Understanding the land use history has proven crucial for the conservation of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. In southern Sweden, very small and fragmented areas of the disturbance-dependent habitat xeric sand calcareous grassland support a large number of threatened and rare plants and animals. In order to find out if historical land use could explain variation in present-day habitat quality, the land use on eight such sites was traced back to the 18th century and compared with key factors such as the amount of bare sand, lime content and P availability. There was no support for the common explanation of the decline in xeric sand calcareous grassland being caused by abandonment of agricultural fields during the last century. Instead, fertilization history was the main explanation for the difference in depletion depth of CaCO3 seen between the sites. The decline in xeric sand calcareous grassland since the 18th century is most probably the result of the drastic changes in land use during the 19th century, which put an end to the extensive sand drift. Since cultivation was shown to have played an important role in the historical land use of xeric sand calcareous grassland, grazing alone may not be the optimal management option for these grasslands. Instead more drastic measures are needed to restore the high calcium content and maintain proper disturbance levels.