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 50mg/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. This paper outlines the results of a recent study to understand farmer activities in response to and attitudes towards NVZ regulations. A telephone survey of 177 farmers was administered, supplemented by four workshops held in each NVZ region. This was to explore, both quantitatively and qualitatively, farmer behaviour and attitudes when operating within these regions. Farmers have only responded to a small extent to the tighter restrictions placed on them after designation in 2003. The bulk of farmers claim to have made little capital investment, the major activity predominantly being in stock-proof fencing. Furthermore, few farmers have invested in increased slurry storage facilities, 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 towards 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. This raises a number of issues; i) it suggests that the NVZ regulations adopted by the Scottish Government do not seem to have had a great effect on compromising activity levels, ii) it suggests that transfer of information has not helped to raise awareness of environmental issues; iii) farmers feel their concerns are not likely to be taken into account in terms of the future direction of the regulations; and iv) adoption of best practice is hindered by a belief of ‘victimisation’, regarding the NVZ designations.


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