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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.