Conservation of agricultural soil is an important issue in the Czech Republic. This paper is focused on the assessment of the institutions and policies targeted at soil conservation in order to explain the degree to which they are effective and why. The study was carried out at both national and regional level (Svratka River basin) to document the performance of policies. The most important types of soil degradation in the case study area are soil erosion, soil compaction and loss of organic matter. Farming adds to soil degradation because soil protection practices are not applied. Farmers lack motivation to protect soil when they do not trust policies. Evidence from the case study area suggests that agri-environmental schemes are the most effective policy. Land consolidation could be more successful if the process is better managed. The Law on Soil Protection is not a powerful tool to prevent land degradation because it is not enforced sufficiently. Farmers currently do not have partners in the case study area who could facilitate policy implementation. A lack of political support and the unfavourable division of responsibilities concerning soil conservation has not allowed the design of an integrated policy framework. Areas to be addressed in order to increase the effectiveness of policies are: (i) design e.g. the vague wording of legislation, (ii) implementation e.g. conflicts of interests and lack of advice, (iii) policy evaluation and (iv) policy integration. We suggest integrating the existing measures in an overarching soil conservation strategy. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.