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Comparing a ‘budge’ to a ‘nudge’: Farmer responses to voluntary and compulsory compliance in a water quality management regime

Research Funding Body



A.P. Barnes,L. Toma J. Willock, C. Hall

Project Objectives

To understand  attitudinal differences between farmers inside and outside Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) and to explore if these farmers respond differently to different types of voluntary instruments and regulation.

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

There are a number of voluntary and non voluntary instruments, ranging from individual, farm-based, interventions, to the catchment, landscape and national level changes, i. e. changes to default policy, which can be used to encourage farmers to act in certain ways. Understanding if how farmers in NVZ and outside these designated zones respond to these mechanisms is important for considering how to improve water quality.


Phone survey in 2007. 376 structured interviews were conducted in total. Of these, 184 were in designated zones and the rest were outside designated zones. Statistical analysis was carried out on the two groups.

Key Results

  • There was divergence between perceptions of regulation and responsibility towards water pollution issues in those in and outside the NVZ areas.
  • There were significantly higher levels of adoption of some voluntary water quality measures by members of the non-designated group. As such, engagement with these farmers should not focus purely on the biophysical division under which they are designated (i.e if they are NVZ or not NVZ) but should include the range of social norm based interventions.
  • Specifically, a group-information sharing approach which comprises both designated and non-designated farmers could be beneficial. The ‘softer’ stance of the non-designated farmers, and the positive voluntary adoption of water quality measures, may help to reduce dismissiveness in some designated farmers.



Contact Person

Andrew Barnes

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.