ATDI knows all about radar profiles – even ones down to 10 square centimetres.
The company’s technical director and unofficial apiarist-in-chief Nick Kirkman has used information gleaned from the radar-tracking of bees to inform his work with his own four hives.
Nick took up beekeeping when he bought his house in the New Forest complete with a six-acre garden. “It was obvious it needed bees so my wife and I went on a course to learn about them,” Nick comments. “The problem is that the bees don’t know the course syllabus so they tend to do what seems right to them. It rapidly becomes a matter of working with what they will do rather than what they should do.”
Nick added to his learning by looking at studies which used radio frequency identification (RFID) and radar to analyse bees’ behaviour and flight patterns. Sensors at the hive combined with other sensors in the area gave information on how and where the bees were working; the data from RFID came via a tiny antenna glued to individual insects.
“Tracking via RFID and radar has produced some fascinating results,” Nick says. “They have shown that if you move the hive more than around three feet, the bees will get lost and do not find their way home. But, if you move it 10 miles they will develop new flight paths and can find their way back to the hive.
Nick’s hives are now so successful that not only do they provide him with pollination, honey and wax but they generate gifts for friends and relations, too. Nick is one of the very few ATDI engineers who will give a nucleus of bees as a present to a happy recipient. More prosaically, his bees’ wax has been the foundation for lip balm he has given as a more traditional gift.
Nick tends to get two distinct crops of honey a year; early in the year he gets a soft, creamy honey which is based on clover and early flowering plants and later in the year he get a more spicy dark honey which comes from heather.