PhD student from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Kate Drury, who has made sustainable rope from British wool, has been listed as one of the top 50 Women in Innovation in the UK.

Drury was selected from more than 900 applications in the annual Women in Innovation Awards, run by Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which were announced today (Wednesday, March 8) to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Drury is currently studying for a PhD at the RAU and will now receive a £50,000 grant as well as one-to-one businesses coaching as part of her win.

Drury said it was a “huge privilege to be named in this group of amazing British women”.

“The percentage of women in new innovative companies in the UK at the moment is really small and these awards really help to encourage innovative women and get more women in senior roles in innovative companies,” she said.

“The validation from UKRI is really valued within the industry. For me, there is no better pat on the back.”

Sustainable rope

Drury’s company, Sustainable Rope Ltd., was set up 18 months ago. It uses traceable wool from British farms to make wool which is biodegradable and renewable.

The rope, which is made in a range of diameters from small lengths to full coils, is being trialled as a replacement for plastic rope to grow seaweed which itself soaks up carbon and nitrogen and has many positive sustainable uses, from fertiliser to food stuff.

The rope is also being trialled for conservation uses and at a permaculture farm as well as being used to tie seaweed cuttings to rocks.

“While I was doing my masters at the RAU someone asked me if it was possible to make rope from wool,” Drury said.

“I was very honest and said that I had no idea but that I would find out – and here I am. Wool offers durability and flexibility and the variety of uses for it means very little is wasted. It is really exciting – the possibilities are endless.

“Even though my company is less than two years old, I am already getting enquiries from all over the world and this recognition will really help me to be able to commercialise that research, conduct more trials, and enable my business to grow.”

New outlets for British wool

In her business, Drury only uses wool from the British Wool Auction, and said she is passionate about finding new outlets for British wool.

“I come from a family of fourth-generation sheep famers so I guess it makes sense that I am now doing my PhD in wool. My father was involved with British Wool when I was growing up and I was a regional representative for British Wool for six years,” she said.

Drury grew up on her family’s farm in Northamptonshire and originally studied a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and land management in the mid-90s before returning to the RAU in 2019 to do her masters and PhD,

She was elected as producer board member for the English Central Region of British Wool in April 2021 – the first woman to serve on the board in the organisation’s 70-year history.

She was also the joint winner of last year’s Innovation in Wool Award which saw her receive a £10,000 grant and mentoring.