A small business owner has described the "gut-wrenching" moment he discovered his life's work had been torn apart by a freak tornado.

Tobias Lane is now facing a race against the clock to get his horticultural company Somborne Valley Research back up and running in time for the next growing season.

The 31-year-old has been left picking up the pieces after his polytunnel and greenhouse were devastated by the sudden whip of air on Sunday, October 23 - undoing years of hard work.

He said: "I'm just so glad I wasn't there. My partner and I are usually at the field on evenings and weekends with our two rescue dogs, so it could have been a completely different story. I suppose I have that to be thankful for at the very least."

Hampshire Chronicle: The damage caused to the polytunnelThe damage caused to the polytunnel (Image: Newsquest)

Formed in 2016, Somborne Valley Research carries out horticultural studies for companies testing new products. 

It was originally a part-time project while Mr Lane completed his PhD in horticulture, but has since grown through the help of family and friends mucking in during their spare time. 

After taking the decision to expand in 2020 by building a 68ft greenhouse, Mr Lane has spent countless hours sourcing second-hand materials advertised online and painstakingly reassembling them in the field he rents just outside King's Somborne to keep the cost down. 

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In fact, he was just about ready to put the final touches to the greenhouse by fitting the glass when the tornado hit.

He said: "I invested nearly all my savings into the expansion and I was just about getting to the point where the business was full-time. I've had new clients approach me in the last week and I'm not even sure whether I'll be able to take on the work. 

"It took a couple of years hunting around for the right frames, sort of like a giant jigsaw puzzle. To see it all undone was tough.

"Even if I start rebuilding it there are only so many weekends between now and the next season and I've still got bills to pay - it's a nightmare."

The force of the tornado was so strong that it ripped a section of his polytunnel out of the ground - despite it being screwed into storm plates that were buried two feet deep.

The doors at the end of the tunnel where the tornado first struck were torn off their runners and one of them disappeared completely. "I have no idea where that has gone," he added. "It could be in Andover for all I know."

As they were bespoke frames that he built himself Mr Lane will now have to look into expensive made-to-measure options as a replacement.

To make matters worse, he's also without an insurance payout as no companies would cover his facilities as they were classed as temporary, non-secure structures.

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In a bid to help him raise the £50,000 needed to get back on his feet, Caitlin Moore, his partner, has started a fundraiser.

She said: "I have been so proud to see how Tobias has built his business up in the time we've been together and I felt like crying when I saw his hours and hours of hard work destroyed in the blink of an eye by a terrifying force of nature."

She added: "He would never ask anyone for money himself if he could possibly help it and I know that times are hard for nearly everyone at the moment, but if you could spare even a pound or two to help rebuild his business or just share this appeal, it would be hugely appreciated."