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Adopting sustainable farm management practices within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone in Scotland


Colin J. Macgregor and Charles R. Warren

Project Objectives

 This research addresses four questions:

  • How well-informed are farmers in the Eden catchment about the environmental impacts of their agricultural practices?
  • What types of farms, and what land use/management practices, are most likely to cause pollution?
  • What is the perception among farmers concerning which farm types will bear most of the costs associated with adhering to the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) legislation?
  • How do farmers regard environmental legislation, and what motivates them to adopt environmentally sustainable practices?

Why relevant to improve implementation and uptake of water quality measures?

Because farmers have such a crucial in reducing diffuse source pollution, it is important to understand their attitudes and values. An understanding of present management practices is also necessary in order to determine the degree to which these are actually impacting the local environment and aquatic ecosystems downstream. Before strategies can be developed to address the causes of pollution, there is a clear need to investigate the socio-economic conditions that give rise to agricultural pollution in the first place.


Interviews with 30 farmers and key informants

Key Results

  • Farmers in the study tended to blame water pollution on urban settlements, thus it may be necessary to qualify agricultural contribution to water quality issues.
  • Lack of funds and official bureaucracy in obtaining financial support were the main reasons given for the reluctance to adopt environmentally friendly practices.
  • Farmers install buffer strips on their land for a variety of reasons including: (1) to make the spraying of pesticides and herbicides easier, i.e. to avoid the spray regulations imposed by the Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides (LERAPs) regulations; (2) to enhance wildlife; (3) to gain access to government funding; (4) to help prevent erosion.
  • More aggressive promotion of the potential benefits of nutrient budgeting as part of whole farm management could deliver environmental benefits. It could be particularly beneficial for dairy and livestock producers through the cost savings associated with reduced mineral fertiliser use.
  • Tradition and personal attachment are factors which may prevent some farmers from adopting more sustainable practices which improve water quality. 



Contact Person

Colin Macgregor

More Information


Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.