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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 12:11 GMT
New grasses could cut flood risk
Grassland (generic)
New varieties of grass could hold the secret to our flooding problems
Scientists in mid Wales are to try and find out if the green, green grass of home can reduce the risk of flooding.

The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (Iger) in Aberystwyth will attempt to develop new varieties of grass with deeper roots.

The hope is that they will be able to soak up more rainwater.

In England and Wales, about five million people, in two million properties, live in flood risk areas, according to the Environment Agency.

Grassland accounts for more than a third of the UK land area, while climate change is said to be contributing to increasing flooding around the world.

Stormy conditions in Scotland
These long roots make the soil more porous, so it holds more water
Dr Kit Macleod, Iger

The annual cost of flood damage is also a concern. That could rise from the present level of 1bn to about 25bn, while the number of those affected by by flooding could rise from 1.5m to 3.5m, according to the UK government's foresight future flooding report in 2004.

Prof Phil Haygarth and Dr Kit Macleod of Iger will lead the grassland project with help from scientists at Rothamsted Research and Lancaster University.

Soil structure

The study will begin with Iger plant scientist Dr Mike Humphreys, who will track down the genes that influence important grass traits, such as the size of the root system.

Identifying these genes will help Iger's plant breeders develop "high-performing varieties that send their roots deep into the soil".

"These long roots make the soil more porous, so it holds more water, reducing and delaying run-off from the surface," Dr Macleod said.

"They bring other benefits too, because by reaching down into the soil they help the grass resist periods of summer drought."

Tests will be carried out at an Iger site in Devon.

"We'll plant a number of different grasses and monitor changes in soil structure and porosity, as well as measuring run-off after periods of rainfall," added Dr Macleod.

The project will cost 400,000 and run for three-and-a-half years.

Work in progress on flood defence
10 Dec 05 |  North West Wales
Heavy rain leads to home floods
02 Dec 05 |  South East Wales
Dozens rescued from flash floods
17 Aug 04 |  Cornwall

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