The aim of the study was to investigate the bacterial profile of chronic venous leg ulcers and the importance of the profile to ulcer development. Patients with persisting venous leg ulcers were included and followed for 8 weeks. Every second week, ulcer samples were collected and the bacterial species present were identified. More than one bacterial species were detected in all the ulcers. The most common bacteria found were Staphylococcus aureus (found in 93·5% of the ulcers), Enterococcus faecalis (71·7%), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (52·2%), coagulase-negative staphylococci (45·7%), Proteus species (41·3%) and anaerobic bacteria (39·1%). Resident bacterial species were present in all the ulcers. In 76% of the ulcers, two or more (up to five) resident bacterial species were found. The most common resident bacterial species were S. aureus and P. aeruginosa. Furthermore, ulcers with P. aeruginosa were found to be significantly larger than ulcers without the presence of P. aeruginosa (P < 0·005). Our study demonstrated that the chronic wound is colonised by multiple bacterial species and that once they are established many of them persist in the wound. Our results suggest that the presence of P. aeruginosa in venous leg ulcers can induce ulcer enlargement and/or cause delayed healing.