Scientists at the Lancaster Environment Centre have shown that a grass hybrid species can help reduce the impact of flooding.
Professor Phil Haygarth and Professor Andrew Binley are part of a collaboration of scientists who have investigated the use of hybridised forage grass to combine fast root growth and efficient soil water capture.
Field experiments show Festulolium cultivar reduces water runoff by up to 51 per cent against nationally-recommended cultivar and there is the potential for the new hybrid to capture more water and reduce runoff and likelihood of flood generation.
Professor Phil Haygarth explained : “We think the reduced runoff is achieved because Festulolium’s intense initial root growth and subsequent rapid turn-over, especially at depth, allows more water to be captured within the soil”.
“The grass also provides high quality forage with resilience to weather extremes, making the grass doubly useful to farmers. “
Professor Andrew Binley added: “Our findings were achieved through an experimental program linking across a huge range of scales – from molecular to field. The results have implications for water management at even larger scales.”
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council -funded scientists, from Lancaster, Rothamsted Research, the James Hutton Institute, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the University of Nottingham, used a hybridised species of grass called perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) with a closely related species called meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis).
They hoped to integrate the rapid establishment and growth rate of the ryegrass with the large, well developed root systems and efficient water capture of the meadow fescue.
Over two years of field experiments in the south west the team demonstrated that the hybrid, named Festulolium, reduced water runoff from agricultural grassland by up to 51 per cent compared to a leading UK nationally-recommended perennial ryegrass cultivar and by 43 per cent compared to meadow fescue.
The research is published in Scientific Reports.