The xylem cavitation rate, stem water content, stomatal conductance and leaf water potential of mature Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) were compared over a period of 18 months at two sites in Britain where trees were planted from the same seed source. The sites were at Thetford in south-east England, where the climate is relatively warm and dry (average rainfall of 600mm per year), and Aberfoyle in central Scotland, where it is relatively cool and wet (average rainfall of 1500 mm year−1). In the first year of study (1992) the natural difference between the sites was amplified by a severe drought affecting south-east England. Acoustic emissions (as a result of cavitation) were detected at both sites, but were not an everyday occurrence, and rates depended on short-term meteorological variation. The relative water content (RWC) of the trunk at breast height at Thetford was significantly lower than at Aberfoyle, and declined in parallel with increasing severity of drought. Following the release from drought a gradual increase in RWC was found, but the pre-drought RWC was not attained. The same xylem water potential gradient and stomatal conductance was found at the two sites; but on a diurnal basis, as water potential declined, cavitation rates increased. There was no difference in vulnerability to cavitation or in hydraulic conductance between the sites.