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After a very slow start, the 2006 UK crop circle season has finally started to flourish. ANDY THOMAS reports...

Just a few weeks back, it almost looked as if the crop circles had deserted the UK. Various reasons were put forward for this (see our previous report), and some were becoming anguished at the loss of their favourite annual stimuli.

But now the formations seem to be back with a vengeance (see our 'Fab Four' column). Numbers are still down on normal years, but are picking up quickly to the delight of many, and some of the designs have been striking and ambitious.

One of the recurring genres of this year seems to be the 'time-tunnel' effect (first seen in this form at Cissbury Ring, West Sussex as far back as 1995, but absent since until now), with patterns of dizzying off-centre rings making for impressive optical illusions.

The focus of location seem to have shifted slightly this year, with some of the most attractive designs clustering in the Uffington area of Oxfordshire - but the traditional circle heartland of Wiltshire seems to be catching up fast. Kent, the first county to really get going this year, has also seen a clutch of ambitious designs, though not all are happy with the awkward geometry in some of them.

Inevitably, there is some cynicism too. With a circle-debunking book on the philosophy of human circlemaking imminent, and expected to receive much press coverage, some have suggested the renewed activity might be something to do with this. Others, however, decry such thoughts as blasphemy and instead embrace the new sweep of artistic ingenuity as being meaningful and important.

Interestingly, the alleged human circle-making community seems to be at war with itself. Some press coverage was given to the semi-retirement (allegedly due to hay fever) on the part of one infamous planker (whose circulated anti-croppie e-mail rants grow ever more deranged), but the London-based 'Team Satan' outfit countered with the statement that the said planker "hasn't made a circle in years". Whatever the situation, the one-man strike is obviously not having much effect now...

Meanwhile, around the world, other countries are flourishing too, with Italy in particular having a bonanza year in the fields. Check out the circle-reporting sites for news on all the latest formations. Start here:

So the crop circle controversy appears to be up and running in full swing again, with all its wonders and traumas. And there are several weeks yet to go...



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