Contingent valuation (CV) is a technique for providing estimates of the monetary value of public goods which have no market. The authors consider whether the information provided for the hypothetical market enables respondents to express their ‘true’ preference for the ‘good’, or whether their willingness to pay is dependent on the quantity and quality of information provided in the survey. They argue that a cultural perspective in which the CV transaction is viewed as a communicative ‘dialogue-at-a-distance’ between researchers and respondents through the medium of the CV text provides more insight into the encoding and decoding of the ‘good’—in this case an agri-environment policy to enhance nature conservation on an internationally significant wetland in South East England. They argue that, within its own scientific parameters, CV surveys are unable to capture fully all the aspects of the ‘good’ to be valued. The problem is more acute when the ‘good’ represents the uncertain outcomes (in terms of landscape and biodiversity) of a policy. Without a complete specification, which may well be an impossibility for environmental ‘goods’, respondents are able to bring their own readings to their interpretation of the scenario. This means that CV researchers cannot know precisely what ‘good’ respondents were attempting to ‘value’. The authors follow the production of the CV scenario for the valuation of the Pevensey Levels Wildlife Enhancement Scheme; conduct a critical discourse analysis to demonstrate how the linguistic and visual representations inevitably fulfil rhetorical functions; and then present the deliberations of respondents to the CV survey who participated in in-depth discussion groups after completion of the survey.