A Crop Circle is a pattern created by flattening a crop, commonly in a wheat or barley field.
The number of reports of crop circles has substantially increased since the 1970s, however, there has been scant scientific study of them.
Crop circles in the United Kingdom tend to appear near roads, areas of medium to dense population, and cultural heritage monuments, such as Stonehenge or Avebury.
Where have all the crop circles gone? The truth is out there
By Rupert Hawksley | 21 June 2022
What makes a British summer? Chilled Pimm’s, glorious sunshine, shimmering fields of wheat… and crop circles. At least they used to in my corner of Wiltshire, once the global epicentre of a very English phenomenon.
But where have all the circles gone? In their heyday – hayday? – back in the 1980s and 1990s, vast geometric patterns used to spring up overnight in farmers’ fields like magic mushrooms. If you were a believer, or a “croppie”, they were created by aliens as navigational aids for time travellers, or caused by fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field, or possibly the result of a plasma vortex. The rest of us marvelled at the sheer, cider-induced artistry of these swirling masterpieces.
I say it’s time for a revival. Crop circles still appear, but they’ve gone a bit corporate, promoting brands such as Nike and Mitsubishi. Last year, the singer Lorde even commissioned an elegant circle in Wiltshire that featured in a teaser video for her album, Solar Power. What we want is a return to the good old days, when fractal patterns like the 900ft wide “Julia Set” appeared opposite Stonehenge in July 1996 and featured no fewer than 151 spiralling circles. No one who saw it could fail to be awed. And no one claimed it either, which only added to the mystery and wonder.
Nostalgia is a crucial part of any revival and two new books celebrate, in their different ways, that halcyon era of crop circles. The Perfect Golden Circle, by Benjamin Myers, is a novel set in 1989, and follows the exploits of a pair of friends who spend their nights creating crop circles. The characters are inspired by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who confessed to the Today newspaper in September 1991 that they were responsible for more than 200 patterns, shattering the dreams of a thousand conspiracy theorists. “Men who Conned The World” ran the front page headline. Inside, over several pages, their homespun methods were laid bare: they had used planks to stomp down the corn, ropes tied to a central stake, and wire DIY “gun sights” attached to their baseball caps to keep themselves in alignment.
The other book is my latest psychological thriller, The Man on Hackpen Hill (written under the pen name J S Monroe), which opens with a series of complex encoded circles that appear in Wiltshire. A body is found at the centre of each one and the police believe the patterns contain a clue to the cause of death.
I was inspired by a rash of encrypted circles that were made between 2003 and 2010, long after Bower and Chorley had hung up their stomping boards. One was very near me in Wiltshire in May 2010, below Wilton Windmill. Imprinted on a field of rapeseed oil, it was a geometric depiction of Euler’s Identity, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful equations in mathematics. Another, two years earlier, materialised in a barley field near Barbury Castle, outside Marlborough. It took a retired associate professor of astrophysics in America, Dr Mike Reed, to work out that the pattern depicted the first ten digits of Pi.
One thing that could fuel a revival is the happy understanding that seems to have been reached between believers and sceptics, who for many years were at war. After Bower and Chorley’s unmasking by the Today newspaper, crop circles continued to appear, thanks to a handful of self-styled – and anonymous – conceptual art collectives. In turn, the believers started to argue that a hidden hand was at play. Yes, humans might have a role in the creation of crop circles, but other forces were at work through them while they were out in the fields at 1am. Why else would they wake up the next day to discover a wildly different circle to the one that they had sketched out in the pub? Nothing to do with alcohol, then.
“They were always at their ‘best’ – most wonderful – when the people who made them did so anonymously,” says Rob Irving, a founding member of the Circlemakers, the main collective that took the baton from Bower and Chorley in the 1990s. “For those who yearn for something more, perhaps one day the circles with return in relatively simple, localised outbreaks, echoing a time when people saw magic in mystical landscapes and acted upon it.”
As with so many things in Britain, other countries appreciate crop circles more than we do. Three years ago, I was on a walk with friends in the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, where some of the best crop circles used to appear. Passing through the tiny hamlet of Honeystreet, we stumbled across a 40-strong Chinese film crew milling around the new Crop Circle Information Centre, which was about to be opened by a special guest of honour, Feng Shaofeng, a famous, Shanghai-born movie star. Shaofeng had flown over from Beijing to make an episode of a Chinese reality TV show called Life in Adventure about crop circles. After opening the Centre, he was whisked away in a helicopter to film a nearby pattern.
As for the common objection that crop circles damage precious wheat and barley, it’s a fair point, particularly when global prices are soaring and crops are scarce. People like Dr Irving, who now lectures in art and creativity at the University of Gloucester, know that it’s a big ask of the farming community. “Despite this, I still hear of farmers who love the phenomenon and who perhaps can see past the inconvenience of it,” he says. “I’d like to think positivism will win out somehow, where the issue of ‘genuineness’ is easily resolved by how many people enjoy a crop circle for picnicking, fellowship, passion, and the return of English magic.”
Our local farmer, who owns the land on Hackpen Hill, outside Marlborough, falls into that category. He has raised £25,000 over the past few years for Great Western Hospital’s Brighter Futures charity in Swindon by charging people to visit crop circles in his fields.
Sadly, it’s been a poor showing so far this year. An elegant pattern appeared in a field in Conholt in East Wiltshire in May but, as with swallows, one circle doesn’t make a summer. We need more – mesmerising canvasses of corn that stop you in your tracks.
So come on all your artists and aliens, it’s time to dust down your stomping boards and rope and funny baseball hats and fool the world again. Check with your local farmer first, of course. And maybe raise some money for charity, too.
Crop Circles 2022
Etchilhampton Hill nr Devizes, Wilts
Lay Wood, Wilts
Pilgrim’s Trail, Hamps
Cake Woods, Wilts
Hackpen White Horse
Little Down nr Hippenscombe
Crop Circles 2021
Crop Circles 2020