A biodiverse 'herbal lay' can help improve farming by restoring soil biology, say researchers. This nutrient-rich grass is also the perfect feed stock for so-called 'green gas' power plants, as Matthew Stock reports.
STORY: The world's soil is in dire straits. In Britain, a post-war push for cheap food led to years of intensive farming and chemical use. Globally, the U.N. thinks just 60 years of farming remain if soil degradation continues at present levels. At this farm in the west of England a pilot scheme is working to restore soil fertility, naturally. Known as a herbal ley, it's a bio-diverse species of deep-rooting and nutritionally balanced grasses. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAUL TOTTERDELL, MANAGER AT COTWOLDS SEEDS, SAYING: "And if you pick the right proportions and you plant them in the same field you create this ecosystem, this community of plants both above and below the soil to help improve the soil and also the ecosystem in many ways." Healthy soil is also vital for reducing harmful greenhouse gases, acting as a carbon sink. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JENNY PHELPS, SENIOR FARM CONSERVATION ADVISER FOR THE FARMING AND WILDLIFE ADVISORY GROUP, SAYING: "Soil also gives us a real opportunity because it can hold carbon and help us regulate the climate. So anything that enables us to farm while building our soil which this crop does is going to be of huge benefit going forward with climate change mitigation." Repairing the soil below means improving the quality above of subsequent crops. In the meantime, farmers still need an income from their land. Green energy firm Ecotricity says this 'super grass' is perfect for its proposed 'green gasmills' These anaerobic digesters turn organic material into bio-gas, but crucially will only use grass. SOUNDBITE) (English) DALE VINCE, FOUNDER OF ECOTRICITY, SAYING: "We looked around and came up with the idea of using grass as a feed stock. And then we looked at the land classification of Britain using DEFRA stats and we found there's enough suitable land to grow grass to power, or to make enough gas, to power all of the homes in Britain by 2035." Green gas mills fuelled by grass could offer an alternative to the controversial 'fracking' for natural gas. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DALE VINCE, FOUNDER OF ECOTRICITY, SAYING: "Now that we've come up with this idea we think it's an entirely viable alternative to fracking. We have to get our gas from somewhere, we're saying we can actually get it by growing grass instead of by destroying the ground underneath our feet, quite literally." Ecotricity is now challenging the shale gas industry by applying to build green gasmills on proposed fracking sites.