Many nations have found that regulatory approaches to land and water management have a limited impact. An alternative is to create incentives for sound management - under mechanisms known as payments for ecosystem services. It is a simple idea: people who look after ecosystems that benefit others should be recognised and rewarded. In the case of watersheds, downstream beneficiaries of wise upstream land and water use should compensate the stewards. To be effective, these 'payments for watershed services' must cover the costs of watershed management. In developing countries, they might also aid local development and reduce poverty. But new research shows that the problems in watersheds are complex and not easily solved. Payments for watershed services do not guarantee poverty reduction and cannot replace the best aspects of regulation.