The habitat type Species-rich Nardus grasslands on siliceous substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe) (6230*) is a priority habitat type in the Habitats Directive. In all biogeographical regions it was assessed in 2012 as being in an unfavourable-bad conservation status, including in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Nardus-grasslands (named after the characteristic matgrass, Nardus stricta) are restricted to nutrient-poor sandy soils with a little loam, making them slightly more rich than heathlands. The specific environmental conditions favour rare species, many of which are protected by the Habitats and Birds Directives. One iconic example is the bird species black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa).

However, both the wet and dry variants of this habitat type and its characteristic species are under threat. Key pressures include habitat loss and fragmentation, eutrophication and acidification due to nutrients from agriculture, transport infrastructure and industry. Historically, the management practices applied (mostly in nature reserves) to maintain or restore the grasslands include mowing and grazing. However, restoration of the habitat type from intensively-used agricultural land is more challenging, with mowing alone being insufficient. Removal of the top soil layer, holding excessive amounts of phosphate, is relatively destructive in terms of soil biodiversity, seed bank and breeding grassland birds. Recent attempts have implemented phosphorous-mining (P-mining). By adding nutriënts to the fields to be converted, biomass production is increased and a boost is given to extract phosphorous by mowing and removing the biomass. This is expected to speed up nutrient reduction. A downside of the practice is that it may disturb breeding birds.


The main goal of the LIFE Nardus & Limosa project is the cross-border restoration of meadow-heathland systems that are rich in Nardus grasslands. The five project areas are the best areas in the Campine region in the Netherlands and Belgium where somewhat nutrient-richer heath systems occur, with abundant grassland and meadow bird populations. The project focuses on studying, testing and implementing a P-mining method that takes breeding birds into account. The restoration of Nardus-grassland through this and other methods should also benefit other grassland and heathland habitat types.

The key objectives of the project are to:

  • develop new methods to restore species-rich Nardus-grasslands from former agricultural land without losing the breeding meadow birds;
  • restore a large area of Nardus-grasslands by implementing the new methods;
  • contribute to the restoration of inland dune grasslands, wet heaths, and to a more limited extent dry heaths, oligotrophic waters and mire habitats, favoured by a diverse hydrology, geomorphology, and soil as a result of the restoration of the Nardus-grasslands;
  • implement a nature-based water retention feature to protect the city of Turnhout from flooding; and
  • share the knowledge from testing and implementing the P-mining with other site managers within the Natura 2000 network.

Expected results

  • a study on the optimal restoration management of the habitat type Species-rich Nardus grasslands on siliceous substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe) without affecting typical meadow birds;
  • a study of the effects of P-mining on the food of meadow birds;
  • restoration of 212 ha of Nardus-grassland, 43 ha of dry sand heaths/inland dunes and 5 ha of wet heath by P-mining;
  • increased numbers of the Birds Directive Annex I species nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and woodlark (Lullula arborea);
  • restoration of 60 ha of inland dune grasslands and 5 ha of wet heaths at Laambeekse Heide by removing young forest;
  • restoration of 12 ha of Nardus-grasslands and 3 ha of Inland dunes with open Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands by removing young forest, and 2 ha of Nardus-grassland by sod-cutting of degraded habitat at Turnhouts Vennengebied;
  • restoration of 4 ha of Nardus-grassland and 26 ha of inland dune grassland habitats at Rovertse Heide by removing young forest;
  • restoration of 3 ha of Nardus-grassland by removing young forest, 4 ha of Nardus-grassland and 26 ha of wet heaths by sod-cutting, and 8.6 ha of inland dune grasslands by focused management of degraded habitat at Regte Heide; and
  • implementation of a nature-based water retention feature at Turnhouts Vennengebied.

Furthermore, the project will contribute to the following EU policy objectives:

  • direct implementation of the EU Habitats Directive and EU Birds Directive through habitat restoration;
  • implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, Target 1 (Protect species and habitats) and Target 2 (Maintain and restore ecosystems). Ecosystem services may also be improved, including better resilience to climate change, increased carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, increased water retention and local flood prevention, and increased recreational value;
  • indirect contribution to the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive through better groundwater quality by extracting excess phosphate; and
  • indirect contribution to the EU adaptation strategy to climate change, through some of the ecosystem services listed above.

Target habitat types

  • 2320 - Dry sand heaths with Calluna and Empetrum nigrum
  • 2330 - Inland dunes with open Corynephorus and Agrostis grasslands
  • 4010 - Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix
  • 6230* - "Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)"