A study was carried out in northern Kuwait to investigate vegetation recovery in sandy depressions in the Sabriya oilfield ('Sabriya-IN'), 4 years after it was completely protected from livestock grazing and other anthropogenic activities which have largely depleted the dwarf shrub vegetation. This vegetation was compared with that in seriously overgrazed depressions outside the oilfield ('Sabriya-OUT'), where negative influences persist, and with a sandy site in central Kuwait which has been protected for over 20 years ('Sulaibiya'). There has been a striking recovery of the dwarf shrub vegetation in Sabriya-IN during the 4 years, with cover values of shrubs as high as at Sulaibiya. Rhanterium epapposum has been the main species to benefit from protection. However, the shrubs have not regenerated from seed, but rather from underground stumps that have probably remained in the soil for decades. Cover values of the annual flora at Sabriya-IN were very similar to those at Sulaibiya, and they were significantly higher than at Sabriya-OUT. However, it appears that some species may have disappeared or become extremely rare at Sabriya-IN when compared with Sulaibiya, as Sabriya-IN and Sabriya-OUT are remarkably similar floristically. Despite the impressive regeneration of the dwarf shrub vegetation at Sabriya-IN, which contradicts the view that vegetation recovery is a slow process in desert ecosystems, it is important to consider what the natural vegetation was in this part of the world. It is suggested that the region was once dominated by an open Acacia woodland, in which perennial grasses comprised most of the ground layer, and that the current dwarf shrub vegetation is a response to decades, if not centuries, of moderate to heavy grazing.