Beekeeper outside Gatwick tower

It’s not every day you get a call asking if you can bring your beekeeping gear on your next trip to the airport, but that’s exactly what happened to me just last month, when I was called by our team at Gatwick’s air traffic control tower.

I’ve been beekeeping for 12 years, and through one of NATS’ charitable schemes, the Footprint Fund, I was able to help set up a school apiary (a collection of beehives) at a local school in Fareham. It’s also where I volunteer a couple of days a year to teach children about beekeeping.

Swarm of bees on fence post

In my role, I work closely with many of our airport teams, but it was a little unusual to get a call about a swarm of bees outside the Gatwick tower. The tower team were worried for the welfare of the bees, and wanted to make sure they were looked after.

The swarm was airside, so we thought it would be best if the rescuer was someone who had clearance and knew the operational situation. So off I went. They say there’s a first for everything, and leaving for work with my bee keeping gear and laptop was definitely a first!

It turned out that about 20,000 bees had been clustered on a fence post for more than a week. They were tired, running out of energy and in need of a home. Usually, a swarm will only pitch up for a day while they find somewhere to live, but the bad weather had caught this lot out.

Swarm of bees being rescuedSo, I collected the very gentle and tired swarm, making sure the queen was in my collection box, which is important as she releases the pheromones that keeps the colony coherent. If she is in the box then all the other bees will join her, if I miss her then all the bees I put in the box will leave and go back to her. The swarm is now rehomed by the coast in Hampshire, for a hopefully less busy flying experience!

Bees are such an important part of our world, I love doing what I can to help protect them. So when my hobby and work life intersected, I really enjoyed the opportunity to help the Gatwick Airport team and save this particular swarm.


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Ridgely Johnson

Alan, I am glad you were able to move these bees to a new home safely. I guess you had to “bee courageous” (a NATS value put into practice).



Stephen Hilsum

That’s such a lovely good-news story. Thanks!


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