A birding walk in the shadow of the Cold War
THIS FORMER SITE of a Royal and US Air Force base was a symbol of the Cold War, with its controversial missile silos and resultant Women’s Peace Camp of the 1980s. However, with closure of the aerodrome in 1993, Greenham and Crookham Commons reverted back to common land with the digging up of concrete runways and the restoration of internationally important heathland habitat, making it the largest heath in Berkshire at about 500 hectares. Newly-created ponds and meres along with open areas of gravel has afforded opportunities for plovers to breed and enabled a wide range of rare bog plants to proliferate, plus dragonflies. But it is the gorse and heather that attracts the most interest, with a few pairs of breeding Dartford Warbler and Stonechat, plus Tree Pipit and Wood Lark on the more broken ground with scattered trees. At dusk, the weird ‘roding’ display flight of Woodcock can be observed over the heath alongside ‘churring’ Nightjars and hooting Tawny Owls. The woodland attracts the usual range of lowland birds and, as the
summer progresses, parties of Crossbill are sometimes noted. This circular walk takes in all the main habitats, but wherever you go a reminder of its recent history is not far away in the names of the trails, such as Taxiway Walk and Runway Cross. Where once B52 bombers rumbled down the runways, there is now bird song and wide open spaces.