Where Have All The Crop Circles Gone?
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EVER DECREASING CROP CIRCLES
By Robert Hardman
July 29, 2006
Supernatural energy is, apparently, buzzing all around us from beneath the
flattened wheat. John Latta from Seattle is wandering round in a trance-like
state. Katharyn Henderson, 24, a teacher from New Zealand, is lying on the
ground, lost in a cosmic daze.
We are in the middle of a newly-discovered crop circle, an elaborate pattern
carved into an unharvested field. This one is not a particularly memorable
example but it is already attracting quite a crowd for one reason: the crop
circle appears to be an endangered species.
This summer will go down as a dismal year for strange apparitions amid the
cereal. Numbers are way down and no one knows why. Those who believe the
patterns are extra-terrestrial signals claim the alien messengers have
despaired of planet earth and have driven their UFOs off to another galaxy.
Others claim there is a farmers' conspiracy to destroy all circles as soon
as they appear. The curious death of a well-known crop-trampling enthusiast
has also been cited, as has the present heatwave. No one has blamed John
Prescott just yet but it can only be a matter of time.
So, I am not surprised to find a busload of devotees embracing this
formation outside the Wiltshire village of Avebury. As I approach, I am
intercepted by their leader, Patricia Cori, selfstyled 'Scribe to the
Speakers of the Sirian High Council' (not a local authority, I learn, but a
friendly delegation of aliens).
Patricia, 54, is worried at first that I am a local farmer and assures me
that her busload of 19 followers have all put a quid in the honesty box by
the gate. When I explain that I am not the landowner, she very politely asks
me to refrain from disturbing her group. 'They're toning,' explains this
amiable American spokesman for the Sirian vortex. 'It's just so powerful
here. Aren't you tingling?'
To be honest, I am not. I wander among the patterns, noting that the outer
circle is precisely 12ft wide. It's good to know the universe prefers
imperial measurements to metric.
To appreciate it properly, though, I need an aerial view and a few hours
later, I am flying over it in a helicopter expecting to see a thing of
In fact, it looks a bit of a mess. The pattern is supposed to be three
propellors around a big propellor but it has gone a bit wonky in places.
Either the aliens were a little the worse for wear when they left this
message or else it is a rather poor hoax.
'I think they forgot where the centre was,' says Rob Irving, 49, an artist
and prolific circle-maker (he was commissioned to create an Olympic rings
formation for last year's London bid). 'It looks like the work of trainees.'
The crop circle community is broadly split into three and, as I soon gather,
the politics are almost as spectacular as the formations.
On one side, there are the true believers, people like Patricia who see crop
circles as the work of strange paranormal forces. On the other are the
circle-makers, hoaxers and artists like Rob who make crop circles for the
sheer thrill of it.
There is no love lost between the two. The true believers denounce the
circle-makers as frauds who are taking the credit for genuine alien
The circle-makers regard the true believers as a bunch of oddballs and
rather enjoy the hysterical reactions and wide-eyed wonderment with which
their handiwork is greeted. And, unlike most artists, they shield their
identities - this is, after all, vandalism.
In between these two extremes is the third group, the countless agnostics
who accept that some formations are man-made but can't help thinking others
defy any logical explanation.
But for once they are all in agreement on the fact that this has been a
lousy summer - and all are asking the same question: where have the crop
Some new examples have been popping up, notably in East Anglia and Italy.
But the West of England is looking, well, rather more normal than usual.
Crop patterns have been a startling addition to the English landscape for a
quarter of a century, mainly in the wilds of Wiltshire near the ancient
stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury and the garrisons of Salisbury
They immediately struck a chord with the druids, the hippies and the UFO
crowd, all of whom seized on them as evidence of either the paranormal or
military conspiracies in weird and wonderful Wiltshire.
It remained a rather jolly mystery until 1991, when it emerged that the
circles had been started by war veteran Doug Bower and his friend, Dave
Chorley, after a night in a Hampshire pub.
The two men only went public after Doug's wife suspected that his high
mileage and nocturnal absences were evidence of an affair. But despite the
public exposure of their methods - planks, ropes, wire and tape - it did
nothing to deter the believers.
As the New Age creed has gained mainstream credibility, more seekers of
spiritual truth have become convinced these formations contain profound
At the same time, more and more copycat circle-makers have been creating
ever-more ambitious designs using computers and surveyors' kit.
It has been great news for the British tourist trade. Every year, thousands
come from all over the world to gawp, and the craze shows no sign of waning.
Rob Irving's The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle
Making is published next month. This weekend, there are two rival crop
circle conventions - one in Glastonbury (for the evangelical) and one in
Devizes (for the more agnostic).
The believers will reconvene again in a fortnight for the annual Crop Circle
Conference in Marlborough. Lectures include spiritual mandalas and crop
circles and diatonic geometry of music and crop circles.
There is just one problem. They are running out of circles to study. I head
for Thruxton Airfield near Stonehenge where Fast Helicopters do a roaring
trade in crop circle tours.
'The circles account for about 15 per cent of our work but there is a lot
less to see this year,' admits Captain Shaun Byam. We set off for a tour of
what is on offer, sweeping over the stunning Vale of Pewsey.
Just below the white horse etched into the hill above Alton Barnes, a wheat
field contains a star and two hearts. It's a tidy little design but not a
patch on the colossal 800ft, sixarmed monster with 409 individual circles,
which appeared here on Milk Hill one wet night in August 2001.
We fly over the uninspiring Avebury circle where I discovered Patricia and
her followers. A newly-harvested field nearby contains the shadow of a
formation from last year. It is far more impressive.
In West Overton, we spot a messy design which looks like a botched knitting
pattern or a logo for some dreary EU quango. Outside Marlborough, I spot ten
people meditating inside a rather stronger specimen resembling two gas rings
alongside two trays of concentric croissants.
Interestingly, the standard improves the further we travel from the
traditional hunting ground towards Oxfordshire.
At Charlbury Hill, two circles contain some intricate topiary while, further
on at Wayland's Smithy, we encounter the excellent, threedimensional
depiction of a series of skyscrapers.
Finally, next to the remnants of Uffington Castle is a neat design
resembling a bird unfolding its wings. But, after more than an hour aloft,
that is our lot and we return to Thruxton.
Searching for answers
I set out by car in search of answers. First stop is the enchanting Barge
Inn, a canalside spot just outside Alton Barnes. This is a mandatory halt
for all circle-seekers, with one bar devoted to crop circle pictures.
The landlords, June and Adrian Potts, even have a crop circle mural painted
on the ceiling.
'It's definitely an off-year,' says June, 'but all our regulars are still
coming through which is nice.' These include a Berlin surgeon and his chum
who come every year to study force fields in the previous year's crop circle
One regular who won't be returning is Paul Obee, a quiet circle-maker who
was found dead in his car earlier this summer with a note beside him.
'I heard he wanted to see what was on the other side,' sighs June. 'Perhaps
his friends have stopped this year which is why it's so quiet.'
A friend to both the true believers and the circle-makers alike, she is
convinced that some formations defy rational explanation.
'I know some are hoaxes but I saw that one in 2001 over there on Milk Hill,
and it gave me the heebyjeebies because it was far too big for humans to
have done it.
'You do see some strange things round here. One night in 1997, several of us
saw this strange ball of light which suddenly filled the whole sky and then
vanished. I don't know what it was.'
A few miles away, I stop on the A4 at the Silent Circle Cafe, a spiritual
home for the true believers. Owner Charles Mallett, 36, dismisses those who
claim to be circle-makers as 'circle-fakers'.
'I was camping on Milk Hill with my dog the night those 409 circles appeared
and we didn't see or hear a thing. Explain that,' he says.
'I'm not a loony. I'm a regular guy who likes his bacon sarnies but I have
had enough experiences to know that crop circles represent an
interdimensional communication with the human consciousness.'
So why the shortage? 'Maybe the forces involved have moved on. I am sure
it's directly related to the way the world is going. And the farmers are
chopping them as soon as they appear. They should just put out an honesty
box and make lots of money.'
Tonight, the cafe is staging a talk entitled the power of collective
thought, by Andy Thomas, 41, a writer on psychic phenomena. The little tea
room is hotter than an allday breakfast but 20 people have paid £7.50 to
He has another theory for the vanishing circles.
'It's the hot weather,' he says. 'Most crop circles appear near strong
energy fields and strong underground water sources, which is why the ancient
world was drawn to this part of Wiltshire, too.
But the water table is right down.'
One of his audience offers me a simpler theory. 'I know the spirits who make
the crop circles because they live in my New York apartment,' says Nancy
Burson, a photographer and author from New York. 'These spirits are sad that
the farmers keep cutting down their messages so they have just given up.'
What do these spirits, er, look like? 'They are balls of light. I call them
extra-celestials. We have to stop destroying their messages.'
The next day, I meet someone who has been destroying extracelestial messages
for years. Robin Butler's family has been farming this land since 1937,
including the Avebury field where I found the crop circle. He tells me that
crop circles are an expensive nuisance. Not only can they ruin several
hundred pounds of crop but they devalue the next one.
'I need to replant that field with barley for next year but all the heads
off the trampled wheat are now in the soil, so I'll have a mixed crop. This
is just countryside graffiti.'
What about the fabled fortune from the honesty box? He laughs. 'I usually
find a few 1p coins in there.'
He denies any conspiracy to wipe out the circles. 'Some people might take
out a small one before it becomes an attraction but a big one is too much
trouble so you wait until the harvest.'
He puts this year's decline down to the fact that the harvest has come early
so there are fewer fields to vandalise.
So what do the circle-makers say?
Rob Irving points to the death of Paul Obee and the emigration of another
top circle-maker. 'People are moving away from Wiltshire - we call it Ground
Zero - because the farmers are fed up.
'But I have noticed a lot of trial runs which suggests that new teams are
coming through. It's not the end of crop circles because it's still a lovely
way to spend an evening and these artists are going much further than Damien
Hirst because their work is treated like a religion.'
There will be plenty of worshippers all over the West Country this weekend.
And long may they continue - as long as they remember to stick a quid in the
They don't harm anyone and they are helping a struggling rural economy.
What's more, if the Scots can still make a mint out of a Loch Ness monster
no one has ever seen, why shouldn't England's fields enjoy a mystery of
NHNE SPECIAL REPORT ON CROP CIRCLES
Sherry Stultz, December 8, 1998
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