Rock Level seeks to save the bees with miniature backpacks

By Ben Carey on 24 May, 2019

Chippenham computer software specialists Rock Level is doing its part to combat the decline in bee numbers across the UK.

The company has announced it is developing a new radio frequency (RF) tag to track bees in flight to provide insightful data which may help to shed light on the cause of the reducing numbers and find a solution.

The news comes after the latest research from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology revealed that one third of 300 native UK bee and hoverfly species are dying out, potentially spelling disaster for crops.  Further research has shown that the number of managed honeybee colonies in the UK fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005. 

Rock Level is seeking to drive further innovation within the sector by creating one of the world’s smallest RF trackers that is installed on the bees, similar to a miniature backpack. 

The company took on this project on a pro bono basis following a chance meeting with a beekeeper in 2015.  It realised it could use its software expertise to help overcome the difficulty of tracking bees in flight. 

Neil Swindlehurst, Chief Creative Officer at Rock Level, said, “We initially started looking at solutions to help the plight of bees in 2015. Many other companies had attempted to create suitable tracking equipment, but current options simply kept count of bee numbers entering and leaving a hive, rather than tracking their flight pattern.

“Our solution was to create a tiny RF tracker that is installed on the bees. However, our proposed solution was riddled with technological uncertainties that took up time and money, and the project would have discontinued if a research and development (R&D) tax credit claim had not been secured by ForrestBrown.”

With limited project funding, Rock Level needed a cash boost to carry out the pioneering project and turned to Bristol-based ForrestBrown, the UK’s largest specialist R&D tax credit consultancy, for guidance in making an R&D tax credit claim to help fund it.

Tom Heslin, Senior Sector Specialist at ForrestBrown, said, “The team at Rock Level had previous experience of completing an R&D tax credit claim themselves but it had been a tricky and stressful process. We were recommended by Rock Level’s accountant as a specialist company to facilitate the R&D tax credit claim and have since offered expert advice on how to identify qualifying work. 

“We produced a clear and concise application in just a three-week turnaround time to ensure the project could continue. As a result, Rock Level benefitted from a cash payment, which it reinvested back into the project.  The money has enabled the company continue its work to successfully track bees in the future.”

Neil added, “Without this funding, we would have been unable to continue with this hugely important project. However, thanks to making this R&D tax credit claim with ForrestBrown, the project is still ongoing.  Both the hardware and software require further testing and development to accurately monitor the bees’ complex movements. We aim to hold further trials this coming summer, with the ultimate aim of providing data to help scientists find a solution to reverse the decline of bees.”