Greenham and Crookham Conservation Volunteers: History

(For a much more comprehensive history of the Commons, try this website at greenham-common.org.) But to summarise...

Peace protest

For many years until 1997, most of Greenham and Crookham Commons was owned by the Ministry of Defence and occupied by Greenham Common Airbase. It became internationally famous, or notorious, for cruise missiles and peace protestors. The boundaries of the base and the commons were not completely co-incident: parts of the airbase were on land which was not common land, and some parts of the common, owned by the local authority, were outside the airbase perimeter. But the airbase occupied the vast majority of the area, and there was no public access (unless you count sporadic incursions by peace women).

Reagan & Gorby

The big change that eventually gave us the common as it is now began in 1987, when President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty to remove certain types of nuclear weapons from Europe. Between 1989 and 1991 the cruise missiles were taken back to the USA and in 1993 the Ministry of Defence announced that there was no longer any military need for the airbase, and that the land was for sale.

Cutting a long story short, in 1997 the airbase was bought by the Greenham Common Trust. The Trust immediately sold most of the area to West Berkshire Council for the nominal sum of £1, and retained the built-up part (the hangers and other service buildings on the south side of the site) to run as a business park. Thereís much more information on the Trust and its activities on its website. The Council (again a long tale is being drastically truncated here) made a commitment to manage the commons within two general goals: nature conservation and commonersí rights (including rights to graze cattle).

Conrete removal

The two original Rangers (Dominic and Mark, both of whom have since moved on to pastures new), were appointed and at the same time the Councilís civil engineering contractor Raymond Brown Ltd. began removing the roads, runways, underground fuel tanks, buildings, electrical installations and so on. (Some of the installations were hazardous to the public so the perimeter fence stayed up until 2000, when the common was finally considered safe for public access.) Some pictures from the restoration project, kindly provided by Raymond Brown, can be seen here. They include a great aerial shot of the whole common, well worth a look!

The Rangers produced a quarterly newsletter called Common Issues which was distributed to local residents. In the second edition they called for volunteers. There was a public meeting at a local pub, the Travellerís Friend, to see if anyone was interested (several people were), and the first practical task was birch-bashing (surprise!) on 21 December 1997. It was very cold but we had a bonfire. The GCCV was born! We had our first formal business meeting in April 1998 at which time we became "official" with a constitution, a committee, affiliation to the BTCV, insurance, annual general meetings, agendas, minutes and all that stuff.

So for several years now we have met more-or-less monthly, with volunteer numbers varying from one or two on some occasions to over thirty on others (when we have been augmented by cadres of Scouts, or when other local conservation volunteer groups have joined us). But one other thing is worth mentioning in this brief history: The Greenham and Crookham Commons Act 2002. Sounds boring? Well you donít have to read it unless you really want to, via this link. Whatís important here is that the Act established the Greenham and Crookham Commons Commission, a body of 20 members which plays a major part in managing the commons.

Itís complicated, but essentially the Commission records commoners rights, regulates the grazing, and is responsible for producing a new management plan. WBC (the landowner) has to consult the Commission before making decisions on some management issues. Ten of the Commissioners are elected from among the commoners and the other ten are appointed by various bodies like, for example, Greenham and Thatcham Parish Councils. One of the appointing bodies is us, the GCCV. Our Chairman from 1998 to 2012, Derek Emes, is currently our appointed Commissioner. (Our Secretary, Derek Cutt, is also on the Commission as an elected commoner. Both Dereks are on the Commissionís Conservation Management Committee.)