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Rocky and dune habitats are widely distributed throughout Europe. While dune habitats are often encountered in the coastal areas, rocky habitats spread to the highest mountainous regions. Dune habitats do not only shelter highly adapted plant and animal species but also provide crucial flood protection. Due to ample economic and touristic activities on the European coasts, dunes experience far reaching deterioration. Rocky habitats, on the other hand, are often found in more remote places and do not face as many human-introduced pressures.
Distribution of 41 rocky and dune habitats in the EU
Source: Distribution maps (10 km x 10 km) delivered by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the shades of brown indicate the number of habitat types per 10 km x 10 km grid cell
The Annex I of the Habitats Directive’s covers 41 rocky and dune habitat types, including coastal and inland dunes, sea cliffs and inland rocks and screes. The latest assessment of the State of Nature showed that a high proportion of Annex I rocky and dune habitats is in unfavourable status (78 %) and 41 % are further deteriorating.
At least 6 700 km2 of Annex I rocky and dune habitats need to be restored and at least 400 km2 of additional areas need to be ‘recreated’ from other land use
According to the results of the EEA restoration assessment, the area of Annex I rocky and dune habitats that require restoration amounts to at least
6 700 km2, representing 10 % of the total area reported for this group of habitats. However, as the condition of another 28 500 km2 (44 % of the total area) is unknown, the area requiring restoration is most certainly considerably larger. In addition, the areas where the Annex I habitats will need to be recreated from other land uses represent at least 400 km2, mostly sclerophyllous scrub habitats (but most likely even more areas will be needed to reach the good state for these habitats).
Habitat condition reported for rocky and dune habitats
Source: Habitat condition reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018)
Note: the restoration surface areas are indicative since they were estimated on the basis of minimum areas reported by Member States and, for most habitats, their condition is largely unknown.
Dunes in the Netherlands. © NEEMO.
CASE STUDY: Bringing back dynamics in the Dutch dunes
Shifting dunes (2120) are present in most biogeographical regions, but the vast majority of this rare habitat’s surface area can be found along the Atlantic coasts. They have the ability to provide a natural buffer against some of the negative effects of climate change but are highly dependent on natural processes such as wind erosion. A key threat to the habitat is human-induced fixation as a coastal defence, realised through the creation of solid dykes. The dunes are also threatened by the planting or encroachment of — often invasive alien — scrub and trees. A number of LIFE projects — especially in the Netherlands — have focused on restoring the natural dynamics, aiming to set back succession to an earlier stage. For example, ambitious measures were taken to create openings at five locations in a fixed dune row at the Natura 2000 site Zuid-Kennemerland. These openings measured up to 15 m high and 50 m wide. This had extended the surface area of white dunes in the site from 154 ha to 175 ha by the end of the project. Wind patterns now drive mobile dunes, which are gradually ‘walking’ over the area. This supports many pioneer species that are typical of these habitats but which are endangered in the Netherlands. The project created corridors between white and grey dunes and thereby increased their resilience. Succession will now allow vegetation patches to move around, benefiting all of the target habitats and their typical species. A gradual improvement in this habitat’s status has been recorded in the Atlantic region (from bad in 2006 to poor in 2018), with the strongest improvements in the Netherlands (poor in 2012 to good in 2018).
Restoring the degraded Annex I habitat will in many cases include the actions and measures aiming at reducing the current pressures. Main pressures reported under the Article 17 reporting for these habits aremodification of hydrology and hydromorphology, pollution, destructive habitat management and invasive alien species.
- Habitat management is predominantly related to tourism and leisure activities that disturb the vegetation cover of dunes or rocks or deliberate damage and vandalism. Agriculture related pressures are also present but of lesser importance and mostly restricted to some dune habitats (e.g. abandonment of agricultural use or overgrazing.
- Conversion and land use changes are frequently related to urbanisation mostly of coastal areas (with pressures ranging from development and maintenance of beaches, building recreational infrastructure or development of recreation and housing areas) and transport.
- Natural processes cover natural succession and abiotic natural processes like for example erosion.
- Pollution of dunes and rocky habitats is most frequently from mixed sources, less frequently it is originating from urban areas (deposition and treatment of waste) or agriculture (agricultural air pollution).
Pressures reported for rocky and dune habitats
Source: Pressure reported by Member States under Article 17 reporting (period 2013-2018). Conservation status of habitat types and species: datasets from Article 17, Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC reporting