Abstract Aim To investigate the relative role of local versus landscape factors for local species diversity of snails and slugs in conservation forests. In landscapes with small, isolated patches of semi-natural habitats, many species that require large habitat areas have disappeared or are threatened. We asked whether small sedentary taxa that depend on local conditions, such as molluscs, are affected if total habitat area decreases in the landscape. Location Temperate broadleaved and oak-rich forest in southern Sweden. Methods We sampled molluscs in 25 small conservation forests that are well-spaced out over a large region. In each forest, sampling was conducted in two plots, each of 1 ha, separated by about 25–100 m. Factors potentially influencing local diversity of molluscs were measured in the plots and in the surrounding landscape at different scales (in space and time) and were analysed by stepwise multiple regression and ordination (PCA and NMS). Results We recorded 53 species, and mean species richness per forest (plots pooled) was 22.6. The pH of the plant litter predicted both species richness and composition; other local (plot) factors of lower importance were canopy openness, stony ground and tree species. The area of conservation forest (woodland key habitat) within 10 km of plots was positively associated with species richness, and was also related to species composition. Openness of the landscape (agriculture) was a negative factor, but historical plot openness (1938–59) seemed to be unimportant. In addition, climate/topography (temperature and altitude) also predicted species composition of the sites. Main conclusions We rejected the hypothesis that microhabitat factors alone, or mainly, determine local species richness and composition of land molluscs. These representatives of small, sedentary organisms seem to be substantially influenced by the surrounding landscape, which should be considered in conservation work and in plans for the protection of forest biodiversity.