Page last updated at 06:26 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 07:26 UK

Dr Who link to UFO sighting rise

John Barrowman and Eve Myles in Torchwood
Science fiction drama series Torchwood is filmed and set in Cardiff

Science fiction and fantasy dramas like Doctor Who and Torchwood may be behind a rise in UFO sightings in built up areas of Wales, an expert has said.

Nick Pope, the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) former UFO project head, was commenting on figures released by the MoD which show sightings have gone up.

He said other sightings reflected the growing popularity of Chinese lanterns.

In 2006, 97 UFOs were reported across the UK. This rose to 135 in 2007 and 285 in 2008, with 18 Wales sightings.

These sightings in Wales included bright white objects over Anglesey, black disc shaped objects in the skies over Neath Port Talbot, objects moving like a football over Pontypridd and a UFO in Old Colwyn, Conwy, which was "bigger than a helicopter".

9 Feb - Abertillery, Gwent: "Object in the sky that looked like a glowing red ball. A strange substance like molten metal burst from it as it went overhead. It moved without sound"
2 Mar - Northop Hall, Flintshire: "A bright circle shape was seen. It moved quickly and was quite erratic in the sky. It shot to the left over some houses and then disappeared"
19 May - Caergybi, Anglesey: "A round, bright white object. It was moving from SW to NE, and moved slowly and quietly"
6 June - Llanuwchllyn, Gwynedd: "Two orange lights were seen. They were fast moving. One moved to the east to Bala and the other one climbed vertically"
23 June - Barry, Vale of Glamorgan: "Eleven objects in the sky"
27 July - Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff: "An object was travelling at high speed. It appeared to be round like a football. It was travelling from south east to north east. It then disappeared"
3 Aug - Barry, Vale of Glamorgan: "Three UFOs or something"
15 Aug - Argoed, Neath Port Talbot: "Three bright orange lights/objects in the sky, about a mile away. One of the objects was black and disc shaped. It moved quick and was silent"
14 Oct - Swansea: "There was a continual orange, strange shape in the sky. There was a very odd light too"
1 Dec - Llangwm, Pembrokeshire: "A very bright light, which had a long white tail. It then shot across the sky and the whole field was lit up. The light then began to break up"
26 Dec - Old Colwyn, Conwy: "Bigger than a helicopter, 250 metres up, silent, with something like a bar coming off it. 30 seconds later flew off over the sea followed closely by a helicopter"
No firm date - Cardiff: "A UFO"
No firm date - Caerleon, Newport: "Two balls of fire were hovering in the sky. They then elevated up and shot off into the distance"
No firm date - Newport: "A single object"
No firm date - Swansea: "A UFO"
No firm date - Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire: "A UFO"
No firm date - Neath: "Three glowing objects. The objects were moving towards the witness and then moved straight up into the sky"
No firm date - Swansea: "A UFO"
Source: Ministry of Defence

Mr Pope, who continues his research into the phenomena of UFOs on a private basis, said he believed the revitalisation of the Doctor Who franchise had made people more open to seeing UFOs.

"If I am being cynical, maybe Doctor Who and Torchwood being filmed in Cardiff and the surrounding area might make people look to the skies more than they would previously," he said.

"There have been quite a few sightings in Cardiff, Barry, Swansea and other built up areas in the south of the country.

"Traditionally people think of UFO sightings as taking place in a deserted and dark part of the countryside but many of the Wales sightings are from cities and towns."

Across the UK as a whole, the number of sightings have doubled from 2007 to 2008.

Mr Pope said he believed the reasons for this included the growing popularity of Chinese lanterns, which float off and glow brightly in the sky after being lit, and are well known for being mistaken as UFOs.

Last year, lanterns lit and set off at the wedding of Lucy and Lyn Thomas from Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan, made headlines around the world when police officers in a helicopter admitted they could have mistaken them for UFOs.

Mr Pope also said the very fact that the MoD were releasing its files on the sightings was generating interest in the UFO phenomena.

"It is being covered on Newsnight and on the front page of the Sun," he said.

"You have to go back to 1985 before I can recall another UFO story on the front page of a newspaper.

"UFOs are a subject that almost everyone has an opinion on. It is one of those great subjects which if you mention it down the pub, someone will claim to have seen one, and another person will claim it's all a big government cover up and another will say it's all a load of rubbish."

But while it was an interesting and fun subject to debate, there was also a serious side, said Mr Pope.

"The UFO debate does raise important defence and air safety issues," he said.

"One case that springs to mind is the recent incident at RAF St Athan when a police helicopter was apparently nearly hit by a UFO.

"Another near collision happened last year over Birmingham when the pilot had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a UFO.

"This is why their investigation is important."

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