REGUA’s mission is the long-term conservation of the forests of the upper Guapiaçu river basin, and by far the most certain way to achieve that objective is to create a protected area through land acquisition that is patrolled by a team of forest rangers.
REGUA’s first land purchase was the 450 hectare Donna Maria’s farm in early 2002, followed by the 1,800 hectare Serra do Mar farm and then the São José farm of 537 hectares, all in the same year. By the end of 2020 REGUA’s land holding has grown to 7,326 hectares through more than 94 individual acquisitions ranging from a single hectare to 600 hectares. This substantial area is supplemented by partner agreements to protect a further 3,941 hectares, creating a total protected area of 11,267 hectares (27,846 acres).
The largest management agreement is with AmBev (previously Schincariol, then Brasil-Kirin), a large international soft drinks and beer company, which owns an extremely important 2,896 hectares of forest in the heart of the valley. Schincariol constructed a large reservoir at the base of the mountains from which water is piped to its bottling plant near Cachoeiras. Maintaining the highest water quality, and therefore protecting the forest above, is essential to their operation.
However, REGUA continues to expand and has an ambition to create a protected area around the entire valley, and only then will it be safe to reintroduce some of the larger mammals such as Red Brocket Deer Mazama americana and Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris that have been hunted to extinction in the area.
The dark green areas on the map represent land owned by REGUA, the purple is land under partnership agreements, the pale green are areas that are currently being purchased, and the yellow areas are the plots of land that are priorities to purchase when the funds can be raised. REGUA is focusing its efforts on trying to join the current protected areas together by creating wildlife corridors, and acquiring the remaining lowland forest that borders the planned reservoir.
These purchases, especially the smaller plots with multiple family interests, can be very complex and time consuming to negotiate, especially as legal titles are not always available. Prices per hectare vary widely based on land access, agricultural opportunities and mineral water extraction potential, but REGUA has seen a gradual increase partly as a result of the project’s success. Rather perversely, the attempts to protect the area seem to be making the Guapiaçu valley a more desirable place to live, leading to an increasing threat from city dwellers wishing to build holiday or weekend homes.
Some of the properties that REGUA is interested in acquiring lie within the boundaries of the 46,000 hectare Três Picos State Park which was created in 2002. This may appear slightly anomalous, but the landowners have received no compensation from the government for their land designation and nor do the Park have the resources to adequately patrol and protect the land. Furthermore, ownership by an organisation such as REGUA rather than by an absent owner or government department provides a much stronger barrier to illegal occupancy. REGUA is a participating member of the Park governing council and its land acquisition strategy is supported and encouraged as the most effective method for long-term protection and management in this area.
The remarkable growth of REGUA has only been possible by the incredible generosity of its network of donors, mostly who are based in the UK and North America. However, it is important that although the money originates from overseas, it is our firm policy that all the land is purchased and owned by the REGUA Association in Brazil. Only in this way will REGUA receive the full support of the local inhabitants and other Brazilian organisations that are working in south-east Brazil.