Wetlands

A quarter of a century ago most of the lowland pasture area around the lodge was covered with Tabebuia cassinoides, interlaced with large tree ferns, all of which live in swampy conditions. Epiphytic plants including philodendrons, orchids and bromeliads were very common, but these wetlands were drained, the trees cut for their wood and then yams were planted for five years continuously which used up the great stores of organic material. When the land had dried, all the tree stumps were burnt and tractors were brought in to farm the land and eventually turn it into cattle pasture.

It had long been an ambition of REGUA President, Nicholas Locke, to restore this barren pasture to its original state and the purchase in 2002 of the São José Farm made this dream possible. In 2004 a rather poorly planned attempt was made to flood a large area by building a dam parallel with the road, but this proved short-lived as the winter rains were too great for the spillway and the dam was breached. However valuable lessons were learned and in 2005 a larger area of pasture in front of the lodge was flooded after extensive clay retention walls and a concrete spillway were constructed.

The resulting 12 hectare wetland was an immediate success and became quickly occupied by the endemic Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris, Capybara Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris and a huge diversity of wetland bird species, as well as fishes and amphibians. Over the next few years two further areas pasture were flooded, and we now have over 40 hectares of lowland wetlands supporting a rich variety of flora and fauna.

Fortunately a few remnant patches of tabebuia forest survived along the river and ditch edges outside the reserve, and these have been used to source cuttings which were planted in holes filled with compost around the edges of the newly flooded wetlands. After a slow start these cuttings are now doing well, and the seeds from these first trees are being cultivated in the nursery to increase the area dedicated to this extremely rare and special habitat. It will be many years before some of the orchids and bromeliads can be reintroduced, but an excellent start has been made.

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The São José Farm in July 2002, before the creation of the wetlands (© Alan Martin)
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July 2005 – earth dams built and lakes flooded (© Alan Martin)
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February 2006 – pioneering vegetation becomes established (© Alan Martin)
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January 2008 – reeds becoming established (© Alan Martin)