So when a former MoD chief warns that the country could be attacked by extraterrestrials at any time, you may be forgiven for feeling a little alarmed. During his time as head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project, Nick Pope was persuaded into believing that other lifeforms may visit Earth and, more specifically, Britain. His concern is that "highly credible" sightings are simply dismissed. And he complains that the project he once ran is now "virtually closed" down, leaving the country "wide open" to aliens.
Mr Pope decided to speak out about his worries after resigning from his post at the Directorate of Defence Security at the MoD this week. "The consequences of getting this one wrong could be huge," he said.
"If you reported a UFO sighting now, I am absolutely sure that you would just get back a standard letter telling you not to worry. ''Frankly we are wide open - if something does not behave like a conventional aircraft now, it will be ignored."The X-Files have been closed down." If these words had come from a sci-fi fanatic, they could be easily dismissed by cynics. But Mr Pope's CV - he was head of the UFO project between 1991 and 1994 - cannot be ignored.
When he began his job, he too was sceptical about UFOs but access to classified files on the subject and investigation of a series of spectacular UFO sightings gradually changed his mind. And while Mr Pope says that there is no evidence of hostile intent, he insists it cannot be ruled out. "There has got to be the potential for that and one is left with the uneasy feeling that if it turned out to be so, there is very little we could do about it," he said. "If you believe these things are extra terrestrial craft then you cannot rule out that what is happening is some kind of covert reconnaissance."
One incident which persuaded him of the existence of alien lifeforms was in 1993. There were reports of a "vast, triangular-shaped craft" spotted flying over RAF bases in the West Midlands. "Most of the witnesses were police and military personnel," he said. "Hundreds of members of the public also had sightings over a period of several hours."
In another incident in 1980 at RAF bases in Suffolk, staff investigated a suspected plane crash after bright lights were reported coming from nearby woods. They found a kind of lunar landing module standing on three legs which then flew off. The indents it left in the ground were found to emit ten times the normal levels of radiation. Mr Pope said: "These sort of incidents are why I got so frustrated.
"In my time I would brief the more interesting sightings up the chain of command to people like the Chief of the Air Staff and would get the answer back that it was very interesting and I had clearly done a good job investigating it and that was it. "Every one is a piece of a puzzle but no one takes it seriously. There needs to be more resources and people who are prepared to look past the philosophical issues, look at the reports and investigate them properly.
"Whether you believe these things are foreign air forces testing prototype aircraft or whether you believe they are something more exotic, with the speeds and movements they are capable of, it's technology we would very much like to get hold of."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence insisted that all UFO sightings were investigated for "evidence to suggest that UK airspace has been compromised by hostile or unauthorised air activity." She said: "Unless there is such evidence, the MoD doesn't attempt to positively identify what was seen." Mr Pope is continuing his UFO research in a private capacity since leaving the MoD and is recognised as a leading authority on UFOs and the unexpected.
Pro-military spending advocate that I am, I would like everyone to know that I will not be calling for an increase in military spending to protect us from attacks by aliens from another galaxy, but I am willing to pony up a few extra dollars for tinfoil.