Current policies for upland pasture management in the UK encourage the integration of environmental objectives with livestock production through extensification of grazing systems. This study tested the hypothesis that a greater sward height in the summer would increase the diversity and abundance of grassland beetles (Coleoptera) as has been demonstrated for insects of indigenous grasslands. The hypothesis was tested with an experiment on an upland sheep pasture in mid-Wales. Experimental treatments received different nitrogen fertilizer inputs (0 or 50 kg ha−1), sheep stocking densities (12 or 9 ewes ha−1) and average sward heights in summer were constrained to 3·5 or 5·5 cm by conserving surplus grass for silage in subplots. Five treatments, replicated in three randomized blocks, combined the two stocking densities and two sward heights without nitrogen fertilizer inputs, with the fifth combining the higher stocking density, shortest sward height and the nitrogen fertilizer input. Beetles were sampled with twelve pitfall traps in each of the fifteen plots from June to September in 1993 and 1995. In years 1 (1993) and 3 (1995) of the experiment, more Coleoptera species occurred in the tall sward (an average of nine species in addition to the forty-one species present in the sward with the conventional sward height). Continuously grazed as opposed to ensiled subplots supported more beetle species but fewer individuals. Species composition of ground (Carabidae) and rove (Staphylinidae) beetles varied between treatments more than the arithmetic differences in species number. The experimental results supported the hypothesis but the benefits of taller swards to species diversity were small in the sown pastures of the study compared with indigenous upland grasslands (c. 33% fewer species). Inheritance effects of drainage, fertilizer and lime inputs, and the different species and management of cultivated pastures, may constrain the conservation benefits of altered pasture management compared with indigenous grasslands.