- Three mysteries of the 80s remain: Eddie
The Eagle, Limahl's haircut, and crop circles. But the greatest of the
three is crop circles.
- For a while, many people thought strange
forces could be at play. Circles were popping up across the south of England
like huge patches of alopecia. And on the edge of the circles, people looked
on in wonder.
- Aliens, some thought. Freak weather conditions,
said others. Weird electromagnetic forces, still more claimed. Even magic
- Or could it be mischievous pranksters,
pulling the wool over the eyes of a gullible public?
- Most people seemed to shrug their shoulders
and conclude it was probably the latter. But a hardened group of devotees
still maintains there is more going on the fields of Wiltshire, Hampshire
and elsewhere than one could imagine.
- Wiltshire circles
- The debate even survived the admission
by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two retired artists, that they had been
responsible. Doug Bower even demonstrated on television earlier this year
how to make your own crop circle with a plank and length of rope.
- Yet for the legions of crop circle believers
that is not enough. At least half a dozen organisations operate in England
which can count their members in the hundreds. And they all think something
is going on.
- It is a view which has been given a shot
in the arm by the announcement that US billionaire Laurance Rockefeller,
88, is to fund research into whether they are genuine.
- Photographer Lucy Pringle is just one
of the many in no doubt that hoaxers cannot be responsible.
- Having researched crop circles for the
last 10 years, she has written books on the subject and is a firm believer.
Just because some circles have been claimed by hoaxers, she says, it does
not mean "the genuine thing" does not exist.
- George Bishop of the Centre for Crop
Circle Studies points to a figure of only 3.5% of circles being fakes.
And at the same time he estimates that only 40% of circles are noticed.
- Stonehenge, with the Hale Bopp comet.
The site of early crop circle?While they agree that hoaxers are not responsible,
opinions still vary on what is responsible.
- Mrs Pringle, who lives in Hampshire,
believes the circles (or "formations", as she calls them) are
caused by low frequency microwave radiation, and that they occur on the
earth's "energy lines".
- As for what causes the radiation, she
says she cannot answer. But one possibility is that other worlds are trying
to contact us.
- "Are they a means of communication?
We don't know, but we have tried to communicate with others. We've sent
up messages in universal languages to Mars and so on, so it stands to reason
that perhaps others are trying to communicate with us."
- In any case, there is a different atmosphere
inside "genuine" formations than in hoax ones, she said. One
woman told her it was a personal experience that words could not describe.
- "A lot of people are perfectly chatty
before they go into the formation, then when they are inside it's like
a cathedral. You feel terribly small and insignificant in the vast majesty
of a sacred place."
- A different feeling
- It's not just the feeling that's different
inside hoaxed circles, she said. The stems of the crop show when they have
been pressed down by hoaxers. But the microwave radiation instead makes
the stems bend under their own weight. Hoaxed circles had flaws in their
geometry but genuine ones were mathematically accurate, even when they
had hugely complicated designs.
- Others in the crop circle community refuse
to believe that such intricate patterns can be replicated at night-time
by people with planks.
- Mr Bishop, a former journalist, first
got involved in the crop circle scene when he went to report on a sighting.
He agrees with Mrs Pringle that there is a special atmosphere.
- "I stood looking into this crop
circle, thinking: 'Wow! What next?' It completely turns your life upside
down. Some people throw away careers, and exhaust their family and finances
in chasing circles," he said. And since then, his life has never been
- Phil Mackie reports from Wiltshire for
Radio 5LiveBased in Devon, he said he thought crop circles happened all
over the country, but said only those in the south of England were reported.
In the north, he said, he thought there was more of a reluctance to talk
about things that people did not understand.
- He added that ancient stone circles -
which include Stonehenge and Avebury - could have been built on the sites
of early crop circles. But in any case there were 450 reported sightings
before 1980 and any media interest. There was even a report of one in 900AD
in Lyon, he said.
- Mrs Pringle said many people would not
admit their suspicion that circles were genuine because of the fear of
mockery. "England can be cruel," she said.
- But the crop circle community continues
to flourish, nowhere more so than on the Internet (see Internet Links on
- Michael Hutchinson, author of a book
called Bizarre Beliefs, and a member of the UK Sceptics organisation, said
a lot of people now thought there was something genuine about crop circles.
- "And it's too many," he said.
"There's no good evidence to show crop circles are anything else than
- The spread of stories about paranormal
happenings posed difficult problems for people who campaigned for scepticism,
- "It's much easier to tell a story
and misinform people than it is to tell them the harmless, boring, truth."
- Nevertheless he did see a beauty in crop
circles. "Some of them have been fantastic. I know people who have
made them and they consider it an art form, which is what it is."
- Proof positive
- Earlier this year, the BBC programme
Country File filmed crop circle hoaxers - including Doug Bower - at work.
Lindsey Morris, one of the production team, said the programme was not
intended to show that crop circles were hoaxes, but that circles could
- "They did create a complex circle,"
she said, "and did it in about two hours."
- But it did not happen without a certain
amount of resistance from some crop circle believers, which included chasing
- So far this year about a dozen have been
reported. Whether they are true or not, many people would be sorry if the
circles stopped appearing in the countryside. Farmers excluded.
- Tom Bewley, spokesman for the National
Farmers' Union, said crop circles were "frankly, a bloody nuisance",
with the damage to plants, and the risk of tourists coming to see the circles.
- But this had not stopped one farmer,
who had land near Stonehenge, from making the most of his bad fortune,
said Mr Bewley. When his field was overrun with tourists, he set up an
entry gate, charged £2 entry, and started selling colour aerial photographs.
- "He diversified," he said.