Soil salinisation is one of the major soil degradation problems for Southern European countries and global warming is expected to increase the threat of secondary salinisation. This paper investigates salinisation in the village of Belozem, Bulgaria. The central argument is that the technical solutions and policy measures need to be backed up by appropriate institutional settings. This paper focuses on the natural and institutional factors involved. Further, it examines the causes driving the current salinisation process in this village. It is based on data collected by means of interviews with local people, and analysis of the existing farming practices and policy. The paper concludes that the new institutional settings do not support the technical decisions implemented in the past, and the implementation of possible new technical measures. The findings of this paper could provide lessons for land conservation policy that may apply beyond the case study region. The implementations of technical solutions need to be supported by appropriate institutions. The formal legislation and the incentive measures might not have the desired impact if cooperation among all participants is not sufficient or if farmers are discouraged from applying because of difficult application procedures. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.