Sand dune - Country Report, Sweden

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Status: Original text with minor revisions 2007; Authors: J Patrick Doody & Eddy van der Maarel

This article on the sand dunes of Sweden, is a revised country report from the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' (Doody ed. 1991) [1]. The 1991 inventory was prepared under the umbrella of the European Union for Dune Conservation [EUDC]. The original inventory was presented to the European Coastal Conservation Conference, held in the Netherlands in November 1991. It attempted to provide a description of the sand dune vegetation, sites and conservation issues throughout Europe including Scandinavia, the Atlantic coast and in the Mediterranean.

An overview article on the distribution of European sand dunes provides links to the other European country reports. These represent chapters from updated individual country reports included in the revised, 2nd Edition of the 'Sand Dune Inventory of Europe' prepared for the International Sand Dune Conference “Changing Perspectives in Coastal Dune Management”, held from the 31st March - 3rd April 2008, in Liverpool, UK (Doody ed. 2008)[2].


The coast of Sweden has an uneven distribution of sand dunes around the coast. Although glaciofluvial deposits occur, as in Finland these are much less extensive than there. The basis of this chapter is a Ph.D. Thesis (Olsson 1974)[3]. Some of the data are in their turn derived from older publications. There is no overall estimate of the total area of dune in Sweden, though the Council of Europe report 1974 gives a figure of 2,000ha. This is a major underestimate, if the figures given in Olsson’s paper for the sites investigated are correct.

Distribution and type of dune

Raised beaches and sand dunes occur along the shore of Haparanda Sandskär, 20km west of the Finnish border on the north coast of the Bothnian Bay (Ericson and Wallentinus 1965)[4]. These are scattered (see Figure) and in many ways similar to those on the coast of Finland which have developed on a coastline, which is rising relative to sea level. By contrast, the southern provinces of Halland and Scania are rich in dunes (Olsson 1974) and based on the information available, larger. Coastal dunes can extend up to 4km inland and stretch from 15 to 40km in length (Olson 1993) [5]. The large open sandy bays have a broad dune belt behind with active backshore dunes and an inner zone stabilised by pines, mainly planted during the nineteenth century. Erosion began with the start of agricultural activity as early as the 16th century. During the last 50 years, the attraction of sandy beaches for recreational activities has rapidly increased and caused environmental problems, notably destruction of dune grasses, which initiates wind erosion (Norrman et al. 1974)[6]. There are no dunes in the North West (Hallberg and Ivarsson 1965)[7]. Several physical types of dune occur, including those with a sequence of ridges lying parallel to the coast (hindshore), barrier islands and spits. They can reach a maximum height of 10-15m and are usually composed of non-calcareous sand. On the Falsterbo peninsula in southwest Sweden there are sub-parallel dune ridges that formed by accretion of wind-blown sand on successive longshore spits.

Figure: Map of sand dune distribution and important sites in Sweden. Copyright: J Pat Doody


As with Finland, the natural vegetation at the back dunes is woodland. In the south, oak and beech dominate, although the destruction of most examples probably took place in historic times. Burning and grazing by domestic stock appear to have been the principle agents and records suggest that major sand instability began around the 16th Century. As with elsewhere in Europe, systematic planting with pine forests has had a major influence on the present day vegetation. Grazing has also been an important component in the development of rich open grassland or heath. A summary of the types of plant communities follows. See also “Dry coastal ecosystems of southern Sweden” (Olsson 1993, pages 133-136). Click on the following link for a general description of sand dune vegetation in Europe.


Annual and perennial drift vegetation with Cakile maritima, Atriplex littoralis and Honckenya peploides.


Various combinations of Ammophila arenaria and sandy grassland, which in the north is usually replaced by Ammocalamagrostis baltica* and Leymus arenarius.

Dune grassland

Short dry acid dune vegetation occurs in several forms but with Corynephorus canescens a frequent component. Calcareous grassland is rare. At least one site, Vittemölla, has calcareous dunes.

Dune slack

Several wetland communities occur including Carex nigra in a low vegetation, Phragmites australis marsh and aquatic vegetation.

Dune heath

Calluna vulgaris is important, though in some wetter forms of the vegetation Salix arenaria may be dominant. In other areas, Empetrum nigrum may be present.


A variety of forest and shrubby wood vegetation occurs with Pinus sylvestris, Quercus robur or Betula pendula dominant.

  • It is suggested that a more frequently used name for Ammocalamagrostis baltica is Calamophila baltica. 

Important sites

The sites listed below are from the original inventory see Olsson (1974), except for Site 10, Rullsand (Ericson and Wallentinus 1979) and Gotska Sandön and Haparanda Skärgård (information from the Internet).

Figure: List of important sand dunes sites in Sweden.

NR, Nature Reserve; NP, National Park; SNINC, Site of National Importance for Nature Conservation.


As with elsewhere in Northern Europe afforestation, to prevent sand blow, has had a major impact on the natural vegetation particularly in the older dunes. Information on other conservation problems is not available though sand stabilisation remains a important preoccupation in the face of increasing recreational pressure. Rosa rugosa is present in some dune areas and may be a long-term management problem.

Original contact: Prof. E. van der Maarel, Uppsala University, Dept. of Ecological Botany, Box 559, S-75122 UPPSALA, SWEDEN. At present at: Dept. of Plant Ecology, Uppsala University, Community and Conservation Ecology Group, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands

Additional information

Olsson, H., 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of southern Sweden. In: Ecosystems of the World 2A Dry Coastal Ecosystems, Polar regions and Europe, ed., van der Maarel, Elsivier, 133-138.

Cramer, W., 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of the Northern Baltic. In: Ecosystems of the World 2A Dry Coastal Ecosystems, Polar regions and Europe, ed., van der Maarel, Elsivier, 98-100.

For information on spiders see, Almquist (1973)[8]


  1. Doody, J.P., ed., 1991. Sand Dune Inventory of Europe. Peterborough, Joint Nature Conservation Committee/European Union for Coastal Conservation.
  2. Doody, J.P., ed. 2008. Sand Dune Inventory of Europe, 2nd Edition. National Coastal Consultants and EUCC - The Coastal Union, in association with the IGU Coastal Commission.
  3. Olsson, H., 1974. Studies in south Swedish sand vegetation. Acta Phytogeogr. Suec. 60.
  4. Ericson, L. & Wallentinus, H. G., 1979. Sea-shore vegetation around the Gulf of Bothnia. Guide for the International Society for Vegetation Science. July-August 1977. Wahlenbergia, Vol. 5, 142 pages.
  5. Olsson, H., 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of southern Sweden. In: Dry Coastal Ecosystems. 2A. Polar Regions and Europe, ed., E. Van der Maarel, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 131-143.
  6. Norrman, J.O. et al., 1974. Investigations of dune morphology in southern Halland, (in Swedish). Statens Naturvårdsverk PM 500, Stockholm.
  7. Hallberg, H. P. & Ivarsson, R., 1965. Vegetation of coastal Bohuslan. Acta Phytogeogr. Suec. 50, 112-122.
  8. Almquist, S., 1973. Spider associations in coastal sand dunes. Oikos, 24, 444-457.

See also

The main author of this article is Doody, Pat
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Doody, Pat (2019): Sand dune - Country Report, Sweden. Available from,_Sweden [accessed on 25-06-2024]