A free holiday to the Atlantic Forest is a pretty big incentive to go green, and this was exactly what the international marketing and PR group M&C Saatchi offered one of their London employees as a prize for producing a brilliant simple idea that would have a positive environmental effect on their work.
The winner was Victoria Braham, who took fellow colleague Lucy McWhirter on her trip to Brazil to spend a few days at the REGUA Lodge in the middle of the Atlantic Forest, run by World Land Trust’s (WLT) Brazilian conservation partner, Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA).
With travel logistics arranged by WLT Corporate sponsor Essential Travel, Victoria flew to Rio de Janeiro, where she was welcomed by Brazil’s tropical climate- a strong contrast to the British winter she had left behind. Lucy followed and they were buzzing with excitement as they headed towards REGUA, a tropical haven just two hours drive from the city.
They shared their excitement with their driver, overcoming the language barrier with the mutual understanding of a smile. Lucy said “We were collected by one of the men who works at REGUA, who we immediately bonded with. We spent most of the car journey teaching each other phrases from our native languages.”
“Once we arrived at the lodge we were greeted by Thomas, the son of Nicholas and Raquel Locke, the founders of the project. Thomas showed us around and told us about the background of REGUA. We were shown old photos which revealed the impact the project has had on the surrounding land today. I was struck by how lucky I was to be there, and what an astonishing achievement by the founders to have made such an impact.”
Learning REGUA’s history
The REGUA reserve was founded by Nicholas Locke who inherited a pair of farms in the valley of the Guapiaçu River from his father in 1987. The land had been mainly managed for cattle pastures and banana plantations before Nicholas took over management and began establishing it as a reserve. From the beginning his vision was that the reserve should focus on research, education and community involvement as well as conservation of its endemic and endangered species.
Since then REGUA has gone from strength to strength, expanding the size of the reserve, building the lodge, and establishing support from UK partners like WLT to continue the work of restoring and protecting the Atlantic Forest and its abundant wildlife.
Learning this history with the backdrop of the magnificent Atlantic Forest inspired great admiration in the girls for REGUA’s achievements.
Exploring the tropical forest
“Our morning excursions consisted of treks through the dense, humid jungle, often on the hunt for a section of the river where we could then cool off. We would stop along the way if we spotted a creepy crawly to gawk at or if our guide heard a rare bird singing, and out would come the binoculars.”
The girls were exposed to a habitat which holds 470 bird species, ranging from forest dwelling toucans and tanagers, to wetland birds such as wildfowl and waders. They searched for endemic species too, birds which can only be found in the Atlantic Forest, such as the bright turquoise Black-legged Dacnis and the world’s largest snipe, the Giant Snipe.
Out of the 111 endangered Brazilian bird species listed by BirdLife International as at risk of extinction, 98 per cent are found in REGUA. This makes the REGUA Lodge a truly unique destination for avid birdwatchers. Victoria and Lucy were fortunate enough to be taken up to altitudes of 2,000 metres, giving them a bird’s eye view of this exceptional habitat.
Wildlife around the lodge
The dramatic scenery that surrounds the lodge impressed upon the girls the importance of REGUA’s work and its success in restoring wetlands, reforesting the Serra dos Órgãos Mountains and the establishing the floral nursery beside them.
In October 2013, REGUA constructed a pioneering ‘moth wall’ – a marvel which attracts moths and other insects at night using a mercury vapour bulb. The wall has become a nightly display of the fantastic insect life of REGUA and Victoria and Lucy were captivated by the abundance of moths, dragonflies, crickets, praying mantis and beetles.
Staying at REGUA was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The brutality of the insects, the humidity and the noise was triumphed by the beauty, complexity and biodiversity of their environment. The girls’ final experience at REGUA was a horse-riding experience where they bid the Atlantic Forest goodbye, before returning the concrete jungle of Rio de Janeiro to head home.
The London office of international marketing and PR group M&C Saatchi are committed to reducing their environmental impact across the whole organisation. They have been able to reduce their electricity usage by more than 30 per cent per person in just one year, reduced water consumption by 1.5 million litres a year and reduced waste of 37 kilograms (5 stone) of waste per person. The person who can take the credit for this is Ron.
Ron is a fictitious friendly character who lives in the envi’ron’ment. He struggles to survive because of the pollution and wastage and needs his ‘friends’ at M&C Saatchi to help save him – so he reminds people to turn taps off, switch off their computers, reduce their waste and use the re-usable free ‘SAVE RON’ bags etc.
One of Ron’s ideas was to offer the challenge to all staff to enter a competition which required them to come up with a brilliant simple idea that would have a positive environmental effect on the way people work at M&C Saatchi. The prize was the dream holiday for two to REGUA. Victoria Braham won the competition with the simple idea to change to online pay slips instead of using paper pay slips thereby saving on paper, waste, ink, energy, carbon and staff time. Instead of choosing a friend as her guest on the trip Victoria offered the other ticket to another M&C Saatchi staff member with the biggest passion to do the little things that make a difference, Lucy McWhirter.