>The BBC bunker they don’t want you to know about – TV & Radio, Media – The Independent

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The BBC bunker they don’t want you to know about

Who knew that, 10 storeys beneath a Worcestershire hill, the corporation is ready for Armageddon?

By Matthew Bell

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Matthew Bell skulks around Wood Norton

tom pilston

Matthew Bell skulks around Wood Norton

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It all makes sense, once you know what you’re looking at. The 200 acres of thickly wooded hillside, inaccessible by public footpath; the radio mast strategically poking out on top; the hidden entrance, just off the A44 near Evesham, in Worcestershire, surrounded by CCTV cameras and a high-security barrier. But to the passing motorist, there is nothing about Wood Norton Hall to identify it as the site of the BBC’s secret nuclear bunker.

Who knew there even was such a thing? The BBC would certainly rather we didn’t. It emerged recently that, from tomorrow, the continuity announcers at Radio 4 will decamp there for three weeks while a £1bn refurbishment is finished at Broadcasting House, London. However, a corporation source declined to confirm or deny the story. They would rather not discuss what goes on at Wood Norton, she said, and no, The Independent on Sunday was certainly not welcome to come and visit.

So, what don’t they want us to see?

According to the official line, Wood Norton is a training camp, where sound engineers are sent for residential weekends. That is certainly one function: zoom in on Google Earth and you see a compound of modern buildings nestled in the woods which, according to engineers who have visited the site, are equipped with the latest high-tech facilities. Other blocks house accommodation and a canteen. But it’s what you can’t see from above the ground that is intriguing.

Buried 10 storeys into the hillside is a fully functioning nuclear bunker, built at great expense in 1966, at the height of the Cold War. So few people knew of its existence that, even when it was being built, visiting trainees were told not to ask why all that concrete was being mixed. Those involved in its construction were obliged to sign the Official Secrets Act, and even now you won’t get a peep out of the BBC press office to acknowledge the reality.

Measuring 175ft long, the bunker – known to high command as Pawn: Protected Area Wood Norton – remains ready for service in the event of an attack on London. It is said to have beds and ping-pong tables and is connected by tunnels dug into the hillside to a mast on top of the hill which is fitted with a super high-frequency satellite dish.

According to the Government War Book, a Cold War document that was declassified only last year and which sets out what happens in the event of a nuclear strike, Wood Norton was a vital tool in keeping the country informed should chaos descend. While the Cabinet would be secreted away in another bunker in Corsham, Wiltshire, pre-recorded tapes kept at Wood Norton would be broadcast across the nation in the minutes before any bomb was dropped. It’s a chilling scenario, one that has thankfully been relegated to a distant memory. The question is why now, 20 years on from the end of the Cold War, do we still have it?

The story began in 1938, when the BBC’s defence committee set about making plans in the event of London having to be evacuated. Wood Norton Hall, a baronial country house on the edge of the Cotswolds, was bought and equipped in total secrecy four months before war broke out.

There has been a dwelling on the site since medieval times but the current house was built in a high Victorian, Cluedo school of architecture. Wood Norton was the last English home of the Duc D’Orleans, pretender to the French throne. You can still see the Duc’s fleur-de-lys motif plastered on the stone piers at the gates to the estate and embossed on to doors and windows. But it was the acres of wooded grounds and, vitally, a prominent south-facing hill, that made Wood Norton so attractive. It would double up as the perfect listening station, becoming home to the government’s monitoring service.

It soon became a kind of parallel Bletchley Park: dozens of huts were knocked up in the grounds and bright young linguists were bused in, recruited via an ambiguously worded advert in The Times. Their task was to listen in, translate and précis hours of German, Italian and Russian radio, as well as the Nazis’ internal communications . Many notable figures would spend the war here, among them the future publisher Lord Weidenfeld, the art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich and the poet Geoffrey Grigson.

Those who worked at Wood Norton have described a friendly buzz much like at Bletchley, as intelligent amateurs were thrown together to work intensely towards a shared cause. Some have called it the least bureaucratic set-up in BBC history. But, in 1943, Churchill learnt that the Germans were developing their atomic capabilities, and he wanted the place emptied and ready to use as a refuge for the government. After much protest, the monitoring service was moved to Caversham Park, near Reading, where it remains. When the war ended, the engineering training department was established, but with the arrival of the Cold War, Wood Norton soon became, once again, a vital resource. As the threat of a nuclear attack grew, a dedicated BBC bunker became a necessity.

Thankfully, the bunker was never needed, although secret documents have revealed that 100 days of broadcasting was lined up and ready to play in the event of a nuclear attack. A mix of comedy, drama and religious programmes, as well as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, was kept at the ready until 1993.

For years, the main house provided a magnificent entertaining space and was used for BBC board meetings. It also provided the location for several episodes of Doctor Who. But once the Berlin Wall had come down, the justification for maintaining a country house at taxpayers’ expense became harder to sustain. By 2000, Greg Dyke, then the director-general of the BBC, had drawn up plans to slice up the estate and dispose of the main house, which was turned into a hotel and conference centre.

Today, as Radio 4 staff arrive for their three-week sojourn in Worcestershire, they will find the place far from buzzing or glamorous. Flaking green signs for the “Wood Norton country house hotel and conference centre” direct you to an empty, moss-cracked car park. Threatening daubed notices tell you to “keep out”. The hotel has gone bust and the hall stands empty, cutting a forlorn figure amid the falling leaves. Some say it should have been kept and turned into a museum to the corporation’s extensive wartime work. Instead, planning permission has been granted to convert it into a retirement home.

The last time Wood Norton saw active service was late in 1999, when, according to locals, extra staff were drafted in and giant generators were put on standby to cope with the threat of the Millennium bug. Months later, Dyke would draw up his plans to sell, but it must have been with the memory of the bug that it was decided to keep 200 acres of Worcestershire hillside for the nation, with its tunnels, huts, satellite dishes, and masts. And, of course, the bunker. Just in case.

Subterranean Britain

* The Corsham bunker is spread over 34 acres outside Bath, Wiltshire. Built in 1957, it would accommodate the Prime Minister, his Cabinet and 6,000 government apparatchiks. It was only decommissioned in 2004.

* An underground tunnel linking 10 Downing Street to the Ministry of Defence was used as recently as May by Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson during coalition negotiations after the election. Said to be part of a network of tunnels linking several government buildings, and even Buckingham Palace.

* The Kingsway tunnels beneath Holborn were built as an air raid shelter in 1942. Described as a “city under a city”, it can house up to 8,000, and was used by Special Operations Executive as a base for covert operations during the war.

* In 1939, the National Gallery director Kenneth Clark oversaw the evacuation of all pictures to a slate mine near Bleanau Ffestiniog at Manod in Wales. Although the collection moved out in 1945, the mine was kept available throughout the Cold War until the 1980s.

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  • >Cameron urged to sign EU ban on slave trafficking – UK Politics, UK – The Independent

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    Cameron urged to sign EU ban on slave trafficking

    Victim of enforced labour in Britain speaks out as thousands back IoS petition’s call on coalition to act

    By Emily Dugan

    Sunday, 31 October 2010

    Captured in Sudan, she ended up as a slave for a Sudanese diplomat in Britain

    JASON ALDEN

    Captured in Sudan, she ended up as a slave for a Sudanese diplomat in Britain

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    Thousands of people have signed up to this newspaper’s campaign to combat modern slavery. It has garnered support from public figures including the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper, the actress Juliet Stevenson and the leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas.

    A petition urging David Cameron and Nick Clegg to opt into European legislation on slavery now has more than 11,000 signatures. The demand for action was echoed yesterday by Mende Nazer, a Sudanese woman whose ordeal as a domestic slave in Britain has been dramatised and will be performed at the House of Lords in November.

    The comedian and TV presenter Ruby Wax and the presenter Nicholas Parsons also gave their backing to the campaign. Parsons said this weekend: “I think it’s all wrong. It seems strange that the Government is concerned with immigration at the same time that so many people are being trafficked into the country. I think The Independent on Sunday’s campaign is very worthwhile and it’s a principle we should all be concerned about.”

    The campaign prompted national concern after we revealed last week that Romanian children as young as nine were found farming in a field in Worcestershire. The children are now understood to have been released from care to their parents’ custody, but social services are continuing with their investigations.

    Ms Nazer, whose best-selling story of escaping domestic slavery in Britain inspired the film I Am Slave, said the Government needs to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking, which campaigners say would make it easier to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

    Ms Nazer said: “I don’t think the Government is doing what they should do to terminate this awful practice. They don’t want to sign the EU convention. Why? For me it’s nothing to do with politics; we’re talking about a human crisis here.”

    The 29-year-old was brought to Britain as a domestic slave to a Sudanese diplomat in 2000. Captured in her village in the Nuba mountains in Sudan aged just 12, she was taken to work for a wealthy family in Khartoum. Six years later she was brought to London, locked inside a diplomat’s house and made to work all day for no money.

    A play about Ms Nazer’s life, called Slave – A Question of Freedom, will be performed in the Lords after a run at the Lowry Theatre in Salford. She said politicians must not to turn a blind eye to cases like hers. “The Government doesn’t want to take any steps to believe those who are suffering, because they want to be on good terms with governments in the countries the diplomats come from,” she said. “The country has to decide whether they believe the experiences of those who have been trafficked or whether they would rather keep their relationship with the government of the country the slave comes from.”

    Jenny Moss, a community advocate at the domestic worker charity Kalayaan, said it worked with 23 people who have been enslaved to diplomats in the UK between April 2009 and August 2010. “Government officials have long been aware of the problem of diplomats abusing their domestic staff,” she said. “As the previous immigration minister Phil Woolas stated, the Government is clearly putting diplomatic relations above the interest of victims.”

    Pointing at a scar on her arm where her first master burnt her with boiling oil in Sudan, Ms Nazer said: “Slavery isn’t about the physical, it’s the mental and psychological effect. This is my scar from slavery – it’s still here – but there is no pain. It is psychologically that you still suffer.”

    Join the IoS campaign

    The Independent on Sunday is campaigning to persuade the Government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The directive will strengthen our laws to protect victims and make it easier to prosecute those who enslave them. Readers can call on David Cameron and Nick Clegg to do the right thing by signing the petition on the campaigning website 38 Degrees.

    To sign the petition, go to: www.38degrees.org.uk/stop-trafficking

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  • >Wren – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Jump to: navigation, search
    This article is about the bird family. For other uses of the word wren, see Wren (disambiguation).
    Wrens

    Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
    Scientific classification
    Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Aves
    Order: Passeriformes
    Suborder: Passeri
    Superfamily: Certhioidea
    Family: Troglodytidae
    Swainson, 1832
    Genera

    Some 20, see text

    The wrens are passerine birds in the mainly New World family Troglodytidae. There are about 80 species of true wrens in about 20 genera. The genus eponymous of the family is Troglodytes. Only one species of Troglodytes occurs in the Old World, where in Anglophone regions it is commonly known simply as the “wren” as it is the originator of the name; it is called the Winter Wren in North America. The name wren has been applied to other unrelated birds, particularly the New Zealand wrens (Acanthisittidae) and the Australian wrens (Maluridae).

    Wrens are mainly small and inconspicuous, except for their loud and often complex songs. These birds have short wings and they cannot see at night. Several species often hold their tails upright and sleep on the ground. Wrens are insectivorous, eating insects and spiders but they will also eat fish, small rodents and lizards.

    Contents

    [hide]

    [edit] Name and use of the term wren

    The English name wren derives from Middle English wrenne, Old English wraenna, attested (as werna) very early, in an 8th century gloss. It is cognate to Old High German wrendo, wrendilo and Icelandic rindill (the latter two including an additional diminutive -ilan suffix). The Icelandic name is attested in Old Icelandic (Eddaic) rindilþvari. This points to a Common Germanic name *wrandjan-, but the further etymology of the name is unknown.[1]

    The wren is also known as kuningilin “kinglet” in Old High German, a name associated with a legend of an election of the “king of birds”. The bird who could fly to the highest altitude would be made king. The eagle outflew all other birds, but he was beaten by a small bird who had hidden in his plumage. This legend is already known to Aristotle (Hist. animalium 9.11) and Plinius (Naturalis hist. 10.74 ), and was taken up by medieval authors such as Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg, but it concerns Regulus, and is apparently motivated by the yellow “crown” sported by these birds (a point noted already by Ludwig Uhland).[2]

    The family name Troglodytidae is derived from troglodyte, which means “cave-dweller”, and the wrens get their scientific name from the tendency of some species to forage in dark crevices.

    The name “wren” is also ascribed to other families of passerine birds throughout the world. In Europe, species of Regulus are commonly known as “wrens”, the Common Firecrest and Goldcrest as “fire-crested wren” and “golden-crested wren”, respectively.

    The 27 Australasian “wren” species in the family Maluridae are unrelated, as are the New Zealand wrens in the family Acanthisittidae, the antwrens in the family Thamnophilidae, and the wren-babblers of the family Timaliidae.

    [edit] Description

    Wrens are small birds, among the smallest in the New World. They range in size from the White-bellied Wren, which averages under 10 centimetres (4 in) and 9 grams (0.3 oz), to the Giant Wren, which averages about 22 cm (9 in) and 50 g (2 oz). The dominating colours of their plumage are drab, composed of grey, brown, black and white, and most species show some barring, especially to tail and/or wings. One particularly distinguishing characteristic of the family, absent in most all other songbirds, is barring on the retrices. The plumage of the wrens is soft. There is no sexual dimorphism in the plumage of wrens, and little difference between young birds and adults.[3]

    [edit] Habitat and distribution

    Cobb’s Wren is an insular endemic, restricted to the Falkland Islands

    Wrens are principally a New World Family, distributed from Alaska and Canada to southern Argentina. A single species, the Winter Wren, is found not only in North America but also in Eastern Asia, Europe and marginally into North Africa. There are a number of insular species, including the Clarion Wren and Socorro Wren from the Revillagigedo Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the Cobb’s Wren in the Falkland Islands, but they are rare on the islands of the Caribbean, with only the Southern House Wren in the Lesser Antilles and the highly restricted Zapata Wren in a single swamp in Cuba.

    The various species occur in a wide range of habitats, ranging from dry, sparsely wooded country to rainforest. The vast majority are found at low levels, but some members of the genus Campylorhynchus and both members of the genus Odontorchilus are commonly found at canopy height. A few species, notably the Winter Wren and the House Wren, are often associated with humans. Most species are non-migratory, remaining in Central and South America all year round, but the few temperate species typically migrate to warmer climes in winter.

    [edit] Behaviour

    Although wrens have a reputation for extreme secretiveness, they vary from highly secretive species such as those found in the genus Microcerculus to the highly conspicuous genus Campylorhynchus, the members of which will frequently sing from exposed perches. The family as a whole exhibits a great deal of variation in their behaviour. Temperate species generally occur in pairs, but tropical species may occur in parties of up to twenty birds.[3]

    Wrens build dome-shaped nests, and may be either monogamous or polygamous, depending on species.[4]

    [edit] Genus list in taxonomic order

    Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris

    Bay Wren Thryothorus nigricapillus

    House Wren Troglodytes musculus

    Timberline Wren Thryorchilus browni

    Revised following Martínez Gómez et al. (2005) and Mann et al. (2006). The taxonomy of some groups is highly complex, and future species-level splits are likely. Additionally, undescribed taxa are known to exist. The Black-capped Donacobius is an enigmatic species traditionally placed with the wrens more for lack of a more apparent alternative and/or thorough study. It was more recently determined to be most likely closer to certain “warblers“, possibly the newly established Megaluridae, and might constitute a monotypic family.[5]

    FAMILY: TROGLODYTIDAE

    Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)

    • Genus Troglodytes (10-15 species, depending on taxonomy; includes Nannus which may be distinct however)

    [edit] References

    1. ^ Kluge-Lutz, English Etymology tentatively suggest association with Old High German (w)renno “stallion”, but Suolahti (1909) rejects this as unlikely.
    2. ^ Suolahti, Viktor Hugo, Die deutschen Vogelnamen : eine wortgeschichtliche Untersuchung, Strassbourg (1909), 80-85.
    3. ^ a b Kroodsma, Donald; Brewer, David (2005), “Family Troglodytidae (Wrens)”, in del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David, Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10, Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 356–401, ISBN 84-87334-72-5 
    4. ^ Perrins, C. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph. ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 190. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
    5. ^ Alström, Per; Ericson, Per G.P.; Olsson, Urban; Sundberg, Per (2006). “Phylogeny and classification of the avian superfamily Sylvioidea”. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38 (2): 381–97. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.05.015. 
    • Mann, Nigel I.; Barker, F. Keith; Graves, Jeff A.; Dingess-Mann, Kimberly A. & Slater, Peter J. B. (2006): Molecular data delineate four genera of “Thryothorus” wrens. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40: 750–759. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.04.014 (HTML abstract)
    • Martínez Gómez, Juan E.; Barber, Bruian R. & Peterson, A. Townsend (2005): Phylogenetic position and generic placement of the Socorro Wren (Thryomanes sissonii). Auk 122(1): 50–56. [English with Spanish abstract] DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0050:PPAGPO]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
    • Theory on the etymological roots of the word “Wren” submitted by Matthew Wren, 2009.

    [edit] External links

    Look up wren in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
    Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Troglodytidae
    Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wren

    >Girl’s sexy Facebook video is disguise for survey scam | Naked Security

    >

    Earlier this month I wrote about a scam spreading virally on Facebook that posed as a video of a father catching his daughter on a webcam.

    A new version of the scam is now spreading with a slightly different disguise. As a lot of people seem to being affected by it (haven’t folks learnt by now about these scams?) it seems worth documenting.

    The first thing you will probably see is one of your Facebook friends posting a message like this:

    OMG!!!! Girl Caught by Dad While Making Video on Facebook
    OMG!!!!! Girl Caught at Home --> <link>

    Other versions may say:

    OMG!!!!! Girl Caught by Dad While Making a Sexy Webcam Video --> <link>

    Clicking on the link isn’t such a wise idea. You’ll be taken to a webpage called “Dad Catches Daughter Making A Sexy Webcam Video”.

    To try to reassure that all is safe, you the hackers have placed a message on the page saying

    "Facebook has marked this application as safe"

    with a reassuringly green tick next to it.

    But don’t be fooled by such elementary tricks, this is definitely a scam, and the next page attempts to trick you into giving the third party application access to your Facebook profile, post to your wall, access information about your friends, and even hand over permission for it to spam you in future.

    Despite all the warnings, millions of people have proved themselves in recent months to be susceptible to scams like this, such is their desire to view lurid videos of football sex cheats or learn how to find out who has blocked them on Facebook.

    If you do click further you’ll be presented with a revenue-generating survey (which makes money for the people behind the Facebook application), before you finally get to watch a rather silly YouTube video.

    Of course, if you really want to watch the video you could just go to YouTube. You don’t have to allow complete strangers access to your Facebook profile or complete a survey which makes them money.

    Let me make a guess here. You don’t want rogue Facebook apps like this to be able to access your profile, right? 🙂 So go into your settings and revoke their access before they can do any more harm. Also, warn your friends about the threat, as it’s quite possible you have shared the link with them.

    I’ve informed both Facebook and bit.ly (the short url service being used in the links) about this threat. Bit.ly has responded and have shut down the link – although, of course, it’s perfectly possible that the scammers could start using another one.

    If you want to learn more about security threats on the social network and elsewhere on the internet, join the Sophos Facebook page.

    Do you think Facebook is doing enough to stamp out survey scams like this, or is it the fault of the Facebook users themselves? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

    >BBC News – A class of their own

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    29 October 2010 Last updated at 18:20

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    A class of their own

    Berenice Goodwin Berenice Goodwin taught art – and how to look at the world

    The legacy of an inspirational teacher is felt down the ages, says Sarah Dunant in her A Point of View column.

    Over the last weeks I’ve been to two separate memorial services for teachers – in one case also a headmistress – from my years in secondary school.

    Margaret Gray was a splendid woman who died aged 97, alert and engaged to the end. Fuelled by a quiet but powerful personal faith, she worked tirelessly for girls’ education, rising to be the headmistress of the voluntarily-aided state grammar which I attended in west London. With humanity and humour she steered the school through the social rapids of the 1960s (how short could our skirts be and what to do with the pupil found with a copy of Lady Chatterley inside her textbook – yes, that was me) and then weathered the educational storms of the 70s when the Labour government set out to abolish grammar schools. When in 1977 the school took the painful decision to go independent, she roared out of retirement to run the bursary fund securing free education for at least some new pupils with the ability, if not the money.

    The second, more informal, celebration was for my teacher. I was 14 when Berenice Goodwin arrived to take over the art room. She would have been in her twenties then. She had grown up wanting to be a dancer, but ended up with not quite the right physique and so had followed her alternative passion, training at the Slade and, like many other women of her generation, finding her way into teaching.

    She still had something of the dancer about her. She always wore ballet pumps and had that way of standing that made you think she might at any moment move into a deep plie. She had a mass of wiry hair, either pulled into a ponytail or billowing, like a black cloud, around her head and she wore colourful scarves and flamboyant jewellery. She was forthright, smart as a whip, passionate about art and treated us, even then, like the young adults we were longing to be. I, and many others, adored her. She nailed the exam process fast. These were the days when the curriculum was a creative guideline rather than a straightjacket and she regularly got her pupils top marks by teaching art as something dynamic, subversive and relevant to all of our lives.

    And not just art. She was equally inspired by music, opera, literature and theatre. She took over the school productions, for which us art-room girls (what a Jean Brodie lot we were!) made the sets, the costumes, stage-managed, designed the lighting rigs, and of course acted, sometimes allowing the local boys school to join in. In short she was the adult we yearned to become; confident, colourful, rebellious. She helped us fly.

    Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Like Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Berenice exercised a powerful influence over her pupils

    I owe my decision to go to university to her; it was she who in the plainest of words told me that while I might think I wanted to be an actress I should forget drama school and get a qualification in the subject I was really good at (history – which luckily I also loved). When I gave up acting after six months without work I had her to thank for the degree which got me meaningful employment.

    She was equally plain-spoken about my failings. She once told me I was very careless. I had just ruined a costume, catching it in the wheel as I tore back across the playground with a costume rail after one of the plays. It had been a standard complaint on my school report for years: “Can be careless,” “Does not pay enough attention to detail.” But coming from her, it really hurt. And stuck. As you can tell, even now.

    Berenice taught at the school for 30 years, through that move from grammar to independent, where she noted with her usual lack of sentiment how private education changed the expectations and behaviour of some pupils. She was, I suspect, not as much loved at the end of her career as she was at the beginning. But that is someone else’s story to tell. Because loved by us she clearly was.

    When I got the phone call almost two years ago, telling me she had broken part of her back at the same time as she had gone suddenly, irrevocably blind from a rare undiagnosed condition, I was by her bedside within 24 hours. I was not the only one. Over the next 18 months, her life – now contracted into a painful, and terrifying dark hole – was managed, along with wonderful carers, by a group of maybe 20 women of differing ages, all of whom had been her pupils. Each of us had our own Berenice story: architects, artists, actresses, sculptors, musicians, designers, we all felt that in some way or another we owed our careers to her. Not to mention the way she taught us to look at the world. Every time we go into an art gallery or a church or see a new play, she is there, opening our eyes a little wider, making us think more deeply about what we see.

    Continue reading the main story

    FIND OUT MORE

    • A Point of View, with Sarah Dunant, is on Fridays on Radio 4 at 2050 BST and repeated Sundays, 0850 BST

    Towards the end we became almost as important to her as she had been to us. Because she had no one else. An only child, she had no living family and never married. Her very forceful independence had made her not always easy to get on with. And I suspect that got more true as she grew older. Not that she was ever lonely. But while she had friends and an enduring passion for culture, I believe in some ways we girls were the most important part of her life. In this she was not alone. Both my headmistresses in primary and secondary school, as well as my most influential English and history teachers, had for various reasons (often the older ones had had boyfriends or fiancés who had died in war) lived all of their lives as single women. We, in effect, were the children they never had.

    They were all deeply intelligent and manifestly capable. Many of them now would be running their own or other people’s companies, be professors or vice chancellors of universities. Berenice would surely have her own art gallery or be running a theatre.

    But in those decades after the war, when women were being pushed back into the home to replenish the population and re-establish normality, such openings were simply not there. So, instead, they gave their lives to teaching us girls. It proved to be a seminal moment for such a level of dedication. Because by the late sixties the western world was on the cusp of the second wave of feminism. We, their pupils, were the ones who would take the prize. But we were ready for it because they trained us. Never once in my life did anyone suggest to me that that being a girl was a limitation: that I couldn’t think, argue, succeed, achieve, equal to any boy. And that message came loudest of all from those women teachers.

    When Berenice Goodwin died last June after a sad final year (not surprisingly, given the passions of her life, she never did come to terms with her blindness and the loss of independence), we girls – now women – had a sense not just of what we had lost, but also what we had been given. Not just in terms of our own education, but also a moment in history. And thinking back on it as I write this, it’s become even clearer to me that she, and women like her, have not been given enough credit for the part they played in what is surely the greatest social revolution of the last 50 years: women’s fight for equality.

    Classroom Today’s pupils face a whole new set of challenges

    Of course, every generation tends to view the past through rose-coloured lenses as they grow older. The importance of teachers in children’s lives is vital whatever moment in history you pick. Both of my daughters have had inspirational teachers, women and men who have cared for them emotionally as well as academically and have taught them as much about life as about learning. Indeed, one could argue that 50 years after feminism, both boys and girls have an even greater need of inspired teaching. Boys to handle the pressure that girls’ success has brought to their own educational journeys, and girls to combat an increasingly vicious culture which equates celebrity with opportunity, and sexual availability with independence. To get the other side of the story, kids need to hear about life from adults they can trust. And for their teenage years at least, the views of their parents often don’t cut the mustard.

    The debate about education will, course, never end. How to ensure equality of opportunity? How far testing consolidates knowledge or just destroys curiosity? How to design a curriculum that leaves room for spontaneity and creativity for both pupils and teachers? And how to get away from the tyranny of those damn league tables?

    Some of these issues of course, existed 40 or 50 years ago, but for a brief period, not for all, but for some, British education did indeed offer a gateway to a totally different kind of life from that which our parents had lived. For those lucky children – and I was one – the meritocratic moment was real.

    Last week I picked up Berenice’s bequest to me. A gilded Italian mirror, and a sample of that flamboyant jewellery. I am wearing a ring of hers now as I record this, while the mirror will soon be hanging in my study next to a bookshelf on which sits a novel about the Italian renaissance with my name on it: History, English, Art. Without her and those other extraordinary women who taught me, it would never have been written. Long may their memory live on.

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    >BBC News – Brazil votes for new president, Rousseff tipped to win

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    31 October 2010 Last updated at 14:16

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    Brazil votes for new president, Rousseff tipped to win

    Dilma Rousseff (l) and candidate to Governor of Rio Grande do Sul state, Tarso Genro, after voting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 31 October 2010 Opinion polls suggest Ms Rousseff could win with a lead of 10 to 12 percentage points

    Brazilians are voting to choose a new president to succeed the popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

    Opinion polls suggest the governing Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff has a clear lead over Jose Serra of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

    Ms Rousseff has enjoyed the full support of President Lula, who is leaving office after two terms with record popularity ratings.

    If she wins, she will become Brazil’s first woman president.

    More than 130 million voters are going to polling stations all across Brazil which opened at 1000GMT and are due to close at 2000GMT.

    Brazil uses an electronic voting system, and final results are expected within hours of the polls closing.

    This second round of voting was forced after Ms Rousseff fell short of the 50% needed in the 3 October first round. She won 47% to Mr Serra’s 33%.

    Several opinion polls published at the weekend suggested Ms Rousseff could win the second round with a lead of 10 to 12 percentage points.

    She flashed a victory sign and gave a big smile to photographers after casting her vote in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

    Tough campaign

    The rival candidates both held their final campaign rallies on Saturday in Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, which is seen as a key swing state.

    Ms Rousseff exuded confidence as she toured the city in an open-topped car.

    “I will govern for all Brazilians. There will be no discrimination of parties. I will not govern only for my coalition”, she said.

    Across town, Mr Serra insisted he was still very much in the race.

    “The real opinion poll is the ballot box,” he said, urging his supporters to keep fighting for every last vote.

    President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after casting his vote on 31 October 2010 President Lula has campaigned hard for Ms Rousseff, his former cabinet chief

    The BBC’s Paulo Cabral in Sao Paulo says Mr Serra has done better than many people expected in a campaign filled with personal attacks and corruption allegations.

    But our correspondent says it has been an uphill struggle to take votes away from a government boasting 80% approval ratings.

    The key factor will be how some 20 million Brazilians who backed the Green Party’s Marina Silva in the first round will vote.

    Ms Silva has not endorsed any candidate.

    Jose Serra, 68, is a former governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, and a former health minister.

    Campaigning under the slogan “Brazil can do more”, he has promised better management of government rather than a radical change of policy.

    Ms Rousseff, 62, President Lula’s former chief of staff, has never before run for elected office.

    She has promised to continue policies that have helped bring years of strong economic growth.

    Mr Lula has been active and highly visible in her election campaign. He has to step down after completing the maximum allowed two consecutive terms.

    >BBC News – Housing benefit: How does it work?

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    28 October 2010 Last updated at 13:57

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    Housing benefit: How does it work?

    Letter box Quite a lot of paperwork is involved in claiming housing benefit

    Politicians are debating the future of UK housing benefit, with many thousands of people potentially affected by any changes.

    The rules will be set by government, but the benefit itself is administered by local councils.

    So who is eligible and how does the benefit work?

    And if a cap is introduced who would be hit?

    Who is housing benefit aimed at?

    Those who struggle to pay their rent because they have a low income are the target of housing benefit.

    It does not matter if these people are earning a wage or not, but their income and their savings are relevant.

    People can get help for many different types of accommodation, such as furnished or unfurnished flats, bedsits, rented houses or hostels or lodgings, as long as they pay rent to a landlord or landlady.

    But they cannot get the benefit to buy a home, for mortgage payments, or for day-to-day living expenses.

    Some service costs are covered by the benefit, but water and heating bills are not.

    How do I know if I am eligible and how is it calculated?

    This is quite complicated but there is help available from local councils.

    Generally, those with total incomes below £16,000 a year can claim.

    The amount they receive depends on various factors.

    So, local authorities will calculate so-called eligible rent by considering income, age, the size of family and disabilities of people living in a council property. This means people must keep the council up to date with any change of circumstances.

    Those who live in private accommodation have their benefit calculated through what is known as the Local Housing Allowance, which takes into account local rent levels every month. Exactly half of homes will have rent levels below the Local Housing Allowance rate and so could be paid for in full with housing benefit.

    If the rent is lower than the Local Housing Allowance rate, then recipients can keep any excess benefit up to a maximum of £15 per week. If the rent is higher than the Local Housing Allowance rate, tenants will need to pay the difference.

    Housing benefit is often connected with other benefits – many claim together with benefits such as Income Support – and it depends on income, as well as levels of savings and investments. For those not on other benefits, they can fill in a claim form.

    An online benefits calculator can help estimate how much a claimant might be due.

    Perhaps it is easier to say who does not get it?

    Indeed. Those who have savings of more than £16,000 are not eligible.

    Most full-time students, those who live in the home of a close relative, and asylum seekers are also blocked from the benefit.

    Only one of a couple living together can claim. And single people aged under 25 can only get the benefit for a bedsit or a room in shared accommodation, although this is set to change to people aged under 35.

    How is it paid?

    Council tenants will have it paid straight into their rent accounts.

    Private tenants will usually be paid by cheque or by direct debit into a bank or building society account.

    Claims can be submitted 13 weeks before moving in, or 17 weeks for those aged 60 and over. Sometimes it can be backdated.

    What are the proposals that have caused a political rumpus?

    PROPOSED HOUSING BENEFIT CAP

    • £250 for a one-bedroom property
    • £290 for a two-bedroom property
    • £340 for a three-bedroom property
    • £400 for a four-bedroom property

    The coalition government wants to put a cap on housing benefit, ranging from £250 a week for those in a one-bedroom property to £400 for those in a four-bedroom property.

    Some 775,000 claimants could be affected by changes to the way local housing benefit levels are calculated.

    At the moment, the Local Housing Allowance is based on the median average rent for an area, so half of private rents cost less and half cost more than housing benefit levels.

    From next year it will be based on the 30th percentile of local rented accommodation, so only 30% of all rented property on the market will cost less and 70% will cost more than housing benefit payments. The government says this will drive down housing costs. Claimants would lose an average of £9 a week.

    There are also plans for a 10% cut in housing benefit for anyone on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year.

    Labour says thousands of people will be forced out of their homes.

    London Mayor Boris Johnson is also concerned that the higher living costs of London will lead to residents of the capital being severely affected.

    The Department of Communities and Local Government is to grant £10m from its homelessness budget to local councils’ funds to ease the consequences of the change, in addition to £60m already allocated for a similar purpose.