Connell's ‘intermediate disturbance hypothesis’ was tested using a relatively simple, species poor isopod community in grass heaths and in a coastal sand dune grassland. Variation in diversity resulted from disturbance both to the soil profile and sward structure due to grazing. Predictions from a spatial survey were tested using a 20 years time series. These changes were related to changes in rabbit activity, anthropogenic soil disturbance and on one site, deposition of blown sand. Changes in the soil profile resulted in diversity initially increasing due to decreases in the density of the commonest species, leading to an increase in equitability. Prolonged disturbance to the soil profile both due to sand blowing onto one site and rotavating on another, lead to a reduction in diversity due to one of the species being eliminated. The isopod community was most diverse when least disturbed by grazing, of intermediate diversity under intermediate grazing intensity and least diverse when most heavily grazed. In these simple communities, differences in diversity were mostly determined by differences in equitability rather than in species richness. We conclude that maximising heterogeneity of sward structure could have advantages for the conservation of both invertebrate biodiversity and vertebrates that feed on them.