Integrated Land and Water Management in the United Kingdom: Narrowing the Implementation Gap
Riparian buffer zones have been incorporated in land and water management policy for England since 1994, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food introduced a Water Fringe Option (WFO) as part of a broader habitat conservation scheme. Whilst natural scientists have examined the functioning of riparian buffer zones, understanding of farmers' decision making regarding the adoption or non-adoption of voluntary buffer zone policies is very limited. This paper examines the factors influencing the decision making of farmers who were eligible to join the WFO in three river catchments. Quantitative and qualitative information was collected from farmers using semi-structured interviews and was supplemented with in-depth interviews with representatives of public agencies, agricultural groups and independent experts. Data analysis was completed using the 'Framework' analytical approach and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences 8.0 computer software. The research revealed that decisions to participate in the WFO were influenced by a mix of situational, psychological and sociological characteristics, which suggests that policy makers must attach greater importance to implementation conditions and farmers decision making if riparian buffer zones are to play a more prominent role in the management of land and water in rural catchments. Tightly structured schemes will only appeal to a narrow segment of the farming population and will not lead to widespread re-creation of riparian habitats. A more flexible and collaborative style of policy development is needed in order for riparian buffer zone policies to meet the circumstances and needs of the diverse UK farming community.
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