In Europe, agri-environmental schemes (AES) have been introduced in response to concerns about farmland biodiversity declines. Yet, as AES have delivered variable results, a better understanding of what determines their success or failure is urgently needed. Focusing on pollinating insects, we quantitatively reviewed how environmental factors affect the effectiveness of AES. Our results suggest that the ecological contrast in floral resources created by schemes drives the response of pollinators to AES but that this response is moderated by landscape context and farmland type, with more positive responses in croplands (vs. grasslands) located in simple (vs. cleared or complex) landscapes. These findings inform us how to promote pollinators and associated pollination services in species-poor landscapes. They do not, however, present viable strategies to mitigate loss of threatened or endangered species. This indicates that the objectives and design of AES should distinguish more clearly between biodiversity conservation and delivery of ecosystem services.