IF there is life out there, is anyone really that bothered any more?

The start of the modern UFO era was 1947 - when an American pilot observed flying disks scooting across the sky heralded a global obsession with the new phenomena.

As the number of sightings grew, the nature of people's experiences grew increasingly vivid and a plethora of conspiracy theories became ingrained in contemporary folklore.

With hundreds of cases on record in the UK, some of the most famous were recorded in Hampshire in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Jaw-dropping examples include a couple who reported their car being forced off the A272 in Winchester on a dark November night in 1976.

A spacecraft landed, their story went, and a bearded humanoid wearing a silver suit got out before disappearing.

In recent years, however, public interest has waned considerably according to the experts.

"It could be due to any number of reasons," said Robert Rosamond, chairman of the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA).

"People have a very short attention span. We are fickle as a species. It doesn't take long for something to be put aside."

The "halcyon days" of ufology for Mr Rosamond began 30 years ago, when the nation's imagination was captured by the 1977 film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

BUFORA was swamped with sighting reports as a result of the Steven Spielberg blockbuster about alien encounters.

The British public again came close to that level of enthusiasm for all things UFO-related with the cult 1990s TV series The X-Files which inspired another surge in interest.

"Since The X-Files interest in ufology has begun to decline," said Mr Rosamond.

"The decline is continuous but I think that it will reach a constant level and there will still be the diehards like us. I once suggested that ET phoned home and went home!

"What do you do when the reason for your existence suddenly starts dying out? We were set up because of the phenomenon, but when that phenomenon exits stage left what do you do?"

In recent years a number of UFO magazines and journals have folded and a ufology course which ran at Totton College has also stopped.

The BUFORA chairman believes there is still just as much to see in the skies - but people are not bothering to look for it any more.

He thinks the Internet has also had a negative impact on the number of sightings being reported to associations like his.

"It has made it easier to report what people have seen," he said. "I think there is somewhere in the region of 1.4 million sites dedicated to ufology."

BUFORA still receives a "steady trickle of reports" but recently they tend to be from people looking back retrospectively on a past experience.

While his association is an objective, scientific-based organisation, Mr Rosamond admits that he has personally witnessed a UFO himself.

"I saw a huge boomerang with six spheres evenly spaced underneath the 90-metre wing span. It was flying silently at about 1,500ft at about 1am."

The ufologist, who lives in Harrow, believes he may have come up with a sinister explanation for the sighting.

"The bit where the objective mind steps in is that it was travelling inbound on a known outward-bound flight path from RAF Northolt.

"Obviously I didn't leap to the conclusion I had seen an alien spaceship but I thought: I have just seen something ultra top secret and extremely covert."

After 60 years of research into ufology and not a shred of proof of alien life forms, the search for the likes of BUFORA will continue.

While ufology may currently be out of fashion for most people, it has been replaced with a fascination for ancient mysteries sparked by the best-selling book and film The Da Vinci Code.

It is all about the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar and whether Jesus really did marry Mary Magdalene or not.

"That will run its course and something else will come along that will grab their interest," said Mr Rosamond.

Whether the general public will join forces with the UFO fanatics once more and turn their attentions skywards is anyone's guess.

"The interest from the public has definitely dwindled but then it's a very fickle and unpredictable subject," said the BUFORA chairman. "This time next week someone could see something and all hell could break loose.

"That is the nature of the beast we tinker with. It is a law unto itself and we don't know the rules."