Our multi-species grass swards were recently used to illustrate a new handbook launched by the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) that helps identify mitigation actions for farmers to protect drinking water quality. Our recently planted multi-species swards are on page 51.  

Tykillen Farm Multi-species sward, planted in 2020

About multi-species swards

  • Multi-species grassland includes a combination of more than 2 plant species – some mixtures contain up to 12. These typically include perennial ryegrass, white clover, red clover, plantain, chicory, yarrow and timothy
  • Reduces costs to farmers as it replaces inorganic fertiliser
  • By eating herbs, the risk of bloating in livestock is reduced
  • A longer grazing season is feasible
  • Different species have different growth patterns and swards maintain a steady growth rate at reduced fertiliser application rates
  • A clover content in the sward (20-40%) can reduce inorganic fertiliser application by more than half in summer
  • Plantain & chicory help reduce losses of nitrogen by leaching, better use of N by animals and less emissions from urine patches.
  • Grass mixtures should be chosen based on objectives see Teagasc advice 
  • Multi-species swards are more resistant to drought conditions than are ryegrass swards. For instance, chicory has a deep tap root
  • They also produce higher grass yields than single species ryegrass swards
  • By reducing nitrate peak, multi-species swards also reduce losses to groundwater by up to 20%. However, they are less effective when grazed, as losses from urine patches dominate. Keeping the clover content below ~40% of sward may be necessar
  • Reduces GHG emissions and carbon footprint
  • Enhances biodiversity by building ecosystems and providing a habitat for pollinators
  • Good source of protein and it increases feed intake and performance
  • Improves soil fertility and structure

    About the handbook

    This new handbook – which was developed in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, as part of the NFGWS Source Protection Pilot Project Phase 2 – identifies 36 mitigation actions that can be implemented in critical source areas of drinking water catchments, where agricultural pressures are impacting on water quality. The document follows on from the development of a Framework in 2019 to assist group water schemes in developing targeted source protection plans, as part of a broader water safety planning approach, from catchment to consumer. The new handbook can be downloaded here