A MYSTERY stench which has got right up Hampshire resident's noses could come from France.

The smell, dubbed "Le Pong", could have crossed the English Channel from our continental neighbours according to environmental health experts.

It has been described as smelling like a wet flannel or dirty laundry and has been detected by hundreds of residents across south-east Hampshire.

Environmental health chiefs in Eastleigh, Southampton and the New Forest have been bombarded with complaints about the mystery odour.

Eastleigh health chiefs have received more than 100 calls from residents while Southampton's running total is up to 62.

At first, it was thought the smell could be caused by earth drying after winter's prolonged wet spell. The latest theory is that the stench may have drifted over from Britain's nearest European neighbour.

Hotelier, Henry Wedge, 75, from Southampton has had first-hand experience of "Le Pong."

"The smell is terrible. It makes you feel sick. It smells like drying washing or a wet flannel. Last night, you could smell it even with your windows closed," said Mr Wedge.

The smell was first detected in Eastleigh four weeks ago. But, despite extensive inquiries by environmental health experts, its origins remain a mystery.

Environmental Health officer at Southampton City Council Phil Wells said a five-strong team had spent more than 50 hours trying to track down the source of "Le Pong."

He said: "We have made inquiries but we don't think it is coming from Southampton. There has been lots of head-scratching going on. We have spent quite a lot of time trying to track it down.

"It is an unusual odour. It is a very sporadic smell which does not lead you to the conclusion that it is industrial.

"There was a theory that it came from agricultural land drying but we have never experienced that before. We did have suspicions about industrial sources but we can't pinpoint any at all.

"We have also plotted the occurrences of people who have reported the smell to try and isolate its source."

Mr Wells added that he had smelt Le Pong himself. He said: "To me, it is an earthy smell."

A team of officers with atmosphere-sampling plastic bags are also on-call to try and capture the stench which could then be sent to university boffins so it could be analysed.

Mr Wells added: "It may well be occurring naturally. Or it could come from France.

"We have had problems in the past with manure smells coming from Holland. The possibilities are endless."