History, geology and ecology


Greenham and Crookham Commons are often simply known as ‘Greenham Common’ because of the media prominence of RAF Greenham Common during the Cold War. However, a parish boundary runs roughly north-south across the site, historically dividing it into Greenham Common in the west and Crookham Common in the east. Greenham Common was purchased by Newbury Borough Council in 1939, but from 1941 to 1997 the Government twice took control of large areas of the Commons for defence purposes. An airbase was built here and used during and after the Cold War. More information on the history of the Common is available online. Greenham – A common inheritanceRAF Greenham CommonGreenham Common Control TowerWomen’s Peace Camp.

In 1997 Greenham Trust was founded to purchase the former airbase and create and manage the 150 acre Greenham Business Park in the built up area of the Commons where the airbase buildings had stood. The Trust sold the Commons to West Berkshire Council for £1. The Commission was set up by The Greenham and Crookham Commons Act 2002, to enable the Council to manage both Commons, and its role can be found here website link. West Berkshire Council continued to manage the Commons until 1st January 2014, when the Council passed management of the Commons to Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) under a 50 year lease.


The Commons sit on a high plateau lying between the Kennet and Enborne valleys and the natural geology is acid sandy clays overlain by gravel deposits from meltwaters resulting from glacier retreat. It is interspersed with alkaline pockets caused by cement contamination from the runway construction and its final removal. This gives an unusual situation of acid and alkaline soils occurring in close proximity. There are some perched ponds, the largest, known as Taffy’s pond, being opposite the golf course. There are pockets in lower areas where ponds lie below water table level can dry out or remain boggy. Others can hold water in dry weather at much reduced volume. There is a new formation of wetlands at the north east side of Crookham common which mostly lie below water table but have been known to dry out in a long period of dry weather.

Handpost Gully

Drain off from the plateau area forms seepage and springs which have created gullys and waterlogged valleys down the North and South East sides of the common. Alder and a variety of mosses flourish in these areas. Some catchment pools formed in the airfield construction remain but are very silted. The majority of the small bournes is on the South East and South sides and run into the Enborne. Further information is available from Natural England, one of the Commission’s partners.


The Commons form the largest continuous tract of open heath in Berkshire. Purple and pink heathers, golden yellow gorse, and wildflower filled grasslands, together with an important and rich collection of wildlife make this a very important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) . Protected species of birds include Lapwing and Little Ringed Plovers, and other species including Dartford Warblers, Skylarks, Woodlarks, Song Thrush, Common Linnets and Willow Tits are found here, Nightjars are regular visitors in the spring and Nightingales can be heard singing on a summers evening, but their numbers are under threat. There are also specialist insects such as Grayling and Small Blue butterflies and reptiles like Great Crested, Palmate and Smooth Newts. A project exists to re-introduce the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. Green Tiger Beetles and Bog Bush Crickets are common in summer.

A Lapwing on Greenham Common.
A Lapwing on Greenham Common.
A Newt on Greenham Common.
A Lizard on Greenham Common.

The grasslands are rich in orchids. The very rare Star Fruit plant was introduced to the Common in 2006 but shortly died back. Other interesting flora are Solomon’s Seal and Lily of the Valley, Upright Chickweed, Knotted Clover, Heath Cudweed, Spiked Star of Bethlehem and Mochatel.

Full details of the Common’s ecology can be seen in the Commons Management Plan.