Due to societal changes and altered demands for firewood, the traditional forest management of coppicing has been largely abandoned. As a result, many forest herbs that are specifically adapted to regular opening of the canopy, have suffered significant declines in abundance, and the remaining populations of these species often tend to be small and isolated. Reduced population sizes and pronounced spatial isolation may cause loss of within-population genetic diversity and increased between-population differentiation through random genetic drift and inbreeding. In this study, we investigated genetic diversity and genetic structure of 15 populations of the food-deceptive orchid Orchis mascula using AFLP markers. Within-population genetic diversity significantly increased with increasing population size, indicating genetic impoverishment in small populations. Genetic differentiation, on the other hand, was rather low (Phi(ST) = 0.083) and there was no significant relationship between genetic and geographic distances, suggesting substantial gene flow within the study area. However, strong differences in levels of within-population diversity and among-population differentiation were found for populations located in forests that have been regularly coppiced and populations found in forests that were neglected for more than 50 years and that were totally overgrown by shrubs. Our data thus indicate that a lack of coppicing leads to decreased genetic diversity and increased differentiation in this orchid species, most likely as a result of genetic drift following demographic bottlenecks. From a conservation point of view, this study combined with previous results on the demography of O. mascula in relation to forest management illustrates the importance of coppicing in maintaining viable populations of forest herbs in the long-term.