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As the 2004 crop circles pick up in number at last, the sceptics seem to have the exclusive ear of the media, although civil war appears to be breaking out amongst the planking community, as ANDY THOMAS reports…

2004 has proven to be a rather strange year for the crop circles in the UK. Not only was there a very slow start, with a significant reduction in numbers from previous years, only now picking up at last, but there has also been a large blast of publicity for human circlemakers in the press.

Three major newspapers have now run large features on plankers: ‘The Independent’, ‘The Daily Express’, and ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, and even the Wiltshire-based ‘Western Daily Press’ got in on the act. Three of the articles have revolved around the money-making antics of the ‘Team Satan’ outfit, boasting of their skills in creating commercially-motivated crop circles, while the Daily Express focused on one Matthew Williams. A short TV programme on Channel 4 also promoted the work of Team Satan-ite John Lundberg.

What all these pieces have had in common has been the inevitable lack of any substance - nearly all of it is lazy insinuation and nothing more. More seriously, there has been an almost complete absence of any balancing information (only the Daily Mail ran its usual neutral gallery of circle images recently). The plankers are by and large presented as THE answer to the entire crop circle mystery, with not a dissenting view on show, or any serious discussion from researchers as to other possible theories.

Those who hold that there is a co-ordinated campaign to discredit the crop circles believe their views are vindicated by such disproportionate publicity. One high-profile Italian sceptic, who has been giving his country’s circle researchers a hard time recently, has even been spotted in the UK this summer, cavorting with known plankers, making some wonder how wide the debunking agendas indeed are and just who might be behind them.

However, in-fighting appears to be breaking out amongst the ranks of the plankers themselves, with Williams recently firing off an angry e-mail tirade at the overtly-commercial exploits of Team Satan, which includes the following dubious statement: “Seeing people do it for money all the time increasingly sickens most TRUE circlemakers who really do it for genuine art or spiritual reasons”. Hmmm… Or is it just that he can’t get the work himself? Williams goes on to accuse Team Satan of ripping people off by non-delivery of ordered merchandise.

Unfortunately, the overriding negativity which spills over from such heightened profiles of the plankers has affected the mood in the croppie world, resulting in much fear and suspicion down in the fields of Wiltshire, especially with traits of human circlemaking seemingly being more obviously apparent in some formations this year, almost as if the real phenomenon has backed off slightly to allow the limitations of the imitators to be clearly revealed. As has been noted before, this is an interactive phenomenon.

Despite this, there have been some extraordinary designs. For those with long memories, the atmosphere is very reminiscent of the 1992-93 post-Doug and Dave climate, a period of confusion which was then superceded almost overnight with the renaissance season of 1994, which saw the most incredible designs ever witnessed. Perhaps, then, we are being asked to hold our nerve…



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