 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)
Norway Mainland Present 38 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 17 50050 Unknown
EU28+ 271250 Unknown
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
Phone: +45 3336 7100