Today, maintaining biodiversity is included in the targets of boreal forest management. A widespread approach in northern Europe is to identify and preserve woodland key habitats within managed forests. Woodland key habitats are expected to be patches that host populations of threatened and declining species, and the preservation of these patches is assumed to enable the persistence of the focal species in the landscape. In Finland, the criteria for selecting woodland key habitats are defined in the Finnish Forest Act, and the selection has been done by forest practitioners. Our objective was to determine whether the surroundings of boreal brooks and rivulets qualified as key habitats are truly different from brook-side habitats not granted the key habitat status, and whether the brook-side habitats of the two types differ from the forest matrix managed for timber production. We found that the two brook-side habitats were in most aspects rather alike but there was a difference in the composition of ground vegetation assemblages. In contrast, the control forests were distinct from the brook-sides in terms of dead wood, species richness and assemblages of polypores, species richness of epiphytic mosses, and the composition of beetle assemblages. We conclude that brook-sides in general provide an important habitat clearly diverging from the surrounding matrix but that the conservation value of the brook-sides granted the key habitat status may not be substantially larger than that of the brook-sides without the status.