Category Archives: Tree planting

Volunteer Thor plants his first Brazilian Tree

REGUA Volunteer Thor Smestad hails from British Columbia, Canada.   He came to Brazil to fulfill a dream, to plant trees in Brazil.

Thor Smestad Planting his first Brazilian Tree (© Nicholas Locke)

With a diploma in Forestry Technology and a degree in Forest Resources Management  Thor brings a new approach to our propagation model.    As he is a specialist in propagation from from cuttings he started by taking cuttings from four Brazilian species to test how successful they are in rooting.    This would be a major breakthrough in reducing reforestation costs and his cuttings placed in buckets with small air pumps lay in tubs of water waiting to root.    Thor has seen the re-forested areas and the latest areas planted and is amazed at the scale in which REGUA is working.    He has offered some valuable contributions in improving the quality of planting.   We were able to reward Thor by planting two very special seedlings of  “Guarajuba”, (Terminalia acuminate) donated by the botanist Pablo Prieto.

We had heard about these endangered trees from Pablo, a senior researcher at the Botanical Gardens in Rio de Janeiro.   He is involved in compiling the Red data list of plants of the Atlantic Rainforest.   There are six individual Guarajuba trees in the Botanical Gardens of Rio but when botanists started searching in the forests around Rio city and in the best remaining tracts of forest, none could be found.   It was thought that the species had been lost in the wild.

Guarajuba wood was well known for its high quality timber which was used to for buildings and boats.  Being valuable led to trees being cut down in huge numbers.

Volunteer Thor plants a Guarajuba Tree (Terminalia acuminata) (© Nicholas Locke)

However upon researching the Tijuca forest last year, botanists came across 28 examples of this very species.   They had probably been planted in 1861-1874 when Major Archer spearheaded the reforestation of the degraded hill under Christ the Redeemer as its water sources had dried up.    Pablo found some seeds under this tree and germinated them at home.   He generously brought two examples for us to plant at front of REGUA.

This is just terrific and short of opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate we are overjoyed that Thor could plant both the trees for us and hope that in a few years we shall also have seeds to plant elsewhere.

400,000th tree planted!

REGUA planted its 400,000 tree on November 23rd 2016.   The tree species to get this wonderful accolade is  “Angelim de morcego”,  Andira anthelmia.

Raquel with REGUA’s 400,000th Tree (© Nicholas Locke)

One of Raquel’s favourite trees, the planting was made possible by the World Land Trust UK as part of its “Plant a tree” fund, and with the land donated to REGUA by the Danish Travel Fund this was truly a team success.   This particular piece of land is very important as it faces the High Matumbo community and strengthens the barrier of the forest.

This marks a very important point in history for us all and we can only hope that we can, with your support continue to plant trees and reach a million!

90% of REGUA’s trees come from its plant nursery and the entire process of restoration involves local community members and is admired by local residents.

Thank you again – this just proves what can be done when we work together and there is the will to succeed.

Nicholas Locke

World Land Trust – Forests of the Future Fund

The forests at REGUA are growing! The area known to friends as the Protestant land in the Matumbo Gap was an area of pasture that REGUA had long wanted to reforest.   It represented a corridor that could link precious areas to the main REGUA block of forest.

The Planting Team with Raquel Locke, REGUA's Vice President and Sue Healey UK Volunteer.
The Planting Team with Raquel Locke, REGUA’s Vice President and Sue Healey UK Volunteer. (© REGUA)

The World Land Trust had helped us acquire the land in 2014 but the thick mat of imperata or brachiaria grasses was not permitting trees to germinate and gain a foothold. The answer lay in an assisted planting scheme.

The World land Trust helped us again with a grant “Forests of the Future Fund” and Seotaiji the great South Korean singer helped us with the necessary funds to enable the planting of 10,000 REGUA nursery native trees.  Only a year later the results show for themselves.

We have taken many guests and specialists who have been bowled over with the rapid growth of the trees showing that the trees are anxious to form a forest once again. The weather was kind to us after an initial drought and since we have been looking very well after the forests. I wish all forests could grow so quickly!

One year on
One year on (© Sue Healey)

We are now preparing another area for the World Land Trust  “Forests of the Future” programme, but thank you World Land Trust and Seotaiji so much for this important support.

REGUA – Building Relationships

REGUA’s collaboration in the Guapiaçu Grande Vida Project brought many long-term advantages to the Reserve.   A team made up of professionals with experience in project management, forest engineering, public engagement, education from school to local authority level, mapping, publicity and media promotion.   All had roots in the municipality and together were able to develop and implement a project that took REGUA into the main stream of conservation work in Brazil.

During the two and a half years of the project, GGV was a tremendous success.   Planting 100 hectares of Atlantic Forest with 180,000 trees, mapping almost half the 450km ² watershed, consolidating an education programme involving 5,000 school children and responsible for REGUA’s first scientific seminar with 50 works amongst University researchers.

The project helped upscale REGUA’s capacity in forest restoration, fostered an understanding of the municipal’s environmental importance and enabled REGUA to identify land use and forest cover, which in turn helped prioritize areas for further land purchase.   The project terminated at the end of 2015,  but we are grateful for their contribution.


REGUA GGV Project Team
REGUA GGV Project Team (© Tatiana Horta)

The team, although dispersed, continues to be active.   Gabriela now works for German development bank GIZ, promoting development work across Brazil, she also runs her own environmental consultancy.   Tatiana and Bruno have returned to teaching.  Nathalie is working in tourism in her own lodge.

Lorena is an independent geographer and continues to have ties with REGUA, representing the institution at the Guanabara Watershed Committee and Agenda 21 meetings.    Aline is a freelance Forestry Engineer working with REGUA to design new planting areas and continuing to monitor previous reforestation areas.

Professor Carlos works at REGUA on a part-time basis, expanding our Schools Outreach and Young Ranger programmes whilst Ana Caroline has joined the staff continuing to give REGUA her best in the office.

REGUA is very grateful for their input and proud to be able to play a part in the continued success of these valued friends and welcome their support in the future.

Exotic Tree Species

Syzygium malaccense (sometimes called Mountain or Malaysian apple) is a very interesting tree and is widely planted for its bright red fruit.

This tree was included in the very first re-forestation areas at REGUA  for two reasons:

  • we loved the tree as it brings in many butterflies on its rotting fruit and
  • at the time we weren’t following a rigorous planting method

For the same reasons we also added Syzygium cumini, and specialists informed us that this species was native to northeast Brazil.   Forestry engineers do not believe that either species is a threat as an invasive species, but we are slowly cutting down Syzygium malaccensis as we aim to get as faithful as possible to the list of native Atlantic Forest species.

Syzygium malaccense flower by Mike Patrikeev
Syzygium malaccense flower (© Michael Patrikeev)

Many reforestation projects are planting species from different areas of Brazil including the Amazon and the Cerrado. There are two fundamental reasons for this; nurseries have difficulty accessing seeds as the law prohibits seeds being collected from local parks and the climate has changed so that the drier Cerrado species actually grow well in the slightly altered climate at REGUA.

Typical examples are Cassia grandis and Triplaris brasilensis both from the Amazon.  Other erroneously planted species of the past is Artoparpus integrifolia, the jackfruit which has covered large areas of the Tijuca park and Ilha Grande.   The Oil palm Eleias guinansis, planted for over centuries by farmers and workers for oil and making soap has likewise spread since it germinates very well in primary forest and is eaten and dispersed by virtually every animal from agouti to vulture.    It is easy to see how species like these get out of control.

Fire threatens new Plantation

Recently, whilst returning from the lodge mid-morning Raquel and I were surprised to see a plume of almost transparent smoke arising from the Petrobras funded reforestation planting.

As the plume swirled from behind a small hill of pasture, initially we thought it was a large BBQ in the local village, but we thought it worthwhile checking out, just in case.   Low and behold as we approached we realized some mischievous youngster had put fire to the dead material around the young trees.   Though the weather has been favourable with much rain recently, one day of sun is enough to dry things out and offer a laugh to marauding pranksters.

Fire in new Plantation
Fire in new Plantation (© Nicholas Locke)

The culprits had long gone and we soon put out the fire and the rain came down in the afternoon to help matters.

Although we know this fire was not the efforts of a local saboteur angry over REGUA’s efforts in conservation, we still have to keep a close look out for this sort of action.  Happily it wasn’t a large area and the plants were not too badly scorched.

Tree Planting in Cachoeiras de Macacu

Pope Francis is very popular in Cachoeiras de Macacu the nearest town to REGUA.   The Catholic Church wanted to celebrate his recent encyclical on nature by planting 1,000 trees  in Cachoeiras de Macacu’s Municipal Park located at the entrance of the town.

Tree Planting in Cachoeiras de Macacu
Tree Planting in Cachoeiras de Macacu Park (© Nicholas Locke)

REGUA had seedlings available and offered them to the Park.  The excited tree planters appeared promptly at 10.00 am and after a brief thank you sermon, everyone walked to the area to plant their trees.    Children and their families participated in the event and within 90 minutes the work was done.

This was a great job and the afternoon rain came to bathe the trees. The Forest Police also celebrated the act by releasing some cage birds and the children were delighted making further plans to reopen the overgrown paths in the Park.

Releasing caged birds in Cachoeiras
Releasing Caged birds (© Nicholas Locke)

Where there is a will there is a way !

Proof that changes are possible . . .

The REGUA reforestation programme is occurring at a rate not thought conceivable just ten years ago.    We first planted an area of three hectares and thought it was hard work. We had no experience and every time the sun came out, we thought the trees would die. Nethertheless we persevered and every year we gained more experience and became better and better at this work.

REGUA archive c. 1923
REGUA archive c. 1923

Today we are planting twenty times that area in a year and the REGUA team is divided in three sectors.    We have the seed team that procures seeds in the forest, picking up seeds of close to 180 species.    The nursery team that is getting wiser at breaking seed dormancy and getting great uniformity in the production of seedlings, and there is the field team that transports the seedlings to the field and looks after them, nurturing them with patience and care.

The sad picture of destruction of the 1920s is slowly reverting to forests of the future.   Just a century after areas were cut down to make way for pastures, the same areas are being restored to forests.

These forests now generate employment within the local community; act as new buffer areas to the large forest of the escarpment, forming an ever larger forest block that offers new habitat for the biodiversity around, which in turn leads to more research opportunities and potential tourism.

2015 planting area
The same area in 2015 (© REGUA)

Gradually the small fragments of fading forest value can make it back and through forest corridor planting those islands can be reconnected offering a safer future for the species found here at REGUA.

This is the most rewarding work REGUA can do!

Nicholas Locke

Rio Scouts visit REGUA

REGUA recently played host to a Rio de Janeiro Scout Group.   With an entourage of Scout leaders and parents, two coach loads of excited children swarmed around the Conservation Centre.

Rio Scouts walking to planting area
Rio Scouts walking to planting area (© Sue Healey)

Then it was off to the planting area, two kilometres away along the banks of the River Guapiaçu.    Some of the group were happy to stroll along, whilst others took a lift in one of the reserve vehicles.   Soon everyone was in place; in the middle of a cattle pasture which had been prepared to accept seedlings from the enthusiastic gardeners.

With the help of our colleagues from the Guapiaçu Grande Vida (GGV) project – who kindly arranged the event – everyone gathered under the shade of a large tree to hear about REGUA project, the importance of the forest and why REGUA and GGV needed their help to plant trees.   After receiving instructions on the best way to handle and plant the seedlings, it was time to get their hands dirty!

The children were thrilled to be able to handle a tree, and eagerly dug into the prepared holes to make a space for the roots.   Once planted and carefully firmed in, they went off to get another tree to plant.   As the adults got more involved, they too, collected seedlings to plant with the children.    Excited rivalry broke out as they competed to plant more trees than their friends – I think the most was seven.

Scouts tree planting
Scouts tree planting (© Sue Healey)

After a walk back through the newly planted land, everyone returned to the Conservation Centre for lunch.   In the afternoon a walk around the wetlands was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone and the day was rounded off with a vote of thanks from the Scouts to those who had arranged the day.

Ruy Lagoas – Helping REGUA restore the forests

Ruy Sylvester Lagoas and his wife Angelica have lived in Santo Amaro, just above the village of Guapiaçu for many years.   Ruy has worked for Nicholas Locke for many years and was contracted to oversee REGUA’s tree planting workforce.   With a love of the countryside, Ruy is only too keen to be re-planting forests in an area where trees have previously been felled.

Ruy and Angelica
Ruy and Angelica (© Sue Healey)

His story is not untypical of recent generations throughout the world but the changes he has seen at REGUA show what can be achieved and something that he is rightly proud of.

Ruy was born in Santo Amaro, and at the age of 15 began helping his father in the family business of felling trees on their land.   The trees with a diameter of at least 2 metres were chosen and felled with an axe by one of Ruy’s brothers.   The family had their own hydro-powered sawmill and oxen to drag the trees down the hillside.   They would sell timber as far away as Cachoieras de Macacu.  The wood was used for many things from houses for hens to homes for people.

In addition, the family farmed bananas and Ruy remembers they would make up to four trips to the mountains a day bringing the bananas down to sell in the local villages and town.

After a few years Ruy went to work for a gas bottle distribution company on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro but after being assaulted by men with guns on seven occasions in a year he decided to return to the countryside he knew and loved.   John Locke (Nicholas Locke’s uncle) asked Ruy to look after his brother Robert’s property, adjacent to his own and Ruy was delighted to accept.   At around this time Nicholas Locke came to work in Brazil and this started the friendship and respect between Ruy and Nicholas which endures today. Over the years they built successful farm with sheds, houses for Ruy, Nicholas and his family, bridges, set up a generator for electricity and by the early 1980’s had build over 10 homes for the workers on the property. They also built up a team of labourers to cultivate crops and manage the cattle pastures.

Ruy and Nicholas loading saplings
Ruy and Nicholas loading saplings (© Sue Healey)

When John sadly died, his widow Genevieve, asked Nicholas to run the property and Ruy joined him.   Bananas were planted on the lower slopes – something that had not been done before; and when the banana price dropped they began growing yams, manioc, okra and maize corn.   This all worked very successfully until 2000, when the REGUA reserve was created.

As land was acquired by REGUA and taken out of farming, restored and re-forested, Ruy was the natural choice to head this task and with a hardworking team around him, he successfully helped REGUA to create the wetlands and extend the forest along the valley closing vital gaps in the lowland slopes and preventing further encroachment into the forest by property developers.

Asked the key to the success of REGUAs reforestation project, Ruy says he has a good group of men working with him, and with mutual respect and an optimum team, planting new forests is in his word “easy”.

However, without a great manager, that team would not have developed into the successful group it is now.   The new forests are a testament to both Ruy and the whole REGUA Team.

Ruy's hardest challenge
Ruy’s hardest challenge (© Sue Healey)

Looking back, Ruy can see how the project has grown and adapted to cope with the vagaries of the land. The men have learned how to plant on steeper slopes where access is difficult and everything has to be done by hand. The tough imperata or brachiaria grass will choke young trees if it is not kept at bay with maintenance for the first two years. Poor, hard soils take longer to nourish the saplings, but with patience even the most challenging areas eventually flourish. Planting a larger variety of species and increased the diversity of the replanted areas which brings in more species of birds and mammals.

Ruy considers the hardest area to work on has been the 25 hectares behind the wetlands which held every disadvantage.   Access was difficult and all the tools and trees had to be brought to the area manually.   Despite the slow start with steep slopes, saplings are now starting to grow through.

In contrast the area Ruy considers the most successful is the 2013-15 reforestation area.   Here on the pastures and slopes above the river the access was easy, allowing farm trucks to bring the men, trees and all the equipment they needed right to the heart of the area.   This was also an area of good soil and new technology helped to get the young trees planted as quickly as possible – drilling machines were used to break up the soil and create holes and hydrogel was added to retain much needed moisture near the roots of the trees.

Planting team us a drill
Planting team use a drill (© Raquel Locke)

Asked about his own personal key to success and Ruy is quick to point to the support he has from his wife, Angelica who shares his commitment to the project. She ensures he is happy and content and gets up at 5 am every morning to cook his breakfast and prepare a cooked lunch. She talks openly in the community of her dislike of hunting and the burning and clearing of forests.

They are the most respected couple in the Guapiaçu valley. Ruy is doubly pleased that the trees he felled in his youth, have now been replaced with new trees and forests are forming in pastures that he once created.

Ruy understands well the concept of nature and time; how trees grow, their needs and his gentle calm nature ensures that the REGUA team achieve the hard work of forest restoration.