This paper argues that the possible shift towards conservation-oriented attitudes of farmers through agri-environmental scheme participation should be seen as a key indicator for assessing the ‘effectiveness’ of agri-environmental policy. Through the analysis of two agri-environmental schemes in the UK, the ESA and Countryside Stewardship schemes, the study suggests that schemes attract different types of farmers and have different results with regard to shifting farmers' attitudes towards conservation. The paper concludes that there is little evidence yet that the ESA scheme is contributing to changes in farmers' attitudes towards conservation, largely because the scheme is aimed at maintenance rather than change. The Countryside Stewardship scheme, meanwhile, generally enrols more conservation-oriented farmers and also shows greater potential for shifting farmers' attitudes, mainly because it is aimed at enhancement of wildlife habitats which often require farmers to change farm management practices. Results indicate that future policies should put more emphasis on scheme monitoring and farmer environmental education in order to help move farmers along the conservation spectrum. In the ESA scheme, management agreement tiers that require more substantial changes to farm management practices towards conservation-oriented farming should be made compulsory in order to ensure that farmers are not only ‘reacting’ to schemes, but that also help farmers re-think their environmental management practices. The Countryside Stewardship scheme should be further expanded because of its appeal to conservation-oriented farmers and the resulting potential for sustainable environmental conservation of the countryside.