Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 283–299 | Cite as

Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of behaviour

  • Jane MillsEmail author
  • Peter Gaskell
  • Julie Ingram
  • Janet Dwyer
  • Matt Reed
  • Christopher Short


The United Kingdom’s approach to encouraging environmentally positive behaviour has been three-pronged, through voluntarism, incentives and regulation, and the balance between the approaches has fluctuated over time. Whilst financial incentives and regulatory approaches have been effective in achieving some environmental management behavioural change amongst farmers, ultimately these can be viewed as transient drivers without long-term sustainability. Increasingly, there is interest in ‘nudging’ managers towards voluntary environmentally friendly actions. This approach requires a good understanding of farmers’ willingness and ability to take up environmental activities and the influences on farmer behavioural change. The paper aims to provide insights from 60 qualitative farmer interviews undertaken for a research project into farmers’ willingness and ability to undertake environmental management, particularly focusing on social psychological insights. Furthermore, it explores farmers’ level of engagement with advice and support networks that foster a genuine interest, responsibility and a sense of personal and social norm to sustain high quality environmental outcomes. Two conceptual frameworks are presented for usefully exploring the complex set of inter-relationships that can influence farmers’ willingness to undertake environmental management practices. The research findings show how an in-depth understanding of farmer’s willingness and ability to adopt environmental management practices and their existing level of engagement with advice and support are necessary to develop appropriate engagement approaches to achieve sustained and durable environmental management.


Farmer behaviour Social psychology Environmental management Engagement 



Agri-environment scheme


Campaign for the Farmed Environment


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Theory of Planned Behaviour


United Kingdom


Value-Belief-Norm Theory



We would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in funding the two research projects that contributed to this paper. Also special thanks to Kirsty Blackstock at the James Hutton Institute and Tony Pike at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who contributed to the development of some of the ideas presented in the paper and to James Taylor who assisted with the interviews. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers whose suggestions greatly improved this paper. Finally, our thanks also go to all the farmers who took their time to participate in this research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Countryside and Community Research InstituteUniversity of GloucestershireGloucesterUK

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