German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Red List of Threatened Habitat Types

Traditional forest pasture
Traditional forest pasture

The Red List of Threatened Habitat Types has been published by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation at approximately ten-yearly intervals since 1994. It differs from the red lists of species in its even greater focus on the spatial planning and practice of habitat conservation. It has a correspondingly wider area of application. The third edition of the German Red List of Threatened Habitat Types (Rote Liste der gefährdeten Biotoptypen) was published in 2017 (Finck et al. 2017).

The Red List of Habitat Types and nature conservation in practice

The threat status and rarity of habitat types is a key parameter alongside degree of naturalness in evaluating the nature conservation needs. Lists of threatened habitat types parallel and complement the Red Lists of species and have the added benefit of full spatial coverage. This means the Red List of Threatened Habitat Types can be used as an evaluation tool for all habitats. The threat status levels also indicate any current need for action and can help in prioritising. The German Red List of Threatened Habitat Types contains all habitat types, including unthreatened ones. A special section provides information of relevance to planning. This includes definitions featuring key locational and structural features. Likewise included are characteristic plant communities and, from the third edition onwards, key diagnostic species; in combination with the definitions, these allow clear identification in the field. The information is supplemented with references to legally protected biotopes under Section 30 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act and to corresponding legal provisions at Länder level. Correspondences between the habitat types and the EU Water Framework Directive, the habitat types of Community interest under the Habitats Directive and the European Environment Agency’s EUNIS habitat classification have also been updated. Finally, information is provided on habitat regenerability and, for the first time, on the sensitivity of each habitat type to the addition of nutrients; this information can give a valuable indication as to the sustainability of planned works with impacts on nature and the landscape and to the potential for impact mitigation. By bringing together all this information, the Red List of Threatened Habitat Types comprises a broad source of reference for spatial planning.

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Red List status

The current edition of the Red List distinguishes 863 habitat types (other than ‘technical’ habitat types) (2006: 690; 1994: 490).

The key data point in the 2017 third edition of the Red List is the Red List status. For each habitat type, this combines the national long-term threat (nTH), the current trend (T) and the rarity (R) into a single value, the Red List status (RLD), which represents the risk of loss for a given habitat type. As this data point is presented for the first time, the outcomes cannot be compared with earlier editions of the Red List (Riecken et al. 1994, 2006). This can only be done separately for the national long-term threat (nTH) and the current trend (T).

Almost two-thirds (65.1%) of all habitat types show a risk of loss to varying degrees (sum total of 0, 1!, 1, 1–2 ,2, 2–3, 3, 3–V) or are already classified as ‘collapsed’. Besides the 13 (exclusively marine) habitat types that are classified as ‘collapsed’, it is notable that large percentages of habitat types – a total of 21.4% – come under high threat categories (Category 1!: 6.0%; Category 1: 2.4 %; Category 1–2: 13.0 %). There is urgent need for action for all of these habitat types. In addition, a quarter of all habitat types (24.7%) currently show no risk of loss (Category *); 5.8% remained unclassified as they are ‘undesirable’ from a nature conservation perspective and are mostly a result of massive environmental impacts or intensive to highly intensive land use. The ‘technical’ habitat types (groups 51-54) are not included in this analysis.


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National long-term threat

The national long-term threat (nTH) representing the long-term trend in habitat types is comparable with the Red List status for Germany (RLD) in the 2006 and 1994 editions. The analysis of the threat status in the following is therefore based on that data. All figures are based on numbers of habitat types. The absolute or percentage area covered is not included.

64.9% of habitat types (excluding ‘technical’ habitat types) in 2017 must be considered at least ‘vulnerable’ through to ‘collapsed’ (Categories 3 down to 0); 3.5% are classified as ‘near threatened’. Most notably, 13 habitat types are now classified as ‘destroyed’ (2006: 1). These relate without exception to marine habitat types and primarily comprise habitat types that used to be dominated by the European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) or polychaete worms (Sabellaria spec.). The latter are a genus of marine worms that build tubes from sand and shell fragments.

No inland or coastal habitat types are currently classified as ‘collapsed’. The habitat type classified under Category 0 in 2006, ‘Near-natural autochthonous spruce-fir forest of the planar to colline zone’ ( has been removed from the habitat type classification as the distinction made at that time between near-natural and degraded spruce-fir forest of the planar to colline zone had to be revised.

The greatest difference compared with the threat status in 2006 is in the proportions of marine habitat types under long-term threat. However, the new edition features a significantly larger number of different habitat types. The greater differentiation has led to a far greater number of unendangered marine habitat types without there being any real change in the threat situation. The number of marine habitat types increased seven-fold, from 17 to 136. The percentage of threatened marine habitat types, however, increased by ‘only’ 58% compared with 2006 (90:142). The current list also includes 8.3% of habitat types for which classification is not meaningful. Marine habitat types now account for a significantly larger share overall (2006: 14.0% of all habitat types; 2017: 29.6%). This is also reflected in the proportion of habitat types under long-term threat, which decreased from 72.5% to 64.9%.

In all other main groups, the proportion of habitat types under long-term threat has changed only marginally compared with 2006. For coastal habitat types it remained constant at 87.9%. Forest/woody habitat types show a somewhat improved situation, while the situation of open-countryside terrestrial and Alpine habitat types has deteriorated. The proportion of habitat types subject to long-term threat has increased by a further two percentage points for open-countryside terrestrial habitat types and no less than 4.8 percentage points for Alpine habitat types. The negative trend in grassland and increasing tourism (in the Alpine region) and the effects of climate change are evidently already visible in the long-term analysis.

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Current trends

Current trends (criterion T; trend over approximately the last 10 years and prognosis for the near future) in habitat numbers can deviate from historical trends, which are determined using the national long-term threat (nTH; based on an analysis of trends over the past 50 to 150 years). However, consideration must be given to the fact that short-term changes in extraneous conditions (e. g. changes in EU farming subsidies), and long-term influences (such as climate change) can lead to a more negative outcome than shown here. Conversely, nature conservation efforts and legislative measures (such as the Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive) may lead to a more favourable trend than currently expected.

Analysis of the current rankings show that overall, more than half of all threatened habitat types (52.51%; excluding ‘technical’ habitat types) are considered ‘stable’ at their current numbers. 40.90% currently have a negative trend. A clear positive trend can be made out for only a small proportion of threatened habitat types (2.95%).

The situation of open-countryside terrestrial habitat types is especially critical. A very large proportion of these already showed a negative trend in 2006 and that proportion now shows a substantial further increase (2006: 67.6%; 2016: 80.1%). Only one habitat type currently shows an increasing trend (0.7%) compared with 8.6% in 2006. The proportion of stable habitat types has remained broadly constant. 

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Heinze, S., Finck, P., Raths, U., Riecken, U. & Ssymank, A. (2020): Revised criteria system for a national assessment of threatened habitats in Germany.
Nature Conservation 40: 39-64.

Further information


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FG II 2.1

Last Change: 04/01/2018