The effective conservation of species requires data on the levels and distribution of genetic diversity within and among populations. In this study, we estimated the genetic variation in three isolated populations of Betula nana in Poland. An analysis of 11 nuclear microsatellites revealed moderate mean heterozygosities (HO=0.556, HE=0.562), low mean number of alleles per locus (A=4.57) and no inbreeding in the total sample. An M-ratio test indicated that each population had experienced a severe bottleneck in the past. Tests for heterozygosity excess revealed that a significant decrease in the numbers of individuals in two populations had occurred quite recently. The large number of private alleles and very restricted number of migrants between populations (Nm=0.35) strongly suggest that genetic drift and geographic isolation are the primary factors responsible for the reduction of genetic variation in the Polish populations of B. nana. We detected two cpDNA haplotypes in the study populations, which can be explained in terms of either the genetic drift acting on the relict localities or a postglacial recolonisation from distinct refugia. Palynological data indicated that one refugium could be located in the Carpathians and their northern foreland. The primary threat to B. nana in Poland is the overgrowth of its habitats by competing species, which has likely resulted in a lack of generative reproduction in the mountain populations.