The forest cover of the western European lowland plain has been very low for centuries. Remaining forests were intensively managed, and old-growth elements like veteran trees and coarse woody debris became virtually absent. Only over the last decades have these old-growth elements progressively redeveloped in parks, lanes and forests, and have now reached their highest level over the last 500–1000 years. Biodiversity associated with these old-growth elements makes up an important part of overall forest biodiversity. The ability of species to recolonise the newly available habitat is strongly determined by limitations in their dispersal and establishment. We analyse the current status and development of old-growth elements in Flanders (northern Belgium) and the process of recolonisation by means of specific cases, focussing on saproxylic fungi and saproxylic beetles. Our results show that ‘hotspots’ of secondary old growth, even isolated small patches, may have more potential for specialised biodiversity than expected, and may provide important new strongholds for recovery and recolonisation of an important share of old-growth related species.