In southern Sweden, sand dunes and heaths can be found along the coast and further inland, along what was once the coastline and where glaciers flowed or glacial lakes once lay. The soil in these area drains well which provides a warmer and dryer microclimate. Sandy soils are often low in nutrients, which benefits those plant species that grow slowly, which in turn provides us with more open and thus warmer environments. A large number of different species live in these warm, dry environments, many of which are extremely rare in Sweden.
The sandy habitats of southern Sweden consist of a mosaic of different biotopes, several of which are habitat types that it is especially important to protect and are thus classified under the EU’s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). The aim of this directive is to protect the highlighted habitats, wild plants and animals.
Habitat types listed in the EU’s Habitats Directive (habitat type code)
- Shifting dunes (Embryonic shifting dunes; 2110)
- White dunes (Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria; 2120)
- Grey Dunes (Fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation; 2130)
- Lime-deficient dune heathland with crowberry (Decalcified fixed dunes with Empetrum nigrum; 2140)
- Dunes with creeping willow (Dunes with Salix repens var. argentea; 2170)
- Wooded dunes of the Atlantic, Continental and Boreal region (2180)
- Humid dune slacks (2190)
- Dry sand heaths with Calluna and Empetrum nigrum (2320)
- Open grassland with grey-hair grass and common bent grass of inland dunes (Inland dunes with open Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands; 2330)
- European dry heaths (4030)
- Sandy grasslands (Xeric sand calcareous grasslands; 6120)
- Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands (6270)
Habitat types in our coastal dunes range from the more exposed embryonic shifting dunes closest to the waterline, through the grass-covered white dunes to the more herbaceous grey dunes, which have also begun acquiring a well-developed carpet of mosses and lichens. Embryonic shifting dunes (2110) arise at the edge of large sand dunes on the upper beach and consist of ripples in the sand. The few plants that occur here might be sand couch (Elytrigia juncea) and European searocket (Cakile maritima). White dunes (2120) are the first actual dunes closest to the sea and are constantly shifting. The sparse vegetation consists primarily of grasses such as European marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), sea lyme grass (Leymus arenarius) and sand sedge (Carex arenaria). Succession in the coastal sand dunes progresses towards a more fixed dune that is more herbaceous (2130) and has a well-developed carpet of mosses and lichens. This succession also leads to the encroachment of shrubs such as crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), heather (Calluna vulgaris) and broom (Genista sp.) (2140), or creeping willow (Salix repens and Salix repens var. argentea) (2170), and gradually even shrubs and trees until we end up with a wooded dune (2180). The wooded dune is home to trees of varying ages, open glades with patches of exposed sand dotted among small shrubs, grasses and mosses/lichens. Between the dunes, there are damp stretches which are sometimes filled with water; these humid dune slacks (2190) can range from orchid-rich to wet scrubland.
On inland sand heaths and sand dunes, grass or shrub-dominated heaths (2330 and 2320, respectively) develop, which are beneficial to opening up the landscape. In lime-rich areas, both along the coast and inland, there are sandy grasslands (6120). The xeric sand calcareous grasslands can be recognised by their huge abundance of different species, with many annuals that find it easy to grow in spaces with lime-rich, exposed sand. In areas that have previously been arable land, there are species-rich dry grasslands (6270) or dry heaths (4030).
You can find the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to the Swedish habitat types in the Habitats Directive on their website: www.swedishepa.se.
The sandy habitats of southern Sweden have an enormous biodiversity, with a large number of nationally protected species. This biodiversity benefits from the warm, dry microclimate and we can also find many species from the dryer areas of eastern Europe, the Russian steppes and southern Europe. Several of these species are encompassed by the EU’s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) or by the EU’s Birds Directive (2009/147/EC).
Species listed in the EU’s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC):
- Sand pink (Dianthus arenarius subsp. arenarius; 1954)
- Large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion; 1058)
- Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis; 1261)
Species listed in the EU’s Birrds Directive (2009/147/EC):
- Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris; A255)
- Woodlark (Lullula arborea; A246)
- Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus; A224)
The vegetation of the sandy habitats is often sparse, diverse and characterised by the presence of a large number of annuals. The seeds of vascular plants find it easier to germinate on these soils that drain well, which is also helped by the presence of patches of exposed sand. There is also a great diversity of different mosses and fungi which benefit from the exposed sand where they can establish themselves and where they are, furthermore, not exposed to tough competition for light from plants that grow higher.
The rare vascular plants that characterise sandy habitats and which will come to benefit from the Sand Life measures include sea holly, wild thyme, dwarf everlast, sheep’s bit scabious, smooth cat’s ear and lamb’s succory. In lime-rich areas with sandy grasslands there are species such as sand pink (Dianthus arenarius), St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago), blue hair grass (Koeleria glauca), sand milkvetch (Astragalus arenarius), sand cat’s-tail (Phleum arenarium), proliferous pink (Petrorhagia prolifera) and fragrant scabious (Scabiosa canescens).
The sweet-smelling, white sand pink (Dianthus arenarius; Annex 2 of the Habitats Directive) flowers in the sandy grasslands. Its subspecies Dianthus arenarius subsp. arenarius is only found in Skåne and in a few sites in Estonia and Latvia. The future for the sand pink is conditional on there being a continuity of exposed lime-rich sand.
In sandy habitats, especially those that are rich in lime, there are an exciting range of fungi with many protected species, mainly from the gasteroid group. Among the gasteroid fungi there are several species of earthstar (Geastrum spp.), stalked puffballs (Tulostoma spp.) and acorn puffballs (Disciseda spp.). The fungi are extremely sensitive to overgrowth and require exposed sand and the warmth that it provides in order to establish themselves through their spores. Moreover, many of these fungi appear in areas with a high pH.
Flowering plants provide a large quantity of nectar, pollen and seeds which, in turn, benefit a rich variety of insects. The easily-dug, well-drained sandy soil is also particularly well-suited to being used as a place for insects to build their nests. The sandy habitats thus have an enormous diversity of different species of moths and butterflies, wild bees and other species of bees, wasps and ants, dung beetles and ground beetles (e.g. Harpalus spp.).
In sandy habitats where there is plenty of flowering wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum), it is also possible to find the large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion; Habitats Directive, Annex 4). The butterfly lays its eggs in the flowers of wild thyme. When the caterpillars hatch, they live in the thyme for several weeks before falling to the ground. Once on the ground, they are immediately recognised by their scent signals by red ants, who mistake the caterpillars for their own larvae and carry them into their ant nest. The ants feed the caterpillars, who then pupate and finally hatch as a new butterfly the following spring.
Birds and Reptiles
The large number of insects in these areas, along with seeds from the plants, in turn provides food for sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) and a diverse range of bird species. One of the characteristic species of the sand dunes and heaths of Skåne and Halland is the Tawny Pippit (Anthus campestris; Habitats Directive, Annex 2). The Tawny Pippit is extremely dependent on large, open expanses of exposed sand where there is a large number of insects. The number of breeding birds has been falling dramatically since the 1980s and the species is covered by a national action plan.
The Woodlark (Lullula arborea) and the Nightjar (Caprimulgus europeus) are also rare bird species that are connected to the more wooded sandy habitats and which will benefit from the interventions that are going to take place as part of Sand Life (in the Habitats Directive, Annex 2). The Woodlark is one of our smallest larks and can be identified by its stubby tail feathers and its characteristic flight call – li li-li-lililylylu. The Nightjar is nocturnal and well-camouflaged where it sits during the daytime.
The sand lizard (Lacerta agilis; Habitats Directive, Annex 4) also lives in sandy habitats that are at the early stages of the succession. There can be identified by their typical “eye spots” and by the green sides the male has when mating. The sand lizard required easily-dug soil where it can bury its eggs in the sand after mating.