A brouhaha has been rumbling on over a plan to charge admission to crop circles in the Vale of Pewsey. The ever talented and insightful Trystan Swale has kindly contributed his thoughts on the matter…
A fuss is developing over the plans for a self-appointed group to collect admission fees from visitors to crop circles in the Vale of Pewsey and Marlborough areas of Wiltshire. Andrew Pyrka, who runs the Crop Circle Wisdom website has described it as a ‘business venture to capitalize’ from tourists and circles enthusiasts.
In April a meeting between farmers, some circles researchers and the police was held in Devizes, Wiltshire. The minutes outline the introduction provided by meeting chair David Dawson: There is a huge interest in crop circles. Many tourists who visit the County are interested in crop circles, and do not know where they can [legally] go or that there is a Code of Conduct that they should follow. There are several major conferences a year which attract significant numbers of overseas visitors. However, this interest can only be sustained and developed if farmers are not adversely affected by visitors.
The aim of the meeting was to discuss ways in which farmers could be encouraged to allow access to crop circles on their land, if those who visited acted responsibly and if they could be compensated … for reduced crop yields.
‘Compensated’ is a big word in the crop circle world. Long gone are the days of 1990 when farmer Tim Carson was able to charge admission to the huge, unique ‘Led Zeppelin’ crop circle that has become such a cultural icon. The novelty of the circles in Wiltshire is no more. For some farmers they are an annual nuisance, even though the damage caused by the circle makers may be quite slight. Crop circle tourists are the bigger issue, repeatedly walking over the same area of crop as they explore. Some farmers try to recover any losses through the installation of donation boxes, but they are often an easy target for thieves.
Meanwhile, as the farmers shake their heads, circle makers are openly discussing their work online or in The Barge, a pub famous for its association with ‘croppies’ of all beliefs and artistic abilities. In these circumstances it is understandable some farmers decided to put their feet down: Any new crop circle appearing on their land in 2013 would be cut out. There would be nothing for visitors to see.
Photographer Monique Klinkenbergh has worked to bring farmers, researchers, the police and local authority around a single table.
The minutes published by Andrew Pyrka outline the proposal tabled for a ‘crop circle access pass’. Once purchased – from authorised outlets including the new Crop Circle Information Centre, a venture part run by Klinkenbergh – it would allow access to all crop circles appearing on land managed by participating farmers. Visitors without a pass would be able to purchase an admission ticket from an accredited volunteer steward. In this manner farmers could recoup losses and the circles be kept open to visitors.
Following publication of the minutes there has been a storm amidst a teacup of disbelief. Why should the public be forced to pay an admission fee to visit crop circles? And, of course: Who appointed Monique Klinkenbergh and her volunteers to the role of crop circle wardens?
Andrew has rightly observed the association between Klinkenbergh, the proposed scheme and the Crop Circle Information Centre. But it is the farmers who will receive the money. Tourists seeking to buy a pass may make an unscheduled stop at the Centre and be persuaded to part with their cash, but I do not feel this is indicative of some slippery slope down to a position where certain individuals will ‘control’ the circles.
I see the scheme as a sign of how the farmers have changed their attitude towards people who have a negative impact on their livelihoods. The first crop formation of the 2013 season was made in an oil seed rape field owned by Josh Carson, a farmer who has no time for the circles. He has denied visitors any access – a course of action he is fully entitled to follow. Contrary to the misinformed claims of some Facebook users, the public has no automatic right to roam over cultivated farmland.
Last year, 2012, photographs appeared in the online edition of the Daily Mail showing a member of Carson’s staff cutting out a crop circle. It should have served as a message to anybody who is involved with circle making, but it clearly hasn’t been digested in some quarters. So, almost twelve months on, unless the access scheme is successful, this could be the fate of other crop circles in the Marlborough and Vale of Pewsey areas. If that happens it would be a massive disappointment for tourists and those who wait eagerly for the photographs and descriptions of the latest formations.
There is also another level of disappointment that would appear. I am someone who believes crop circles are best seen from above, best experienced at ground level. They are places of contemplation, promise, magic and – borrow from Earth Mysteries writer Paul Devereux – power. A well placed circle will draw the eye to the sometimes hidden or overlooked landscape around it. It is a venue for experience.To be denied access is something that could reduce the circles experience to an aesthetic level.
I will not criticise Monique Klinkenbergh for attempting to prevent this, although I suspect the scheme is doomed to fail. Already, a separate group has set itself up to collect donations from visitors to crop circles, one coordinated by Andy Jacobs of Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group. Klinkenbergh’s scheme will be difficult to enforce. Some fields are easily accessible under cover of darkness, so what is to stop those visitors?
Whatever does or does not happen next is down to the farmers and the circle makers. The former seem to hold all of the cards.