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Steppes, heaths and scrubs are dominated by small woody plants often in combination with herbs, and sometimes with a large contingent of mosses, liverworts and lichens. They are distributed across all the biogeographic regions of Europe from Mediterranean to Boreal regions and from lowlands to high altitudes.
Distribution of the 21 steppe, heath and scrub 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 21 steppe, heath and scrub habitat types, including heaths and scrubs (except wet heaths and those dependent on agricultural management), and a selection of steppe habitats. Together, they cover a total area of around 78 600 km2 in the EU (excluding Romania). The latest assessment of the State of Nature showed that a high proportion of Annex I habitats related to steppe, heath or scrubs is in unfavourable status (71 %) and 29 % are further deteriorating.
At least 6 600 km2 of Annex I steppe, heath and scrub 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 steppe, heath and scrub habitats that require restoration amounts to at least 6 600 km2, representing 8 % of the total area reported for this group of habitats. However, as the condition of another 28 600 km2 (36 % 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 userepresent 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 steppe, heath and scrub 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.
Po Valley near Crissolo, Italy © Wikimedia
CASE STUDY: Restoring dry-acidic Continental grasslands and heathlands in Italy
The ongoing Life project LIFE DRYLANDS (LIFE18 NAT/IT/000803) targets grasslands and heaths in Piemonte and Lombardia (Italy). The general objective of the project is to restore dry-acidic Continental open habitats (inland dunes, European dry heaths and semi-natural dry grasslands) in eight Nature 2000 sites within the western Po Plain in Italy to a favourable conservation status. It further aims to create core areas and ecological corridors to reduce fragmentation and increase connectivity. The project already restored over 126 000 m2 of European dry heaths habitat (typical Southern Alps lowland aspect) to a favourable conservation status, with 8 800 m2 being newly created.
Restoring the degraded habitats will in many cases include the actions and measures aiming at reducing the current pressures. Main pressures reported under the Article 17 for these habits are habitat management, habitat conversion, alien and problematic species and natural processes:
- Habitat management is predominantly related to tourism and leisure activities that disturb the fragile vegetation cover of steppe, heath and scrub habitats. Additionally, intensive grazing and overgrazing is reported as reoccurring impact on these habitats.
- Habitat conversion and therefore the disappearance of heaths and scrubs is mostly caused by conversion into agricultural land. Roads and other transportation structures, as well as the construction of settlement and recreational areas are also a commonly reported type of conversion.
- Alien and problematic species mostly refers to invasive alien species, either identified as of Union concern under the Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 or other. For instance, the False Indigo-bush (Amorpha fruticosa) can cause a severe decline in native vegetation in scrub habitats. This fast-growing, deciduous shrub forms a dense thicket that outcompetes the native flora and changes successional patterns.
- Natural processes mostly concern natural succession
Pressures reported for steppe, heath and scrub 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