Aquatic pollution associated with agriculture is a problem that has been receiving increasing attention in the European Union (EU). TheEU’s Nitrates Directive (91/676EC) and its associated Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) legislation were extended in Scotland in 2003,requiring more farmers to adopt more sustainable land management practices. This paper presents results from a qualitative socio-economicstudy of the motivations and management practices of 30 farmers located within the Strathmore and Fife NVZ. It was found that these farmersrarely consider environmental issues beyond the boundaries of their farms unless the productive capacity and economic viability of their farmsare affected. Despite contrary evidence, the farmers did not believe that they were responsible for any water quality problems, nor is theintrinsic linkage between catchment and coastal zone management established in their minds. They were suspicious of agri-environmentalfunding opportunities, and tend to regard the bureaucracy involved in applying for funding as more of a problem than it is worth. Experience ofenvironmental regulations has left many with concerns about rules changing in unfavourable ways. Many of the farmers are dependent onCommon Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy support, and the proposed de-coupling of direct payments from production is regarded withsuspicion. Current NVZ regulations will impact most on milk and intensive livestock producers but our results indicate that even if thelegislation is followed exactly, the desired environmental benefits are unlikely to be realised because most farmers claim already to bemanaging nutrients within allowable limits. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.