A SALAD company has responded to concerns raised by residents that the River Itchen is under threat.

As reported in the Chronicle, residents are worried that wildlife in the chalk stream is declining because of pollutants entering the water.

A spokesperson for Bakkavor, based in Alresford, said: “Bakkavor takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously.

“We are committed to ensuring the highest levels of environmental safety across our business and we do not compromise on the exacting standards demanded by the Environment Agency.

“Alresford Salads has a proud history of providing the highest quality fresh produce to some of the UK’s leading retailers.

“The site’s strict environmental protocols are underpinned by our state-of-the-art water filtration system and our commitment to washing all leaf products in non-chlorinated water.”

Residents had said they believed the wildlife in the river was declining because of pollution entering the water, as leaves were sprayed with chemicals abroad before being imported.

Victoria Harrison, who lives by the river in the nearby village of Ovington, says she believes there has been a decline in the numbers of wild trout.

She said: “It really is a problem. A lot of people are really worried about the state of the river because there are no fish left, or hardly any. It is not right.”

Jeremy Legge, executive director at Test and Itchen Association, said: “There have been concerns for some time about the effect of cress farming.

“The thing that seems most illogical to be doing is importing leaves. Watercress is the thing of greatest concern to our members which include most of the owners of the owners on the upper and lower Itchen.”

He added that the impact of any chemicals on invertebrates also meant “significantly diminishing levels” of flies, which in turn impacted the rest of the food chain.

The Itchen is also currently the subject of a Southern Water application, which aims to abstract from the headwaters of Candover Brook in times of drought, and there will be a public inquiry on the plans in March.

Graham Roberts, chairman of the Upper Itchen Initiative, said if they went ahead, “it could dry up the top 10km of the River Itchen. We are all worried that the Itchen is going downhill, not enough is being done to protect it,” he said.

In November it was announced that a £2.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was to be used to protect the headwaters of the Test and Itchen rivers - both classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and famous for their fly fishing.

The project will look to restore wildlife habitats and historic structures along the chalk stream, improving access and raising water quality.