Severely disturbed habitats such as military training grounds, gravel pits and sand pits contribute to the species diversity of the agricultural landscape in Europe. They host a number of red-listed species not found elsewhere, illustrating that many plant species are threatened by extinction due to too little soil disturbance. Implementing a suitable disturbance regime is therefore crucial to ensure species-rich environments. We have reviewed the literature on soil disturbance as a restoration measure in dry sandy grasslands, with a special focus on xeric sand calcareous grasslands as these are severely threatened. Our objective was to elucidate the relations between diversity and disturbance regimes, and to determine how disturbance can be used to counteract acidification, to reduce nutrient availability and to create gaps in the vegetation. Our findings indicate that the current disturbance regime should be based on the historical disturbance regime, the productivity of the habitat and the propagule supply, in order to promote diversity at a landscape scale. Based on earlier studies and on the diversity/disturbance theory, we propose a conceptual model that can be used to determine the appropriate soil disturbance regime for restoration purposes. Our analysis highlights the importance of considering soil productivity, soil chemistry and dispersal limitations when choosing restoration measures and disturbance regimes for the conservation of biodiversity.