IT’S been a lynchpin of the rural economy around Winchester for centuries.

But now a watercress farmer from Itchen Stoke, Jon Marshall, says he is being forced out of business by a new government levy. He said that at stake is the very future of traditional watercress farming.

“Only three of us do it traditionally around here. It’s going to kill the trade. If we do not carry on, you won’t see bunch watercress anymore, it will all be from massive farms.

“I feel like I’m being squeezed out of business. Big farms can afford this, I can’t.

“It’s a travesty,” the 35-year-old said.

Directives from the EU mean Mr Marshall is looking at costs of around £1,500 to make the farm at Itchen Stoke ‘compliant’, including creating a settlement pond for filtering water before it’s discharged into the river. He will also need to pay almost £900 to apply for a licence, and an annual fee for a permit to discharge the water of £620.

With an annual turnover of around £15,000, he thinks he could be out of business by Spring.

“I have to get it done by May. If I carry on as I am they will fine me, which I can’t risk, so what can I do?” he said.

Environmentalists have recently expressed concern at the state of Winchester’s rivers as a result of fertilizers within agricultural run-off, which contribute to elevated phosphate, which damages chalkstreams.

Mr Marshall, of Jesty Road is also a fulltime firefighter and rents the farm from Charles Ranald.

Mr Ranald, of Itchen Stoke, said: “We feel most strongly that the Environment Agency’s demands are flawed in that the minuscule amount of non-toxic silt pollutant that our watercress beds discharge into the river over a two or three day period once a year is as nothing in comparison with the permanent pollution caused by up to 50 wading cattle defecating directly into the river and a lesser, but significant pollutant discharge by a resident population of approximately five swans.”