Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) were introduced in response to the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) which states that all EU countries must reduce the nitrate in drinking water to a maximum of 50 mg/l. Farmers within a designated NVZ must adhere to strict rules over the timing and application of nitrogen from organic and inorganic sources. In Scotland, four NVZ regions were designated in 2003, covering around 14% of the land area and affecting over 12,000 farmers. This paper outlines the results of a recent study to understand farmer activities in response to and attitudes towards NVZ regulations in Scotland. A telephone survey was administered, obtaining a response of 184 farmers, supplemented by four workshops held in each NVZ region. This explored, both quantitatively and qualitatively, farmer behaviour and attitudes. The bulk of farmers have made little capital investment since the 2003 designation. Few farmers have invested in increased slurry storage facilities, nor begun to transport more slurry off-farm, claiming to have had enough storage capacity before designation to cover the imposed closed period. Farmer attitudes indicate a mostly negative view towards the perceived environmental benefits, water management and compliance. This can be explained by a number of concerns raised by farmers towards the scientific basis for designations. Furthermore, farmers viewed the restrictions placed on farming practices within NVZs as too inflexible. Given the mostly sceptical perceptions demonstrated by the farmers we call for a more integrated approach to water management at the catchment level. There is a role for policy-makers to provide clearer information over the science and purpose of the designations and also to invest in the transfer of technologies, in particular N-use software which is specifically tailored to NVZ regulations. Also, critical to this would be the development of transparent indicators of water quality. This may start to embed nitrogen pollution impacts within the farmer's cultural framework of decision-making. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved
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