In order to explore the effects of climate change on Mediterranean regenerating forests, we experimentally assessed the effects of increased drought on the reproductive attributes of Quercus ilex over a 4-year period (2005-2008). We also investigated whether traditional thinning (selection of one to a few stems per stump) could mitigate the consequences of increased drought in oak coppices. Increased drought reduced the number of reproductive trees, mean number of female flowers produced and acorn crop size, although most of these effects appeared only in the last 2 years of the experiment. In a different way, thinning enhanced all reproductive attributes, but its main effects were transient and covered only 1 or 2 years after the application of the treatments. Our results indicate that a moderate reduction in rainfall (15 per cent) reduces the reproductive ability of Q. ilex. This may have long-term negative consequences for recruitment as well as for the fauna feeding on acorns. Although traditional thinning may mitigate the consequences of increased drought, it has a remarkably short-term effect. This highlights the need to re-examine traditional forestry practices as potential adaptive strategies for coping with climate change in Mediterranean regenerating forests. © Institute of Chartered Foresters, 2010. All rights reserved.