By Nick Pope
Copyright Colin Andrews
of words have been written about the crop circle phenomenon.
Several books have been written on the mystery, together with countless
newspaper and magazine features. Numerous
Internet sites are devoted to the subject.
Various theories about crop circles exist, attributing them to such
causes as extraterrestrials, Earth energies, wind vortices or hoaxers.
This world exclusive article will deal with only one aspect of the
mystery, namely official involvement in the phenomenon.
Several allegations have been made concerning interest on the part of the
Ministry of Defence and the military, but is there any truth to such claims?
Have the Government been involved? Is
there any official interest? This
article sets the record straight and lifts the lid on one of the MoD’s most
Crop Circles - An Official History
military and MoD’s first involvement with the crop circle mystery was in 1985.
A farmer had found a spectacular quintuplet formation on his land and
telephoned the Army Air Corps base at Middle Wallop to ask what they were up to,
it having been suggested that the pattern might have been formed by the downwash
from a helicopter’s rotor blades. The
Army does a lot of flying training in the area, some of which involves practicing
landings. To do this, permission is
needed from landowners, making it important to stay on good terms with local
farmers. Noise from military
aircraft leads to many complaints each year, so it is important for the military
to stay on good terms not just with farmers, but with the public more generally.
With this in mind, the Army moved quickly to deal with the suggestion
that the crop circle in question had been formed by a low flying helicopter.
matter was investigated by Lieutenant Colonel Edgecombe, who flew over the
formation and took photographs. He
then attended a public meeting and was able to give a categorical assurance that
the downwash from a helicopter’s rotor blades could not create symmetrical and
well-defined formations of the type being seen. He also pointed out that the Army would not in any case
damage farmers’ crops in this way. Finally,
he told the meeting that he had forwarded a report of his investigation to the
Ministry of Defence, together with the photographs. This report went to Secretariat(Air Staff), who did little
more than acknowledge it and thank Edgecombe for his hard work.
incident was to have unforeseen consequences for the MoD.
The Army’s prompt and very public actions had been noted by certain
crop circle investigators, who took it as a sign that the military were
interested in the phenomenon per se. It was also
noted that the report had been sent to Sec(AS), which also handled UFO reports.
This confirmed in some researchers’ minds a link between the two
phenomena, when in fact there were many conflicting theories about crop circles.
issue of crop circles has been raised in Parliament four times, by means of
written Parliamentary Questions. The
questions and answers were printed in Hansard
(The formal, published record of Parliamentary proceedings) and are worth
quoting in full:
Fields (Hansard, 11 July 1989):
Teddy Taylor: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how
many reports he has received of the flattening of circular areas in cereal
fields in the south-west and other areas of England respectively; and if he will
make a statement.
Ryder: The flattening of circular areas in cereal fields is a phenomenon
known to occur from time to time. It
is confined to winter cereal crops and is more prevalent in dry seasons, but we
have no arrangements for recording such occurrences and therefore cannot comment
on their frequency.
Fields (Hansard, 11 July 1989):
Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has
been made in the inquiries initiated by Army helicopters based in the south-west
in investigating the origin of flattened circular areas of wheat; and if he will
make a statement.
Neubert: The Ministry of Defence is not conducting any inquiries into the
origins of flattened circular areas of crops.
However, we are satisfied that they are not caused by service helicopter
Circles (Hansard, 26 July 1989)
Colvin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will
call for a report from the chief constables of Hampshire and Wiltshire on their
investigations into the cornfield circles in Hampshire and Wiltshire; what is
the estimated cost of these investigations; and if he will make a statement.
Hurd: I understand from the chief constables of Hampshire and Wiltshire that
there have been no investigations into the cornfield circles by their officers.
Circles (Hansard, 17 October 1989):
Colvin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether any official
assistance has been given by service personnel to civilians investigating the
origin of cornfield circles in Hampshire and Wiltshire; and if he will make a
Archie Hamilton: I am not aware of any official assistance having been given
by service personnel to civilians investigating the origin of crop circles.
questions were inspired by researchers Paul Fuller and Jenny Randles, who had
contacted their MPs and asked them to raise the matter.
The answers would have been drafted by officials within the respective
government departments. In the case
of the two questions answered by Defence Ministers, this meant that civil
servants in Sec(AS) had drafted the responses.
MoD was careful not to take any position on what might cause the circles, the
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) was prepared to speculate,
probably because they had been put on the defensive by statements from crop
circle researcher Colin Andrews, who had suggested that molecular changes in
crops within circle formations might have health implications, if the crops then
got into the food chain. Environment
Secretary Nicholas Ridley had previously dismissed such an idea and stated that
the circles were probably caused by wind. In
responding to letters from MPs writing on behalf of their constituents, MAFF
Minister Richard Ryder suggested that the circles were “ … most likely to
result from a combination of wind and local soil fertility conditions in cereals
which are prone to lodging”. The
issue of contaminated crops was therefore unlikely to apply.
This response seems to have been influenced by the theories of
meteorologist and crop circle researcher Dr Terence Meaden, and so far as I am
aware MAFF’s view was offered without any consultation with the MoD.
politician who made a public comment was Dennis Healey.
In a February 1990 television interview he said that he thought a
government inquiry into the subject was unnecessary, and stated that although he
believed the matter was unresolved, he thought that crop circles were a natural
phenomenon. Healey had previously
been involved in the debate over crop circles when he photographed a formation
at Alfriston in East Sussex, in 1984. The
Daily Mail subsequently ran a story on
aircraft (Mostly helicopters, but also C-130 Hercules aircraft based at RAF
Lyneham) have been seen and occasionally filmed flying over crop circles.
This has fuelled rumours that the MoD is actively monitoring the
phenomenon, but there are two rather more mundane explanations for this
The first is that military aircrew are just as likely as anyone else to be intrigued about the phenomenon. Accordingly, some will plan their routine flying training sorties to overfly any formations about which they have heard. Some aircrew will take photographs, and pictures of crop circles adorn the walls of many a crewroom at various military bases. With the above in mind, pages 73 and 82 of Circular Evidence [Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd, 1989] by Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews, show an Army Gazelle helicopter hovering over a formation that appeared at Westbury in 1987. The photograph on pages 74 and 75 was taken by aircrew on this helicopter.
second reason for such overflights is that once the location of a large crop
circle is known, it can be a useful navigational marker (Like any other
prominent feature visible from the air) that can be used to verify position
during a flying training sortie.
The Firing Line
involvement with the crop circle mystery started on 29 July 1991, when I started
my tour of duty in Sec(AS)2a. My
job included responsibility for investigating UFO sightings, with a view to
satisfying the MoD that nothing reported was indicative of any threat to the
defence of the United Kingdom. There
was no formal remit to investigate crop circles, but as had been the case with
Lieutenant Colonel Edgecombe’s report six years previously, anything out of
the ordinary (Especially if it was perceived as being connected to the UFO
phenomenon) was always sent to Sec(AS). Therefore my three year tour of duty saw me researching and
investigating not just UFOs, but alien abductions, animal mutilations and crop
could not have joined at a more interesting time, so far as the crop circle
mystery was concerned, and I was soon in the thick of things.
News had just broken concerning a spectacular pictogram at Barbury Castle
in Wiltshire, and the very day after I joined Sec(AS) another large formation
(The first ‘Dolphin’ pictogram) was reported in a field near the Wiltshire
village of Lockeridge. Then on 13
August a spectacular pictogram was found in a field in Ickleton in
Cambridgeshire. Dubbed “The Mandlebrot Set”, after the computer fractal
that featured in chaos mathematics, it was pictured in many national newspapers.
was quizzed by several crop circle researchers, who asked for details of what
the MoD knew about the phenomenon. Some
demanded that we take action to investigate matters, while others clearly
thought we knew all about it, and were covering up. New theories and allegations abounded and I was often on the
defensive. I had to refute the
bizarre idea that the formations were caused by the testing of space-based laser
or directed-energy weapons, and dispel suggestions that media coverage of the
issue had been stifled by use of D-Notices.
I had to deny that the 22 October 1987 crash of a Harrier aircraft was
caused by energies associated with crop circles, and that these energies had
caused the spontaneous firing of the pilot’s ejector seat, leading to the
man’s death (The body was found in Wiltshire, not far from where some crop
circles had appeared in the Summer). I
also had to deny allegations that The Queen and Margaret Thatcher had expressed
interest in the phenomenon and that various high-level meetings were taking
place to consider the subject.
September 1991 the storm broke.
newspaper ran a front page story concerning Doug Bower and Dave Chorley’s
hoaxing activities, and much of the rest of the media followed the story.
Then on 27 October, Channel 4’s Equinox
programme examined the phenomenon, with the emphasis again on hoaxing.
Some researchers suggested that the MoD had a hand in all this, as part
of a strategy to discredit both the phenomenon and the researchers.
This was not the case, but the allegations refused to go away.
of this is to say that my relationship with researchers was universally
difficult. I had an ‘open-door’
policy, and most discussions I had with researchers were friendly and
constructive. The late Ralph Noyes
was in regular touch. He had
retired from the MoD in 1977, having reached the rank of Under Secretary of
State, and had been a former Head of Defence Secretariat 8 - the division that
later evolved into Sec(AS). When
someone with such a background raised the issue it was difficult to dismiss the
phenomenon out of hand, or refuse to comment.
I undertook to keep a watching brief on matters.
I opened a file on the subject, followed developments through the media
and the specialist magazines, and visited a few formations in a private
capacity, in my own time.
would have liked to have done more. During
the course of my tour of duty in Sec(AS) I had numerous discussions with
specialist staffs, at which various plans were discussed.
The military often practice surveillance, and it might have been possible
to schedule an exercise in areas where formations had appeared in previous
years, to see if we could see and record the creation of a crop circle.
Chemical analysis of plants from within crop circles might have been
undertaken, and the results compared with control samples from outside the
formations. Such work was
supposedly being done by civilian researchers, but might usefully have been
carried out officially. Such
discussions seldom came to anything, because of constraints on time and
resources. Furthermore, initiatives
along the lines of those discussed here might have become public knowledge,
implying a level of official interest greater than was in fact the case.
July 1992 I did manage to acquire a soil sample that had come from within a
strange ground marking that had appeared on private land, and sent it for
analysis, via specialist staffs. But
before the analysis was undertaken, I discovered that the pattern on the ground
had a mundane explanation. The
investigation was duly halted.
continued to keep a watching brief on the phenomenon, as I had promised, but
towards the latter part of my tour of duty, interest in crop circles seemed to
be declining. Formations were still
appearing, and if anything the pictograms were becoming more spectacular, but
the bubble had burst. Public and
media interest was never again to reach the level that had been seen in 1990 and
1991. For my own part, my work was
largely reactive, and because I was now receiving ever increasing numbers of
fascinating UFO and alien abduction reports, I found that I had less time for
would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on the current position.
I understand, however, that the file I opened on crop circles has now
been closed, and that the subject is no longer under any form of official
consideration. This summer’s formations may revive public and media interest.
Whether this means that the MoD will again find itself on the receiving
end of enquiries from researchers, the press and even MPs remains to be seen.
hope that this article has clarified the position concerning official
involvement in the crop circle mystery. While
there certainly has been interest and involvement over the years, this has often
been misinterpreted, perhaps deliberately or perhaps not.
As individuals, military and MoD personnel can be as intrigued by crop
circles as anybody else, but where such interest has been expressed it has been
mistakenly interpreted as implying greater corporate involvement than is
actually the case.
aware that the crop circle phenomenon gives rise to passions which are as strong
- if not stronger - as those aroused by the UFO phenomenon.
With this in mind, I hope that this article is not seen as trying to
debunk the crop circle mystery, because while I am convinced that most
pictograms are man-made, I do not entirely rule out other more exotic
possibilities. The watching brief
that I kept during my time in Sec(AS) continues, albeit now in a private
In 2009, author and researcher Colin Andrews publicly suggested that this article was part of an MoD attempt to "rewrite history". This was the central theme of his book Government Circles, which highlighted new evidence suggesting greater official interest in crop circles than had previously been acknowledged. I wrote this article at a time when I was still working for the MoD and it's no secret that the MoD has downplayed its interest and involvement in the crop circle issue, in the same way that it has with the UFO phenomenon. This has been the policy for many years and clearly I had to play my part in this when I worked for the government. That said, some of the issues Colin highlights have arisen because the line between official and private interest - even within government, the military and the intelligence agencies - can be blurred. There are particular sensitivities and political difficulties when members of the Royal Family are involved.