Preservation of small habitat patches termed as “woodland key habitats” or “especially important habitats” in the Finnish Forest Act has become an integral part of biodiversity-oriented forest management. Forest Act habitats belong to particular habitat types defined in the act, and they are supposed to have natural-like stand characteristics. However, very little is known about the actual stand structure in the designated habitats. Our aim was to compare stand characteristics between brook-side key habitats and comparable managed forests as controls. Seven study areas were selected from four regions across southern Finland. Within each study area ten key habitats and ten controls (140 stands) were randomly selected. Living and dead trees and cut stumps were measured in each stand within a 0.2 ha plot. The average degree of previous cutting was significantly lower whereas the volume of dead wood, volume of deciduous trees, and stand diversity were each significantly higher in key habitats than controls. The average volume of dead wood was 11.7 m3 ha–1 in key habitats and 6.5 m3 ha–1 in controls. However, there was considerable variation among individual stands, and a large part of key habitats could not be distinguished from randomly selected control stands with respect to stand characteristics. The preservation of natural brook channels with their immediate surroundings is undoubtedly important for maintaining aquatic and semiaquatic biodiversity. Nevertheless, when complementing the forest conservation network in the future, main emphasis in selecting potentially valuable stands should be placed on important structural features such as dead wood and old trees.