On the third Sunday of each month since 1997, we have been doing voluntary conservation work on Greenham and Crookham Commons near Newbury, West Berkshire. Much of the site is the former Greenham Common Airbase, famous for its cold-war cruise missiles and peace protesters. But a parish boundary runs right across the area, so it is actually two adjacent commons, Greenham in the west and Crookham in the east. That explains our name.
Some of the site is wooded, most is open grassland and heathland. As with most lowland heath, the commons have a tendency to revert to scrub and woodland. There is nothing wrong with woodland as such, but the heathland is a valuable and threatened habitat. If the scrub encroachment is not kept in check, the special heathland flora and fauna would be lost. So, a large part of our work (from autumn through to early spring each year) is tree and scrub clearance. But we can't do scrub-bashing during the bird nesting season, so late spring and summer tasks include things like fence maintenance, building other infrastructure like steps and boardwalks, clearing footpaths, or controlling bracken and invasive exotic plant species such as Himalayan balsam.
Some of our regular volunteers live around the commons, some are from the surrounding district (North Hampshire as well as West Berks). Others are from much further afield - We've had volunteers from as far away as Hong Kong!
The commons are owned by West Berkshire Council, but leased to the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) which manages the site on the Council's behalf. BBOWT's local office and depot are on the common, in one of the former airbase buildings. Our tasks are planned in consultation with the BBOWT Land Management team, to fit into the management plan. BBOWT provide tools and materials, and have also provided training - some of our regular volunteers have been trained in areas incuding chainsaw and brushcutter use, tree-felling, herbicides application and trailer driving. Sometimes the work party is led by a member of BBOWT's team, sometimes by one or more of the volunteers.
Interesting (and true) fact:
There used to be a pub on the Common. Its name was The Volunteer.