Mycobacterium bovis is the cause of tuberculosis in cattle and is a member of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. In contrast to many other pathogenic bacterial species, there is little evidence for the transfer and recombination of genes between cells. The clonality of this group of organisms indicates that the population structure is dominated by reductions in diversity, caused either by population bottlenecks or selective sweeps as entire chromosomes become fixed in the population. We describe how these forces have shaped not only the phylogeny of this group but also, at a very local level, the population structure of Mycobacterium bovis in the British Isles. We also discuss the practical implications of applying this knowledge to understanding the spread of infection and the development of improved vaccines and diagnostic tests.