The cumulative effect of many local forest disturbances can be estimated from an analysis of forest distribution at the scale of the entire landscape. To gauge the regional impact of forest clearance and regeneration, a history of forest cover was compiled for the twentieth century in the hinterland of a large city (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.). Forest distribution and character were described by point sampling of historical aerial photographs. Environmental features were measured on visits to sample points in the field. Regional forest coverage has grown from c. 5% in 1890 to 22% in 1990. Most modern stands are <60 years old; only 2.5% of the modern landscape is in forest more than 100 years old. Since 1890, patterns of clearance and regeneration have caused a proportional shift in forest cover from uplands to lowlands and flood plains. Older stands are found on rock fields and steep slopes, indicating abandonment from agriculture according to the quality of local sites. Residential development has been concentrated in uplands, precluding regeneration of forest in that landscape position. In general, land use turnover reflects the character of the local site; there is no evidence of region-wide gradients of regeneration or clearance. Modern forest is concentrated along steep-sided stream valleys and away from roads. The great majority of forest lies within 50 m of a forest margin placing it in the microclimatic and vegetational edge zone. Although most forest is within 200 m of a residence, pedestrian traffic appears to have had only a minor impact in the biological community. By contrast, widespread species impoverish- ment is suggested by the overwhelming youthfulness of modern forest and the low degree of connectedness of forest within the landscape. Management for biological conservation should focus on protection of remnant primary forest, rather than relying on succession to restock secondary stands.