The succession of species-rich wetland vegetation in dune valleys into species-poor dwarf shrub vegetation was followed by means of permanent vegetation plots, in which the cover of vascular plant, moss and lichen species were recorded over a period of up to 33 years. Low density cattle grazing is an effective substitute for rabbits in stalling this succession, thus preserving the local plant species diversity. The influence of direct rabbit grazing pressure on the vegetation was studied in exclosures. The differences were significant, but not long-lasting after the exclosures had been opened again to the rabbits. Cladina lichen-rich Empetrum-heathland in the dunes is a stage in a probably cyclic succession that might be triggered by grazing. The total vascular plant, moss and lichen diversity of the dune ecosystem can be maintained by a combination of extensive cattle grazing and a regular but limited re-creation of pioneer situations.