Microsatellites were isolated and a marker system was developed in the fern Adiantum capillus-veneris. Polymorphic markers were then used to study the genetic diversity and structure of populations within the UK and Ireland where this species grows at the northern edge of its range, requiring a specific rock habitat and limited to a few scattered populations. Three dinucleotide loci detected a high level of diversity (23 alleles and 28 multilocus genotypes) across the UK and Ireland, with nearly all variation partitioned among rather than within populations. Of 17 populations represented by multiple samples, all except four were monomorphic. Heterozygosity was detected in three populations, all within Glamorgan, Wales (UK), showing evidence of outcrossing. We make inferences on the factors determining the observed levels and patterns of genetic variation and the possible evolutionary history of the populations.