Greenham and Crookham Commons management plan 2009-2014: Education

Aim 3: To enhance the appreciation and understanding of the common though a programme of education and interpretation.

1) Introduction

The common covers a large area and comprises a mixture of landscape types and habitats. It is a cultural landscape with a rich and chequered history. It has been common land for several hundred years providing rough grazing and a range of products for those neighbouring properties with commoners rights. It has been used by the military for brief periods throughout its long history.

2) Interpretation

Sep 2012: Welcome board

On-site interpretation is mainly via 3 interpretive panels erected when the common was re-opened to the public in 2000. These are in the main car parks at the Control Tower, Pyle Hill and Crookham Hill. The panels are map boards with images of some of the wildlife on the common and a brief summary of points of interest and the history of the common.

There is a leaflet of the same design which describes a series of themed walks across the common which take in some of the key features. Waymark posts with colours corresponding to those in the leaflet mark these routes on the ground.

In addition there is a large board in the main (Control Tower) car park faced on one side with a collage of ceramic tiles produced by local schoolchildren and fired by a local artist, and on the other with a photographic image of the common. Similar structures are in place at two other West Berkshire Council nature reserves - Snelsmore Common and Hosehill Lake.

A further interpretation panel has been installed in Compartment 6, giving information about the 2010-2012 heathland restoration project.

There is also information relating to the Common on West Berkshire Museum's website Greenham: a common inheritance (which includes many digitised images of the common both past and present), the Greenham and Crookham Commons Commission, and BBOWT's West Berkshire Living Landscape web page.

A number of artists have used both the common and the Control Tower to exhibit works and to house 'installations'. There are good links with a network of artists through New Greenham Arts.

Opportunities exist to increase the range and suitability of interpretive material for all visitors and to improve existing provision. Other less formal forms of interpretation, such as sculpture and other art or craft-based media, also have potential on the site. The involvement of the local community in these projects may be critical.

Control tower The former airfield control tower next to the main car park, and its surrounding compound, are owned and managed by Greenham Parish Council. Renovation is (Jan 2015) under way, and the Parish Council has submitted plans to adapt the building to create a visitor centre. A cafe, public toilets and exhibtion/display space are expected to be provided. While not actually within the area covered by this management plan, these facilities will complement the recreational and educational opportunities which the commons offer.

Further details of the proposals are available on the Greenham Parish Council website.

3) Education

Whilst there is currently no provision for formal educational visits to the common, there is a good deal of potential due to the size of the common, the range and diversity of habitats present, the rich history of the site and its cultural associations. The common presents an exciting opportunity to explore aspects of the primary and secondary curricula in an 'outdoor classroom' environment. The proximity to Newbury and Thatcham means there are a number of schools nearby which could benefit.

An online activity pack for use by schools was produced in 2009. This project was funded by Greenham Common Trust. There may be some scope for an extension of this or the provision of a similar web-based learning tool but in many cases schools wish to follow up online activities with an actual visit to the site. Unfortunately this has hitherto proved impossible due to lack of staff on the ground to facilitate this.

However, a number of schools have been involved in one-off projects on the common since it re-opened to the public in 2000. There has been a botanical bias to these activities. The common does lend itself to ecological survey work and geography projects but a wide range of other foci for study present themselves

There is also potential for visits by students from higher education establishments. MSc students and undergraduates from two local Universities - Southampton and Reading - have undertaken periods of study here. There has been particular interest in both the ecology of the common and the effects of its former incarnation as an airbase. The sheer size, ecological diversity and complexity of the common provide an array of suitable subjects for a doctoral thesis, an MSc project or an undergraduate dissertation.

Most of the countryside events on the common provide informal education and in some cases more structured learning for adults and children. Organised and run by the site ranger there is additional input from other experts where necessary. All events are advertised in the Countryside Service events guide. They range in content from traditional countryside skills such as besom broom making through ecology-based workshops (e.g. crickets and grasshoppers) to themed guided walks and 'meet the ponies' events.

One avenue that has been explored at the Nature Discovery Centre is 'Forest Schools'. The premise of Forest Schools is that children should be outside for regular periods interacting with nature and the countryside around them. The emphasis is on children learning about nature and the environment and improving their physical and social skills. There is potential for the Forest Schools programme to be extended to Greenham and Crookham Commons.

4) Aims and objectives (2011-2016)