Published biopsy series have shown geographical and temporal variations in the patterns of primary glomerulonephritis (GN). IgA nephropathy is the most common type of GN in most European studies, but there is evidence suggesting that focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is increasingly common in the USA in all ethnic groups. We report the analysis of 30 years of native renal biopsies and the temporal pattern of primary glomerular disease in a single United Kingdom (UK) region. All 1844 adult native kidney biopsies for 30 years (1976-2005 inclusive) were analysed. The data were divided into three 10-year time frames, and trends in the biopsy rate and diagnosis of primary glomerular disease were considered. Biopsy rates increased significantly from 2.02 to 7.08 per hundred thousand population per year (php/year) (chi(2) = 55.9, P < 0.001), and the mean patient age at biopsy rose from 33 to 49 years over the study period (F = 58, P < 0.001). Primary GN was documented in 49% of biopsies; the most common diagnoses within this group were IgA nephropathy (38.8%), membranous nephropathy (29.4%), minimal change disease (9.8%), membranoproliferative GN type 1 (9.6%) and FSGS (5.7%). There was a significant increase in the proportion of IgA nephropathy (chi(2) = 9.6, P = 0.008) and a decrease in membranous nephropathy (chi(2) = 7.2, P = 0.03) over time. The population incidence of FSGS was low and unchanged at 0.18 php/ year from 1986 to 2005. Consistent with several other European studies, IgA nephropathy was the most common primary glomerular disease in this UK region. The diagnosis of FSGS was uncommon with no evidence of a rise in incidence.