What consequences will the recent agricultural crisis have on the activities of crop circle research? The situation may not be as bad as feared. KAREN DOUGLAS gives the latest news and separates the facts from the false impressions being given around the world.
There has obviously been much talk about Foot and Mouth both here in the UK and abroad. But how might the outbreak of this disease affect the cerealogical world? This is something that researchers and armchair croppies alike should all naturally be very interested in.
On May 10th, the English Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that he now believed the disease to be fully under control. Although the total number of cases (that have been reported throughout the entire outbreak – not to be confused with the number of current cases) is now at 1540, there were only two new cases reported in the UK that day. Blair assured us that no more funeral pyres would be lit to burn slaughtered sheep and cattle and that all infected animals were being destroyed within 24 hours of the disease being discovered. There are now no current backlogs of animals to be destroyed, ensuring even less chance of further spread.
Most of the Foot and Mouth cases in the UK are clustered in the counties of Devon and Cumbria, not places regularly visited by the majority of circle researchers. But Hampshire has been disease free since the beginning of the outbreak and Wiltshire was given the all clear last week by the authorities, after suffering only a handful of cases. It looks increasingly likely that Wiltshire footpaths will be re-opened very shortly. The county council is meeting to review the situation. We will, of course, keep you absolutely up to date with news as it happens.
All the towns in this area are operating normally and the shops, museum, re-vamped Barn and new restaurant at Avebury are now fully open. The Avebury stones and avenue have now re-opened to the public after having been shut for several months. Stonehenge has been re-opened, with some restrictions still in place, but these look likely to be lifted very shortly too. I think it is important to note that most of the spread of Foot and Mouth has been caused by the movement of diseased animals from one area of the country to another for sale or slaughter, and not by the movement of people carrying the infection with them. Restriction on human movement in the countryside is mostly cautionary, to further halt the chances of the disease spreading. Human movement has not been a major factor in the spread of Foot and Mouth. (See John Bowen’s piece elsewhere in HEADLINES for some conspiratorial musings on the many paradoxes of F&M – Ed.)
There has been much sensation made in the press, particularly outside the UK, over suspected human cases of Foot and Mouth. These fears, to date, have been unfounded and the cause of the illnesses reported has been found to be something different in each case.
There have also been stories about overseas visitors worrying that they themselves could catch Foot and Mouth or take the disease back home with them to their own countries. In fact, the possibility of this happening is very remote indeed. As has already been borne out, there have been no actual cases of transference of the disease to human beings, and measures have been in put in place to make sure this, or carriage of the disease to other countries (especially via tourists) does not happen. Some visitors returning from their trips (if they had visited rural areas) have been asked to disinfect their shoes at the airport!
Foot and Mouth should not be confused with B.S.E (mad cow disease) of which the UK is currently officially free. All animals that have been found to have Foot and Mouth have been slaughtered and you cannot catch that disease from eating infected animals (ie. beef and lamb). Even if one were ever to eat an animal that did have Foot and Mouth, it would be perfectly safe - but I think it would be safe to say that you would never be served diseased meat whilst in the UK, anyway. If still unsure, overseas visitors can always go veggie for their stay!
I do think that it is inevitable that the outbreak of this disease will affect numbers of overseas visitors that come to the UK to see the crop circles. We don’t yet know how farmers will react to researchers and the curious alike wanting to visit their land to look at the latest formations. Perhaps some will say, after this disease, that no one will be allowed on their land; others, however, may decide they’d like the revenue to be had from charging visitors after some pretty harsh times.
My own personal feeling about this is that there will be a little of both. There will be some circles to see, and there will be some that will remain out of reach to all but the aerial photographers. In reality, access to all the formations that appear is never guaranteed; there are always some farmers each year who do not give permission for people to see circles on their land, Foot and Mouth or no Foot and Mouth. So, perhaps there won’t be quite as much change there as we might anticipate! That said, it might be wise to be prepared for the fact that any charges farmers might make to visit their fields could increase this year. The really big question, I guess, is how the circlemakers will respond to these events.
However, as any regular visitor will tell you, there is much more to the experience of visiting Wiltshire during the crop circle season than just being inside the patterns. You will, of course, get to see some formations in the landscape, without the need to go into the field itself. You will be on site to be one of the first to see any new circles as they appear and still visit those which we are allowed into, plus there will be plenty of chances to interact with other researchers and attend the many conferences and debates held throughout the summer. There will still be the opportunity to explore this ancient landscape and take part in circle watches and unusual gatherings. As we know, many other strange events often take place around the formations themselves. Coming to the heart of crop circle country is about being part of the season as it unfolds and living in the neighbourhood of a great mystery at work.
The year is still young (it’s only May, after all) and with Wiltshire now being disease-free, common sense suggests that things could very well be just about back to normal by July and August. The re-opening of Avebury is very good news indeed for circle researchers everywhere as this ancient monument has been the site of much crop circle activity for so many years. It now seems quite hopeful that this opening will pave the way for more of the Wiltshire countryside to also re-open in good time for the crop circle season. Other sites and country pathways do still remain closed, such as West Kennett Longbarrow and the Ridgeway, but the countrywide trend is one of increasing re-opening of sites.
Check this site for updates.