New grass variety could cut flooding risk by half

A new type of grass could feed livestock while protecting the UK from its biggest climate change threat: flooding

A new grass hybrid has been developed that could help reduce flooding while simultaneously feeding livestock.

Researchers found that the new grass variety, called Prior, reduced water run-off on agricultural land by up to 51% compared to other commonly used grasses.

A cross between rye and fescue grasses, Prior has fast-growing roots that grow deeply and produce more pores in the soil, resulting in the soil’s increased ability to retain water.

“I believe our findings could have a significant impact as an assist to alternative measures for flood mitigation,” said Dr Mike Humphreys, a researcher at Aberystwyth University.

The National Farmers’ Union estimates that £600m of food was lost in the UK due to agricultural flooding last year – England’s second wettest year on record. According to a report by DEFRA flooding presents the UK’s greatest climate change threat, yet according to the Environment Agency, between 2010 and 2012 nearly 300 planned flood defences went unbuilt due to budget cuts.

Prior could provide a cheap alternative to traditional flood defences such as levees and weirs. “It is relatively inexpensive to modify the species used, with little or no economic loss to farmers,” said Dr Humphreys.

As well as representing 64% of all UK farmland, grassland covers 69% of the world’s agricultural land, so the findings could have global significance. However, it could be several years before the benefits of Prior are realised.

“It is not currently produced on a commercial basis so is not yet used widely,” said Dr Kit Macleod, senior research scientist at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. “Research is ongoing and it all depends on evidence that it has an effect on reducing flooding at the larger scale.”