Data from a hierarchical study of four Zostera marina beds in Wales were used to identify the spatial scales of variation in epiphyte assemblages. There were significant within and among bed differences in assemblage structure. The differences in assemblage structure with spatial scale generally persisted when species identifications were aggregated into functional groups. There was also significant within and among bed variability in Zostera density and average length. Local variations in Zostera canopy variables at the quadrat scale (total leaf length, average leaf length and leaf density per quadrat) were not related to epiphyte species richness nor to the structure of the assemblage. In contrast, individual leaf length was significantly related to species richness in two of the beds and the structure of epiphyte assemblages was always related to individual leaf lengths. The absence of links between quadrat scale measurements of canopy variables and assemblage structure may reflect the high turnover of individual Zostera leaves. Experimental work is required to discriminate further between the potential causes of epiphyte assemblage variation within and between beds. No bed represented a refuge where a rare species was abundant. If a species was uncommon at the bed scale, it was also uncommon in beds where it occurred. The heterogeneous assemblages found in this study suggest that a precautionary approach to conservation is advisable. As much of a bed as possible should be retained, both to protect the integrity of local assemblages and to retain rare species at regional scales.