The genetic diversity and the temporal and spatial genetic population structure of the butterfly Aglais urticae, a highly mobile species, were studied by allozyme electrophoresis. High levels of allozyme diversity were found. Most of the total genetic diversity occurred at the within-population scale rather than at the between-population scale. This variation could not be accounted for by Wright’s model of ‘isolation by distance’. No significant temporal variation was observed for those populations that were sampled in different years. A process combining high movement rate between neighbouring patches, long-distance migration and rare extinction/recolonization is suggested to explain the observed genetic structure. This hypothesis is favoured over an island model of population structure because migration in A. urticae is uniform neither with distance nor with time.