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The BBC's 'Raising the Roof' - the truth about woodworm

The BBC's reporter, one Mr Kenyon, is about to present 'Raising the roof', an investigative series of programmes, one of which is dedicated to woodworm.

Some press releases have been already been made, together with letters informing companies who undertook secretly filmed surveys - the basis of the programme - telling them why they were wrong in their assessment.

So what is fact and what is fiction? Are the BBC right? Let's evaluate their evidence and their press statements:

Paul Kenyon (the BBC reporter) states, "Woodworm only exists in timber in the forest. It's very rare in houses".

Fact: Mr Kenyon has very clearly got it wrong. Common furniture beetle is very common in buildings built prior to the early 1950s, and in many it is still active; just ask the average house owner/occupier or surveyor. The definitive studies undertaken by various establishments and bodies show that its distribution and activity is common and widespread in the UK.

Whilst one doesn't expect the BBC's presenter to have super human intelligence, we would draw Mr Kenyon's notice to the common names of some woodboring insects and others - for example CARPET beetle, DUNG beetle, FOREST Longhorn beetles, HOUSE Longhorn beetle, BARK Borer to name but a few - names which have been given to them which describe their habitat or activity. The insect Mr Kenyon is talking about is COMMON FURNITURE beetle. If this common name, given to it for obvious reasons, has escaped Mr Kenyon's thoughts then I respectfully draw his attention to it - if necessary I can also provide a dictionary if he has trouble with the first two words.

Mr Kenyon states, "Once it is in a house, it needs special conditions to thrive".

Fact: So do you, Mr Kenyon, as does indeed any organism. Common furniture beetle is common and well established in many, many properties which also includes furniture. Clearly the conditions required do exist and overall are maintained.

It is well documented that if timbers can be sustained at and below a moisture content of around 12% then common furniture beetle activity cannot continue and it will eventually die - no problem in that. But, the operative word is sustained, and there are only a few areas in a building where this is possible. Why? Wood is a hygroscopic material which means its standing air-dry moisture content varies with changes in the surrounding humidity - as the humidity goes up so does the moisture content of the wood, and humidity is partially governed by the extenal environment especially in the spring, summer and autumn. So the humidity in buildings varies enormously throughout the year.

Wood, therefore, does not have a 'static' moisture content. In a centrally-heated building it could vary between 10-17% over the year, and common furniture beetle can certainly survive long periods below 12%; they would have to in the wild - it is one of the mechanisms for survival! Unfortunately Mr Kenyon appears to have been told that they can't survive below a certain moisture content (12%?) and therefore if the wood with common furniture beetle holes present is below this level when measured then the insects are dead. Oh dear! Someone forgot to tell Mr Kenyon that a moisture content taken at a specific point in time is not synonymous with maintenance of that moisture content throughout the year. Indeed there is a growing amount of data showing activity of common furniture beetle below 12% (probably because it increases at other times), and that central heating probably doesn't affect the moisture content of timbers in a large part of the house; roofing, sub-floor, understair and cupboard timbers are unlikely to be significantly affected very much. Furthermore, it actually seems likely that central heating increases moisture content in many roofing timbers in lined roof spaces due to an increase in humidity. And don't forget that in most properties central heating is not used for the larger proportion of the year, and it may also be intermittently used.

Conclusions: The BBC's 'Raising the roof' may well have got it wrong again, at least from some of the evidence available.

Mr Kenyon and the rest of the production team got it wrong in last year's programme on rising damp. Then they had three experts; one that diagnosed flooding, another one diagnosed simple bridging and the third, a laboratory, diagnosed active rising damp up to in excess of 3/4 metre. So which experts did they concentrate on? You've guessed it, the one that was most wrong, the first, probably because he made the best story let alone the fact that they had already made a large part of the programme.

Now Mr Kenyon and company have turned to woodworm, their findings appearing to be based on flawed information from another of these experts. Indeed the qualifications and experience of their expert in relation to woodboring insects has been questioned and asked for but, of course, the BBC have not replied - I wonder why?

Given that the BBC's 'victims' only right of reply is a simple letter which will certainly not be read over the air leads to quite a dangerous situation. Basically, the BBC has set itself up as judge, plaintive, expert and jury with as much time as they like to put their case. The only right of reply given to the defendant who, of course, is not allowed to attend the proceedings, is a simple letter which the 'judge' will inevitably ignore (the BBC always appear to do so!). If such a situation occurred in a Court in the United Kingdom then all hell would be let loose, and programmes such as 'Panorama' would have a field day!

Come on Mr Kenyon and company, open your eyes, and make a really big effort to use the grey matter between your ears! Stop living on another planet! Don't just listen to experts who might perhaps have their own agenda - observe, research, and go and talk to others and evaluate the real situation before making your judgment - and make it objectively. You could actually make a better programme!

PS. Mr Kenyon seems to think it amusing that a specialist surveyor uses latin names to describe the pest - he seems to think that you must be a scientist to use them. One wonders whether he has ever asked for or bought 'gladioli' or 'narcissi': how else would you describe these plants? Well, Mr K, I just hope that those who deal with any organisms continue to specifically identify them and their parts by the use of latin specifics. After all, I'm sure Mr K wouldn't be laughing if he happened, say, to hurt an arm and the doctor declared, "Oh, just clean up and bandage the dangly bit hanging from his body!" Which bit, arm, leg or what?

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