Red List habitat classification > RLH - Sparsely vegetated habitats > RLH3.5a Limestone pavement

Limestone pavement

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLH3.5a
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)


Limestone pavements are geomorphological landscapes resulting from dissolution processes exerted on hard limestone tables probably formed by glacial erosion. They consist of usually gently-sloping platforms with blocks of limestone separated by a network of vertical fissures. The size, shape and regularity of the blocks vary according to the local features of the bedrock and of the climate, but the regular mosaic of contrasting microhabitats is a common feature to all limestone pavements. This unit has a purely geomorphologic definition. It occurs from sea level up to 3000 m  in the Alps and extends to a wide range including different karstic regions of Europe, where it receives different local names: lapiaz, karren, limestone pavement, alvar. This specific geomorphology is apparently linked to glacial origins. Karstic outcrops occurring in the Mediterranean region are often less typical. Only large tabular surfaces showing typical dissolution features come into consideration for habitat H3.5a.
The rock surface of the pavement is almost devoid of soil, with a resulting vegetation cover well under 30%. Spots of thin soil allow locally the presence of drought-resistant communities: cushions of lichens and bryophytes, fragments of dry tufted grasslands.  Most of the vascular plants root in the fissures, where rubble and fine sediment, including aeolian and organic matter, accumulate, sometimes also the long-weathered remnants of pre-Quaternary deposits. These fissures (called grikes or Kluftkarren) offer a sheltered microclimate, favoring ferns and macroforb communities; heath and scrub can also occur (wooded pavements belong to other units). Espaliered plants, with their stems expanding at the rock surface, are also a typical component of the mosaic but exposure to wind and grazing by wild herbivores or farm stock may limit expansion of vegetation from the fissures. 
According to the diversity of climates encountered in the large range of this unit, the floristic composition is variable and not very helpful for the identification: the communities occurring in the pavement mosaic are not the same in the Alps as in Britain. Anyway, none of those communities is unique to limestone pavements. What is characteristic is the pattern of contrasting microhabitats, and the resulting mosaic of small patches of different vegetation types.

Indicators of good quality:
Typical limestone pavements are large and uniformly level, sub-horizontal tables of blocks made of unfragmented frost-resistant hard stone. The vegetation covers less than 30%. Trees are absent or very scattered. Limestone outcrops of small extent (less than 1000 m2) or not showing the typical pattern are excluded. This habitat does not recover after quarrying and other extractive activities.

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

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

Though this habitat has a patchy distribution, it is assessed as Least Concern (LC) at the European scale since reductions in quantity (around 6%) and quality (moderately strong decline with a severity of 60%, affecting 10% of the extent of the habitat) over the past 50 years have been fairly small and resulted in limited degradation. This outcome is an average of different regional situations, each of them deserving to be assessed separately.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Mining, extraction of materials and energy production
    • Mining and quarrying
    • Mining and extraction activities not referred to above
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Discharges
    • Storage of materials
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Sport and leisure structures
    • Skiing complex
  • Natural biotic and abiotic processes (without catastrophes)
    • Biocenotic evolution, succession

Habitat restoration potential

No recovery is possible after destruction. Limestone pavements were shaped in a time when glaciers covered much part of northern Europe and the Alps.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Unknown
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

There is no management need for this highly natural habitat to remain but leaving it undisturbed and undamaged. Natural succession is very slow because of the extreme edaphic conditions. Therefore, it should not be considered as a conservation problem. Conservation is then effective when free evolution is possible, like within protected areas. The suggested ‘Manage landscape features’ measure refers to the need to better protect in land-use planning this kind of habitat that shows a high degree of naturalness, especially when no other specific regulation can be applied (no protected species or habitat, outside a protected area, outside a N2000 site).

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • 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)
Austria Present 525 Stable Stable
Italy mainland Present 262 Stable Stable
Portugal mainland Uncertain 14 - -
France mainland Present 112 Stable Stable
Ireland Present 320 Increasing Decreasing
United Kingdom Present 28 Increasing Stable
Slovenia Present 30 Stable Stable
Estonia Present unknown Unknown Unknown
Sweden Present unknown Unknown Unknown
Spain mainland Present unknown 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)
Switzerland Present 200 Unknown Stable

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 4891100 628 1283 Missing data from Estonia and Sweden
EU28+ 636 1483 Missing data from Estonia and Sweden
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

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 H3.5 Almost bare rock pavements, including limestone pavements same
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