Greenham women celebrate the final victory with garden shears and muscle power

Dozens of people joined forces yesterday to pull down the 50-year- old fence surrounding Greenham Common, marking a final victory for peace campaigners.

There were cheers of jubilation from crowds as they gathered, armed with garden cutters, and chopped their way through the 8ft high wire fence which surrounds the former US air base in Berkshire.

Large sections of the fence were pushed to the ground around the 800- acre site which has now been returned to common land.

The momentous day rapidly became a large community event as kites and hot-air balloons circled the site and local residents joined council officials to walk on the land which has been fenced off for 50 years.

Greenham Common was the site of a continuous women's protest from 1981 until the final American cruise missiles were removed in March 1991. The demonstrations ended with the closure of the base.

Jean Gardner, chairman of Newbury District Council, said: "Everyone was in fine spirits as we cut through sections of the fence. Lots of local people came along with cutters and cheered as the fences came down.

"I do not think that people actually believed that the fence would be cut down until they finally saw it. Many walked onto the land to survey the scene for the first time in 50 years. This is an historic day for the people of Newbury as we take the first step to returning Greenham Common back to the people.

"Already 600,000 tonnes of concrete has been dug up and very shortly we will begin the removal of 8 million gallons of fuel stores." The two year restoration programme will create the largest area of open heathland in Berkshire.

A spokesperson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said: "The final removal of the fences at Greenham Common and its return to common land is a day for celebrating and a testimony to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of peace campaigners.

"The Greenham women have been an inspiration to people around the world for their energy, determination and focus. The CND now looks forward to the day when the fences come down at all nuclear bases and installations."

The Newbury MP David Rendel, who helped to pull down the fence, said: "This is a truly historic day. After 50 years Greenham Common is coming back to the people of Newbury. Where once the bombers flew, the people will now be able to walk in peace.

"This is the end of a long campaign by local people to have this area restored for open access. For some, this has been a 50-year campaign and everyone locally will be overjoyed that the area will not be an ordinary piece of public open space but a very special nature conservation area."

The land will gradually be opened up to the public as each part of it is made safe.