Annual Watercress Festival celebrates the season

A crowd of up to 15,000 marked the official start of the British watercress season at the event held in Alresford, Hampshire.

The British watercress season got off to a flying start with record crowds attending the annual Watercress Festival on 15 May.

For the eighth year the small market town of Alresford, Hampshire - "capital of the watercress world" - hosted the festival to celebrate the new season, which runs from May to October.

Sales of the English crop have already been boosted by the hot spell with an increase of more than 30 per cent on last year. With more hot weather forecasted, overall watercress sales are expected to be well up on last year.

Charles Barter, of the Watercress Alliance, the main sponsor of the festival, said: "The day was tremendously successful, attracting a record-breaking crowd of up to 15,000 compared with last year's 12,000."

Wendy Akers, of Mustard Communications, which developed the Watercress Festival concept, said: "Watercress has successfully tapped into the consumer's interest in provenance and buying British, but it is also recognised as one of the healthiest crops you can eat.

"The festival is a great way for people to see how and where much of this country's watercress is grown and to celebrate one of the UK's greatest crops."

Highlights of the event included the World Watercress Eating Champion competition - won this year by Rajesh Peter, who consumed two 80g bags of watercress in just 59.2 seconds, as well as a series of cookery demonstrations by the food writer Sophie Grigson.

Grigson also presented this year's Watercress Festival Food Awards, which recognised the innovative way producers are working to include watercress in their recipes and products.

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