New grass hybrid is found to help reduce the impact of flooding

A collaboration of plant and soil scientists from across the UK has shown a grass hybrid species could help reduce the impact of flooding.

The scientists 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.

A report in ScienceDaily (here) says –

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.

It is thought 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 retained within the soil.The hybrid grass also provides high quality forage with resilience to weather extremes, making the grass doubly useful to farmers.

Dr Kit Macleod, catchment scientist at the James Hutton Institute, is one of the authors of the paper.

He is quoted as saying:

“Hybrid grasses of this type show potential for reducing the likelihood of flood generation, whilst providing pasture for food production under conditions of changing climate.
“In areas with similar climate and soils, then there is potential for reducing the likelihood of flood generation based on increased soil water storage within a river’s catchment.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said there was increasing recognition that the health and utility of plants could be greatly enhanced by improving below-ground traits such as root growth.

“This is a superb example of that reasoning, and a hugely important advance resulting from decades of fundamental BBSRC-supported work on the hybridisation of Lolium and Festuca (Fescue) species. I am sure that we shall see a continuing resurgence of interest in root biology, which findings such as this are sure to promote. The enormous savings that will be possible by mitigating flooding through planting grasses such as these dwarf any possible cost of producing them.”

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