The unique flora and fauna of calcareous sandy grasslands is threatened by acidification, eutrofication and changed land use. Restoration experiments in such grasslands in southern Sweden, including deep and shallow soil perturbation, allowed us to examine the effects of pH and disturbance on the bryophyte flora. We also studied natural pH and disturbance gradients in order to compare the natural pH and disturbance variation with the responses of experimental manipulation. We found that increased pH due to soil perturbation resulted in increased species richness. However, in naturally disturbed areas, pH seemed to have a lower effect, and instead, the location of the site and possibly the site history had a larger influence on species richness. We also found that some of the species that were common at naturally high pH (mainly acrocarps) were favoured by experimental pH manipulation. Our results pointed out Syntrichia ruraliformis as a sensitive pH indicator, being almost exclusively restricted to pH values above 7. The species can also serve as an indicator of sand steppe vegetation.