Carson is more qualified than most to comment, having seen hundreds of crop circles appear in his fields – ravaging thousands of pounds worth of crops in the process. It all began in 1990, when a famous formation known as the Eastfield Pictogram appeared overnight in one of Carson’s fields. It caught the attention of the world’s press, and a photograph of the crop circle was even used as cover art by Led Zeppelin. “Within days we had thousands of people turning up,” Carson said. “We charged people a pound a time, had keyrings and T-shirts made. It became probably our most profitable quarter of an acre ever.”
To some, this supports the theory that crop circles are nothing more than a money-making enterprise between the hoaxers, farmers and photographers. The process was explained to me as follows by circle maker Dene Hine: “Circle makers make a formation; drone pilot flies the formation; [they then use] social media platforms to spam all the pages with videos. Each video can make £500 from YouTube alone.”
Social media is not just a marketplace for the crop circle business. It is a battleground for the toxic, parasitic relationship between the croppies and the hoaxers: conjoined twins who profess to hate one another yet feed on the other for their existence. To the sceptical mind, after all, there would be no crop circles without the hoaxers. Yet, without the mystique and intrigue generated by the croppies, it’s hard to imagine the hoaxers would bother at all. Nevertheless, barbs are exchanged, and not just virtually; more than one croppie told me they had been physically threatened by hoaxers and photographers. “I’ve seen fistfights break out,” said Kathy Rossellini, an energy healer and psychic medium who I met at the Crop Circle Exhibition & Information Centre. “But I don’t get involved with all that. It’s been hijacked by ego.”
There is much that remains enigmatic about crop circles, even to farmers like Carson, who has tired of the whole thing and now deters visitors by cutting out any formations as soon as they appear. He spoke of watches stopping inside circles and recording equipment inexplicably failing during a visit from the BBC’s Newsround in 1991. He has allowed companies including Nissan to build corporate crop circles in his fields for use in advertising, but claims that just a basic design took professionals 12 hours of daylight to produce, in contrast to the suggestion that hoaxers produce circles quickly in the dead of night.