It makes excellent compost and works wonders for roses, but engineers are the latest group to discover the power of horse poo — or more specifically, a well-ordered muck heap.

A study published in peer-reviewed journal Plos One has mooted manure as an alternative to hard-to-source top soil for land surrounding new roads and railways.

Titled “Is manure an alternative to topsoil in road embankment restoration?”, researchers concluded that your four-legged friend’s droppings are a viable option.

An estimated 1.5% of land in the European Union is covered by motorways and 5% by railways, which is expected to increase in coming years as population rises.

The land and embankments next to these, which are disturbed or created while the infrastructure is built, are often made up of nutrient-poor soil and lack vegetation.

While it is very important that plants grow on these to stop the banks — and ultimately the roads or railway — simply eroding away, top soil is scarce and expensive.

However horses, it seems, could have the answer.

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Three plots of land on a recently-built Spanish railway embankment were treated in three different ways as part of the study.

One was left as it was, i.e. a “control” plot, the second was covered in top soil and the third manure.

Top soil gave the best “species richness and different floristic composition”, while manure didn’t give such plant diversity but it did help prevent erosion at similar level to top soil.

“Low cost, widely available organic amendments such as manure seem to be a viable alternative, depending on the objectives of the restoration project,” concluded the authors.

“The use of both topsoil and manure is recommended to accelerate restoration and revegetation of slopes during the early stages after linear infrastructure construction, when physical stabilisation is a priority given the high erosion rates found on recently built embankments.

“Topsoil is recommended when restoration is aimed at increasing or maintaining the diversity of the local vegetation.”

H&H can certainly lend a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow…

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