Aquaponic Inventor Neil Whichelow Left To Flounder
AN INVENTOR who built an aquatic experiment that could “save humanity” has been told to pack his bags – with 70 fertiliser-generating fish.
Neil Whichelow will have to find a home for scores of trout and tilapia after he was told he would be turfed out of his greenhouse by Plumpton agricultural college.
Over the past six years in Brighton’s Stanmer Park, Neil has built a world-leading test bed for aquaponics – a novel, soil-free farming technique that uses waste from fish farming to grow crops.
The doors at Neil’s experimental biome open to a blast of tropical air and the sound of trickling water.
Hundreds of exotic plants grow in clay bead beds propped on top of fish tanks.
Luffa sponges droop from the ceiling. Fairy lights illuminate orange seed-pod lanterns. Trout swim beneath clusters of strawberries. There are yams, goji berries, and spiky bitter gourds.
Water is pumped through a tangle of pipes and tubes, running through the seed beds into a bubbling nitrogen chamber below, and back into tanks.
Neil said: “The brilliance is, the plants clean the water for the fish. There’s no soil, and it’s all pesticide-free. It’s a whole ecosystem under one glass roof.”
On an aquaponic farm, bacteria convert the ammonia in the fish excrement into nitrogen – which is in turn used to feed the plants without the need for soil. It is a radical farming technique that Neil believes could help feed a planet in climate crisis.
But as Plumpton Agricultural College shifts site, Neil will have to dismantle everything he’s worked on. He said: “It’s a tragedy.
“For years now I’ve been working unpaid seven days a week because I believe in this. Others believe in it too. They rely on it.
“Our designs help thousands of people, from hard-pressed farmers to refugees. Using our research, people all over the world can grow food. That’s not bad for a project we started with a £10 fish tank from a car boot sale.”
Today, the greenhouse’s glass panels are being packed up, and Neil is wondering what to do with all the fish.
“I might actually have to stick them in the freezer,” he said. “If we can’t find a new site fast, we’ll have to eat them. It’s a shame because I don’t know how long it will take me to raise this number again.
“The aim was to feed the 5,000. But that’s going to take some thinking through now. I’m hoping we can use this as a chance to expand.”
A spokeswoman for Plumpton College said: “The current campus will no longer exist in the present space, and unfortunately Neil’s project won’t be included in new site.”