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).
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 (WBC) 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. There's much more information on the Trust and its activities on its own 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 commoners' rights (including rights to graze cattle, ponies and other animals).
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 Council's 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 Traveller's 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 many 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).
One other thing is worth mentioning in this brief history: The Greenham and Crookham Commons Act 2002. Sounds boring? Well you don't have to read it unless you really want to, via this link. What's 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.
The Commission records commoners' rights, regulates the grazing, and has collaborated with BBOWT to produce a new management plan. WBC as 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. One of our longest-standing volunteers, Laurence Parker, is currently our appointed Commissioner. (Our Secretary, Derek Cutt, is also on the Commission as an elected commoner.)
In January 2014 WBC leased the commons to BBOWT for a 50 year term. At the same time, it contracted the management of the site to BBOWT. We are now, therefore, in many respects one of BBOWT's many volunteer groups. We have access to BBOWT training opportunities, insurance, tools, vehicles, health-and-safety protocols, and so on.