Social factors influencing actor agency of nitrate management in local agricultural landscapes of Poland

Emilia Noel Ptak, Jens Christian Refsgaard, Morten Graversgaard, Tommy Dalgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural activities constitute the most significant source of nitrate pollution, posing a threat to water quality and ecosystem services. The Nitrates Directive is an integral feature of the Water Framework Directive, which seeks to reduce nitrate pollution from agricultural sources. Directive compliance has proven to be problematic for every Member State in fulfilling their respective implementation duties. 

The research focuses on the nitrate management discourse within agricultural landscapes of Poland and provides a governance capacity framework to understand how social factors shape local implementation performance. The case study examines how the social factors of social capital and street-level bureaucrats constrain or enable stakeholder agency within agricultural landscapes.

The empirical investigation utilizes a multi-method assessment, including a survey categorizing social capital levels among 31 Polish farmers, interviews with nine stakeholders, and a literature review. 

The findings demonstrate how differentiated social capital levels are a result of complex social dynamics within the nitrate management discourse. Achieving policy objectives rests on stakeholder interactions in their capacity to navigate myriad changes and translate policy messages into practical actions. Due to low social capital levels exhibited by farmers and limited agency of street-level bureaucrats, overall capacity for effective nitrogen management in Polish agricultural landscapes is constrained. 

Overall, the study contributes new insights in identifying how social factors affect the ability of Member States to fulfill implementation obligations. Further, the study discusses the influence of social factor interplay upon actor agency and subsequent policy relevance amidst changing agri-environmental landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4157–4175
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Farm advisory system
  • Governance capacity
  • Intermediaries
  • Social capital
  • Street-level bureaucrats

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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