The early history of REGUA

The story begins when Robert Locke’s maternal grandfather, Hilmar Werner, acquired the Fazenda do Carmo in 1907 in payment of a debt related to his textile factory, Werner Fabrica de Tecidos, which was founded in Petropolis in 1904. This substantial property, set within a beautiful natural landscape, lay at the base of a forested amphitheatre where once there had been a Carmelite convent. In the mid-eighteenth century the convent had been established near the Guapiaçu river as a means of spreading the Catholic faith into the hinterlands of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Although originally accessed by boats travelling upriver, there was a path to Sant’Anna de Japuiba which lay on the Macacu river. Werner, who loved exploring his newly acquired land, would ride his horse along this path, visiting the derelict convent, little knowing that some years earlier the famous British mineralogist, John Mawe (1764-1829), had used the very same track. After more than a day’s travelling up the Macacu river from Rio in 1809, Mawe had decided to rest for a while and visited the convent which he described in his travel journals.

Since the early days – confirmed by Mawe – the lowland area of Guanabara Bay in the State of Rio de Janeiro was known as a death zone for many travellers and inhabitants. The valley of the Guapiaçu river was no different with its slow, meandering waters rising dramatically when fed by torrential rain off the surrounding mountain slopes. This inundated large tracts of land providing perfect conditions for malaria, yellow fever and typhoid, which Mawe described as giving its population a ‘hauntingly ill-looking physiognomy’.

Access to Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, had changed from Mawe’s day. Cachoeiras de Macacu, the local main town had developed in the late nineteenth century as the machine yard for the Leopoldina Railway Company. Cachoeiras had become a boisterous provincial centre lying below the forested mountains, on the other side of which lay the high level town of Nova Friburgo and beyond, the huge coffee plantations which brought economic prosperity to the country.

For Werner, Sant’Anna de Japuiba remained the nearest railway station, some 21 kilometres from his farm and the transport from there was basic, relying on horse-drawn carriages. During the rainy season the progress was very slow, but Hilmar was soon engaged with widening and leveling the road that would later take them by car.

The silk factory in Petropolis had made Werner a wealthy man and he set about improving the farm with great enthusiasm, mobilising his substantial financial resources. He refurbished the original Carmelite colonial house and instructed his lawyers to find properties for sale in the vicinity, which gradually grew to an area of 6,000ha. Using equipment imported from Germany he modernized the farm, installing an electrical turbine and sawmill, as well as constructing outbuildings, bridges and even a distillery for making Cachaça – a distilled brandy made from sugar cane.

In the early twentieth century, Werner continued to extract timber but he also diversified by planting coffee on the hillsides and sugar cane in the lowland areas that avoided the seasonal flooding. Engineers were invited to build roads, buildings and bridges and more than a thousand families were employed as he continued to develop his farm. As a result it prospered and became of such regional importance that it even merited a Presidential visit. However, by 1937 political pressure on the ‘coffee barons’ to maintain production despite the collapse of international prices led to the abandonment of coffee plantations. New cash crops were sought to sustain the farm’s development and in the late 1940s the lucrative planting of bananas began. The lower hills were systematically deforested to make way for large productive plantations using a system of sharecropping.

During this period hunting for game was widespread and gradually resulted in the extermination of a number of the larger game species, the last Jaguar being hunted in the 1940s after it had killed a number of sheep. At the end of this decade the Government opened and straightened the Macacu and Guapiaçu rivers using three large imported dredging machines to remove the threat of disease brought about by flooding, and in order to open fertile land for agriculture.

During the period of the Second World War, with Brazil on the side of the Allies, Werner’s son-in-law William Knight Herries Locke (born 1900 in Jaboticabal, Sao Paulo) took over the administration of the “Fazenda do Carmo”. In spite of running a successful design and construction firm in Rio, Ortenblad & Locke, this Cambridge educated engineer dedicated himself to running the farm together with two capable, local managers, Jose and Ataliba Nogueira. Tragically, ill health took its toll and Knight Locke died in 1951.

When Hilmar died in 1953, the shares in the farm which had been run as a company, were divided and inherited equally by his three Brazilian-born daughters, Olga (Werner), Nora (Locke) and Gerda (Reisky von Dubnitz). They employed various managers to run the farm with varying results including Robert Locke’s father-in-law, Hendrik de la Fontaine Verwey, who was popular and successful. In the 1960s, bowing to social pressure, the lowland area of Sebastiana and Querioz (1,000ha.) was expropriated by the federal government and divided up to provide smallholdings for families. The remaining farm changed focus yet again with the introduction of Brahman cattle which was moderately successful. Banana production meanwhile decreased.

In 1978, Olga Werner, Robert Locke’s maternal aunt and godmother, died, leaving her shares to him. Subsequently it was agreed by Nora Locke and Gerda Reisky von Dubnitz to divide the farm into three parts. The largest and well-forested area with little farming potential was assigned to Robert, and a new bridge was built across the Guapiaçu river to provide access. The core area with the Carmelite convent and old buildings remained with Robert’s first cousin, Ulrich, son of Gerda. The remaining area of the farm stayed with Robert’s younger brother, John Locke who with Ulrich had given much of his time to the administration of the original farm.

As Robert lived in England, John managed his land for him, naming the 2,700ha property “Fazenda Serra do Mar”. John made use of the pastures for his own cattle and continued managing the remaining banana plantations but he respected his brother’s views on preserving the forest, permitting natural regeneration to occur on the previously cleared lower hills and along the river banks. In contrast to this strategy, on his own 800ha property called “Fazenda Sao Jose do Guapiaçu” and with the aim of developing productivity and financial viability, John drained the remaining pockets of wetland and created new cattle pastures on the hillsides. By this time John had given up his career in Rio de Janeiro to dedicate his time and energy to running both his and Robert’s farm full-time. In 1979, Robert’s eldest son Nicholas Locke came to serve an apprenticeship with his uncle John and similarly fell in love with the property, much as his great grandfather had in 1907.

Nicholas later returned to England to study farm management and agriculture at Merrist Wood Agricultural College near Guildford in Surrey. Not long after completing his studies and returning to Brazil, Nicholas met and married Raquel Riso Patron and together they built their first house on the site where they now live. Tragically in 1987 John died suddenly, leaving Nicholas and Raquel with the formidable task of looking after both farms. A few years later, Ulrich sold his part of what had been the core section of the original farm – the 1,700ha “Fazenda do Carmo” – to the Schincariol beer company who were attracted by the abundant supply of fresh water. They built a reservoir in order to capture fresh water which was piped to a new state-of-the-art brewery 10 miles away in Cachoeiras de Macacu. To a great extent the original buildings that Hilmar Werner had constructed for the Fazenda do Carmo were abandoned or buried under the waters of this large reservoir.

The seed of the Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) was planted in 1996 when Stephen Knapp, a keen ornithologist, visited the Fazenda Serra do Mar. Stephen had been encouraged to visit by Adrian Locke, Nicholas’s younger brother, who had also studied with Stephen at Merrist Wood. At that time Stephen was working as a warden at Pagham Harbour nature reserve in West Sussex, and he was was astonished with the natural beauty and wealth of wildlife he found in the forests, particularly in the impressive variety of birds. The discovery of a significant number of endemic and endangered species in one of the most threatened habitats in the world convinced Stephen of the quality of the forests and the need to protect this environment.

With encouragement from Robert and support from Nicholas, Stephen started to prepare a plan to establish the site as a reserve, and he returned to the UK to seek the financial support that was necessary. In early 1998 his breakthrough came when one of his many letters was answered by Toby Bromley (Chairman of Russell & Bromley shoes) who in 1989 had set up the Bromley Trust in order to support charitable work in the fields of human rights, prison reform and the environment. Toby provided the initial funding to carry out further fieldwork and to develop the project plan, and crucially also introduced Stephen to John Burton of the World Land Trust and to Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, the prominent British botanist and Director of Kew Gardens (1988-99). The initial funding provided by Toby and the World Land Trust enabled Stephen Knapp to give up his job at Pagham Harbour in October 1998 to concentrate his attention on raising funds for the project.

At an early stage it was agreed that the objectives of the project had to include research, education and community involvement as well as conservation. In 1999 the funding available enabled Andy Foster to become the first REGUA employee based at the newly restored research house, Casa Pesquisa. In the same year the first management plan was completed (the Serra do Mar Ecological Reserve Master Plan) which included ambitious targets to raise funds for land purchase. In 2000 Andy was succeeded by Simon Comerford, a former ranger with Surrey County Council who had gained a Master’s degree in tropical horticulture at Tuland University in New Orleans. In the same year the project adopted its new name, the Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) and a few years later in 2001 the REGUA Association was formed in accordance with Brazilian regulations.

Meanwhile in England in 1999 the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest Trust (BART) was established as a registered charity with Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, Toby Bromley and Robin Hanbury-Tenison as trustees, with the objective of providing financial support and guidance to REGUA. In mid 2000 Stephen Knapp’s fundraising efforts were further rewarded when Stephen Rumsey, a passionate ornithologist and conservationist, agreed to fund the purchase of the 449ha Donna Maria land which adjoined Robert Locke’s land and had recently come up for sale. In addition, Stephen Rumsey agreed to fund the salaries of two ex-hunters that were appointed as REGUA’s first forest rangers (Rildo da Rosa Oliviera and Mauricio Nogueira). Stephen’s generosity and keen interest in the project resulted in him being invited to join BART as a trustee, which he accepted in early 2001, and subsequently he in turn invited his close friend and fellow ornithologist and conservationist, Tasso Leventis to join.

Perhaps the most significant meeting in REGUA’s history was in September 2001 in London. At this BART meeting Stephen Rumsey agreed to fund the purchase of the 1,649 hectare. Fazenda Serra do Mar estate from Robert Locke and Tasso Leventis agreed to fund the purchase of the 537 hectare Fazenda Sao Jose from Nora Locke. Tasso also agreed to provide the funding to transform what had been John Locke’s house into a very comfortable 10 suite tourist lodge. At the same meeting Toby Bromley committed a significant amount to fund the core costs of the fledgling REGUA association.

This was a turning point for REGUA since, in addition to acquiring the key land that had been identified in the original Serra do Mar masterplan, the renovation of the house to become a Bird Lodge would ensure a regular income stream for the future. The core funding needed to run the project for the next year had also been secured. The future for REGUA looked bright and was much enhanced by the agreement with adjoining landowners, especially Schincariol, to establish a contiguous area that could be protected and managed for wildlife.

The responsibility for managing the project and transforming the house fell to the recently appointed project managers who had replaced Simon in March 2001. Eleanora Pacheco was the official employee but in reality she shared the job with her Dutch husband Piet Vroeg. Piet and Eleanora stayed at REGUA and played an important role in implementing the project plans, managing the reserve and developing the education programme until they returned to the Netherlands at the end of 2006. Throughout these early years Nicholas and Raquel Locke had worked tirelessly on a purely voluntary basis to ensure the success of the project, but on Piet and Eleanor’s departure they took over the direct administration of the project.

In November 2002 Stephen Knapp resigned as Secretary of BART and his involvement in the REGUA project effectively came to an end. In August 2003 Toby Bromley died at the age of 91. Stephen and Toby had been critical to the early development of REGUA as they were responsible for recognising its importance and potential, and engaging the other key people who would provide the resources and expertise to enable the project to grow and flourish.

Stephen Knapp’s co-ordination and financial management role was taken over by Alan Martin who had first visited REGUA in March 2001. The BART Board was strengthened when Robert Locke joined in 2002, followed by Dr John Feltwell and Lindsay Bury in 2004, and Dr Jerry Bertrand in 2005. In September 2005 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between REGUA and the World Land Trust (WLT) heralding the start of a much closer and more productive involvement. The WLT would use their skills and network to fund further land purchases and habitat restoration work, whilst BART would concentrate mainly on supporting the operational, education and research activities.

REGUA’s success is due to the outstanding support and generosity of many individuals and organizations, a few of whom are recognised above. However we should also recognise the contributions made by all the staff and project managers at REGUA, the trustees of BART and most importantly, Hilmar Werner and his descendants whose commitment to protecting the biodiversity of the Guapiaçu valley has made it all possible.