Meet the Conservators

The Commons were created by an Act of Parliament in 1871 which provided for a Board of Conservators, more commonly known today as Trustees, to ensure that the area is kept “forever open and unenclosed and unbuilt on… [and preserved] for public and local use for purposes of exercise and recreation…”. The Conservators are responsible for the protection and preservation of Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common. 

March 2021 saw the most recent triennial election for the five elected Conservator positions on the Board of Trustees that manage Wimbledon and Putney Commons. Twelve very able candidates stood for election and Levy-payers re-elected the three Conservators who re-stood: Peter Hirsch, Diane Neil Mills and David Hince; and elected Sue Bucknall and Michael Johnston. 

Dr Ros Taylor, who was the DEFRA appointed Conservator for eight years, retired at the end of 2020 and the role has now been taken up by Oliver Bennett MBE.  Nigel Ware is the Home Office Appointed Conservator and Mike Rappolt, remains the Ministry of Defence Appointed Conservator.

Read more about your Conservators here....    

Sue Bucknall, Elected in 2021

Sue says she feels very honoured and privileged to become a Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservator in 2021, the 150 year celebration of the founding of WPCC and is looking forward to working with the dedicated staff and fellow Conservators.

The Commons have always been a focal point for the area, but perhaps never more so than during the pandemic when it became the go to place every day for exercise and recreation for so many local people.

Sue is really looking forward to helping with the 150th celebrations which she hope will be able to be held later in 2021. She’s particularly looking forward to the sports day celebration featuring sports played on the Commons over the last 150 years.

She thinks the many volunteers do excellent work on the Commons especially last year on the Beverley Brook path and she hopes that they can all return soon. The litter pickers are much in demand due to the increased use of the Commons and Sue hopes many new volunteers will also come forward to help.

Behind the scenes Sue hopes that her experience as a trained barrister and Chief Executive of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group charity will enable her to be a useful addition looking at the 150 year old constitution to ensure that it is made suitable for present and future times and to actively participate in good charity management.

She would also like to see the improvement of the pavilion at the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields, encourage more sports as well as protecting our valuable flora and fauna.

Sue has been a teacher and so she is very keen to encourage children’s activities so that they learn to appreciate the unique environment and protect it for future generations so that in another 150 years we will still have the WPCC fulfilling its original purpose of preserving, protecting and enhancing the commons for the purposes of exercise and recreation.

Declarations of Interest for Sue Bucknall

David Hince, Elected 2018 and 2021

David has lived next to Putney Heath for 13 years and through walking his dog, cycling and running well knows and adores our Commons.  David has had a career in finance, and brings knowledge of how to operate and manage teams in a highly regulated environment.  Prior to finance David served in the Army and understands the importance of everyone pulling in the same direction in order to achieve ones goals.

David sees our Commons as a precious natural environment to be maintained, managed and enhanced for present and future generations.  We currently face a series of challenges not least the increasing footfall and competing demands on the Commons, finding the right balance is critical.  The need to improve finance, governance and communication are all challenges facing this new board.  David looks forward to working with the other Conservators to address these issues and preserve the all that our amazing Commons represent.

Declarations of Interest for David Hince

Peter Hirsch, Elected 2018 and 2021

Peter loves our magnificent Commons.  As a Conservator his goal is to support, preserve and enhance this beautiful but fragile natural environment for all of us now and for future generations.  His family moved to Wimbledon 38 years ago to be near this wonderful green space.  They all enjoy the Commons and walk and run there, watch and photograph the fauna and flora, enjoy nature, and just find peace to relax.

Peter is an experienced manager and plc director with a background in earth science, management consultancy and academic lecturing.  He is expert at understanding organisations and helping them improve. Having helped numerous senior teams to strengthen their communication, teamwork and overall performance, he is confident he can bring these skills to add value to the WPCC Board. 

Peter was first elected to the WPCC Board in 2018.  Those first three years presented numerous challenges, many unexpected.  The biggest of these were the Statutory Inquiry by our regulator the Charity Commission and the COVID 19 pandemic.  The work of trustees and Conservators was sometimes stressful and gruelling, however Peter is quietly confident that we have done as well as could have been done. No one knows what new challenges will face us in the next three years but Peter is confident that the new Board will be resilient and successful in moving forward.

Peter has chaired his local Resident’s Association, covering eleven roads in Wimbledon village, for the last ten years and is widely involved with local groups.  His reputation in and knowledge of the community makes him well placed to listen to and act on what residents and users expect of the Commons.

Declarations of Interest for Peter Hirsch

Michael Johnston, Elected 2021

Michael has 20 years experience sitting on a wide range of charity boards, particularly in the conservation sector. This has given him a deep insight into charity governance, finance and strategy.

He has just completed nine years as a trustee of Butterfly Conservation, a leading UK environment charity, and a term on the board of Scottish Wildlife Trust, the largest of Britain’s wildlife trusts, and he is also currently a trustee of Buglife, the invertebrate charity.

In his professional life, Michael trained as a journalist and has worked at the top level of management in the media sector. He is now lucky enough to live 100 yards from the Commons with his wife, Claire, and their teenage daughter and witnesses the joy these remarkable, but vulnerable, green spaces bring to hundreds of people every day.

Declarations of Interest for Michael Johnston

Diane Neil Mills, Elected 2018 and 2021, Chairman

Originally from Canada, Diane has lived with her family in Wimbledon since 1996 and recognises the great importance of this unique resource.  She enjoys cycling, running and outdoor pursuits and Wimbledon and Putney Commons feature prominently in her life.

Diane was originally elected as a Conservator in 2018 and over the past three years has gained an appreciation for the uniqueness of Wimbledon and Putney Commons in terms of the constitution, governance arrangements and funding model, all of which define the culture and ethos of this special organisation.

Her role as a Conservator follows an international career in the energy and telecommunications sectors.  After returning to the UK, she served as a councillor for the London Borough of Merton, where she developed an understanding of the operations, finances and limitations of local government.  Diane also served as a Mitcham Common Conservator and Wandle Valley Regional Park Trustee, where she gained experience in the stewardship of similar though very distinct open spaces. 

Experience in all of these roles has made her appreciate the importance of ongoing investment to protect and enhance valuable assets and therefore views the development and delivery of an investment plan as the highest priority for Wimbledon and Putney Commons.

Declarations of Interest for Diane Neil Mills

Peter Shortt - Appointed by the Secretary of State for Defence 

Mr Shortt is the newest of the Conservators and was appointed by the Secretary of State for Defence on 1 September 2022. 

Peter brings with him a wide range of expertise, particularly in the area of sustainability. He is an experienced venture capitalist and corporate financier with considerable experience of working at the public/private interface, including 14 years working in and with the MoD. He is currently Chief Investment Officer of Sustainable Accelerator, which invests in and provides support to companies in the clean tech and sustainability sectors. Prior to this, Peter was a founding director of the Carbon Trust, one of the UK’s leading organisations promoting the transition to a sustainable low carbon economy.

In taking up his position Mr Shortt commented: “I am excited and honoured to be appointed a Conservator by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Common has been a huge part of my life since I first lived I the area in 1982 and remains so to this day. The recent experience of lockdown only underscored that. I hope that my experience of working both with large public sector bodies and small start ups in the sustainability field will enable me to serve the interests of the WPCC and all who use the Commons”

Oliver Bennett MBE - Appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment 

Oliver has been an environmentalist since he was a teenager, when he enjoyed volunteering at his local nature reserve and spotting rare swallowtail butterflies. He went on to study environmental science at Degree and Research Masters level and worked for environmental charities undertaking habitat management and species monitoring. In 2004 he became an environmental policy advisor to MPs in the House of Commons, where he still works.

Oliver understands that the Commons have a huge cultural value and that they bring joy to many people. He believes that the rare and threatened wildlife found on the Commons adds to this cultural value and joy, and that it is a fundamental part of why they are so loved.

Oliver believes that with the support of the local community, the Conservators and other interested parties, the Commons can continue to play an important role in reversing the significant biodiversity loss that has happened across the UK, and in protecting rare wildlife in the face of climate change.

Declarations of Interest for Oliver Bennett

Nigel Ware - Appointed by the Home Secretary 

Nigel has lived in Wimbledon for over 38 years and prior to that in Putney. He enjoys walking and cycling on the commons (but only on the permitted cycle paths!).

After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, Nigel spent his career in professional accounting partnerships including 32 years as a partner in Baker Tilly (now renamed RSM) and its predecessors in trade. Since retiring from full time work, he has taken on a number of voluntary positions including acting as treasurer of a Citizens Advice charity and of a health related charity, acting as governor of a further education college and serving on two audit committees.

Nigel believes that his extensive financial experience helps the WPCC in managing its finances and reporting on its financial position. He works with the other conservators to preserve the wonderful community asset that the commons represent.

Declarations of Interest for Nigel Ware