At the eastern margins of the geographical distribution in Europe, populations of Cepaea nemoralis are sparse and limited to urban environments to which they are possibly confined by relatively warmer climates. In 1999 we introduced 1101 C. nemoralis individuals originating from nine urban populations to a rural location in the area. The snails established a viable population, which suggests that confinement to urban settings is dispersal- rather than climate-limited. The snails filled available habitats at a rate of approximately 400–600 m2 year−1. On the whole, morph frequencies remained remarkably stable; changes that occurred are attributable to segregation of alleles or chromosomes. However, snails responded to habitat heterogeneity: consistent and predictable divergence occurred between habitat types, such that light-shelled snails were repeatedly more frequent in the open than in adjoining shaded habitats. This suggests the operation of climatic and/or visual selection. As the whole area encompassing seven distinct habitat patches was only 0.3 ha, and the maximum duration of population divergence was only 11 years (fewer than four snail generations), these results indicate extremely small temporal and spatial scales of adaptation during initial phases of population establishment and spread. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 104, 462–470.