They are likely to make farmers especially cross in what has already been a tricky year. Fuel and fertiliser prices have risen; a dry spring means yields are expected to be down 25-30% on last year in the south-west. Now Wiltshire is being trampled by summer tourists, many of them mystically inclined. Some circular formations are visited by thousands of these enthusiasts, causing further damage to crops and sometimes property.
Occasionally, there is an upside for farmers. In 1998 commercial circle-makers acting for Mitsubishi, a Japanese car maker, paid Mr Carson for the right to cut an outline of a new model named the Space Star in his fields. The commission “more than compensated for the loss of crop”, he says. Shredded Wheat, a breakfast cereal, once had its logo carved in a wheat field. Some landowners charge for entry or solicit donations, though the tale of the farmer who made £30,000 from tourists is exceptional.
But while farmers tend to suffer, others gain. The circles augment a mystical aura that emanates from Stonehenge, and that contributes hugely to Wiltshire’s £850m tourism industry. Visitor shops are stuffed with crop-circle memorabilia; coach tours frequent them. At the Barge Inn, a community-owned pub in Honeystreet, drinkers enjoy tipples named Croppie, Alien Abduction and Away With The Fairies. The pub has customers from all over the world, even out of season, and the nearby formations have “no doubt benefited the business”, says Terry Kemp, who works there.
The exact value of crop circles to the broader economy is unclear. Visit Wiltshire, the county’s tourism agency, is understandably reluctant to comment, given that acts of trespass and criminal damage are involved. But perhaps if the upside were better understood, the benefits might be more fairly shared.