The existing paradigm of UK flood risk management that privileges structural solutions over non-structural ones is evolving in response to threats posed by climate change and higher environmental standards required by the EC Water Framework Directive. This paper examines the contrasting reactions of DEFRA and the Scottish Executive. The Scottish ‘experiment’, which embraces a strong definition of sustainability, is contrasted with a weaker version emerging in England and Wales. Divergent levels of risk and histories of managing that risk explain many of these contrasts. Scotland's more radical approach has the potential to become a new paradigm.