Meet Generation Restoration: Rui Santos

Posted: 16th November 2023

Photo: Iona Haines

We are in the midst of an environmental crisis, and the next ten years are crucial to avert climate change and to halt the irreversible loss of habitats and species. Restoration provides an opportunity to repair the damage caused. Since 2018, the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme has supported the delivery of restoration projects across Europe. These are led and driven on the ground by dedicated and inspirational teams including young people who are key to restore our landscapes and seascapes for generations to come. This series of articles is focussed on #GenerationRestoration and the youth that are driving change on the ground.

This week we are talking to 24-year-old Rui Santos, Junior Ranger for Rewilding Portugal, working on the Greater Côa Valley restoration landscape. During the summer, Rui is involved in wildfire prevention and monitoring. The abandonment of farmland and spread of monoculture pine plantations has made the project area extremely vulnerable to large-scale forest fires, endangering people’s lives and properties, as well as wildlife. He monitors weather conditions and tracks firebreaks using GPS to assess potential fire risks. As well as this, he and his team support and collaborate with fire prevention volunteers, authorities, and firefighters. He looks for and records the most efficient routes for firefighters to reach key sites. During the winter, his role is focussed on reporting signs of illegal activities such as illegal hunting and snares. Rui also helps farmers to access support from local authorities in suspected cases of wild animal attacks on livestock by assisting them with reporting and taking biological samples.

Rui has been fascinated by the natural world for as long as he can remember. Photo: Iona Haines.

How did you become interested in restoration?

I have been interested in nature as far back as I can remember. As a child I was curious (and still am!) about what animals do when we aren’t watching. This fascination led me to pursue a career in biology, to help me better comprehend the natural world. Naturally, I feel like protecting our world and its wonders is important, and this job gives me the opportunity to contribute to the protection and restoration of a specific endangered ecosystem. I get to work in the field on a daily basis, helping me to foster a deeper connection with the landscape.

As well as his love for nature, Rui also enjoys photography and regularly takes a camera to the field. Photo: Rui Santos.

How do you stay optimistic about the future of conservation? 

As an activist and supporter of the rewilding movement, I am able to share experiences and exchange knowledge with creative and intelligent people. These brilliant individuals are a source of day-to-day inspiration for me. We share a collective ambition, often starting from very little and aiming for large-scale, long-term change.

As part of his role as a Junior Ranger, Rui is involved in wildfire monitoring and prevention. Photo: Iona Haines.

How is your project or organisation working and engaging with young people?

Rewilding Portugal frequently organises events that bring together children and adults to discover nature and enjoy the peaceful landscapes of the Greater Côa Valley. An example of this is the rewilding weekends that bring together the public and the Rewilding Portugal project staff to learn from one another and take part in creative activities such as gastronomic tastings.

We also run a fire monitoring volunteer programme that is popular with the younger generations. The volunteers are trained on how to assess the progress of the fire in specific types of ecosystem and how to effectively communicate the situation to the authorities. They also learn about the project and the rewilding areas. The volunteer programme provides an amazing experience for us as project staff as the volunteers are mainly international and so teach us a lot about their cultures and personal interpretations of the natural world.

We hold other events such as the Rewilding Photography Contest which includes specific categories for young photographers so that they feel encouraged to participate.

Rewilding Portugal hosted the CÔA – Corridor of Arts festival during summer 2023 which engaged with young and old alike. Photo: Luís Agostinho.

Do you think young people feel connected to the natural world?

Now, more than ever, young people feel the need to protect nature as natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce. We consider these limited resources to be incredibly important and are finding ways to either recover them or at least slow down their consumption. I believe that the youngest generations feel an innate connection with nature.

Camera trapping helps Rewilding Portugal’s monitoring team to document wildlife movements and illegal activity. Photo: Iona Haines.

Is getting the younger generation involved important for conservation or restoration?

Conservation and restoration initiatives require long periods of time to implement and are commonly passed from generation to generation, so getting the younger generation to join is a must! They are the ones that will be transmitting the information down to for generations to come on how to restore and protect our planet.

To learn more about the Greater Côa Valley restoration landscape, visit their project page

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