Higher than average recruitment among bivalves on the intertidal flats of the Wadden Sea was observed many times after severe winters in the period 1940 - 1995. The occurrence of another severe winter in 1995/96 prompted us to test the hypothesis of severe winters leading to universally high bivalve recruitment on a large geographic scale (500 km coastline) in temperate shallow waters. We analysed data sets on bivalve abundance from seven areas in the Dutch, German and Danish Wadden Sea. The longer data sets showed generally higher bivalve recruitment in the 1970Žs and 1980Žs than in the 1990Žs which may be related to the near absence of severe winters since 1987. Considering the period 1988 onwards (the longest possible period in which 1995/96 was the only severe winter), recruitment of Cerastoderma edule was in 1996 - in agreement with our hypothesis - above average at all seven investigated areas. In contrast, recruitment of Macoma balthica and Mya arenaria was for the same period above average only in the southern Wadden Sea (south-west of Jade Bay) but not in the northern Wadden Sea (north of Eiderstedt peninsula). These regional differences may be related to (i) the different topography of the northern Wadden Sea (with barrier islands westwards to the mainland) compared to the southern Wadden Sea (with barrier islands northwards to the mainland) and subsequent differential effects of wind induced currents on bivalve recruitment, (ii) differences in biotic factors such as standing stocks, larval supply or epibenthic predation or (iii) changes in environmental conditions. Our results demonstrate that large-scale comparisons along coasts are an indispensable addition to insights derived from local studies alone.