Icelandic Mountain Guides pride ourselves on showing our customers the raw and powerful beauty of Icelandic nature. The majestic nature is what captures us as we wander through the landscape and it is an experience that is hard to convey in words. However, one thing many of our curious customers mention to us is the surprising lack of forests in Iceland. Why isn’t Iceland covered in forestry like their Nordic siblings in Norway, Sweden and Finland?
A brief history of deforestation in Iceland
It is hard to imagine that once Iceland was covered in beautiful forests as far as the eye could see. Fossil evidence of several of kinds of trees and plants has been found, indicating that once a lush forest covered this little North Atlantic island. But there were two factors that contribute to the downfall of forestry in Iceland.
Firstly, series of glaciations were not kind to flora and fauna and left Iceland with a limited selection of trees. Only the strongest species could survive these glaciations, such as the resilient and strong birch. As if the glaciations weren’t damaging enough, a series of natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes also played a pivotal role in the demise of the Icelandic forest.
Secondly, human settlement was disastrous for Icelandic tree life. The Nordic Vikings came to Iceland around 930 AD and at the time of their arrival, 40% of Iceland was covered in forest. These Vikings chopped down these forests to create pastures and fields for their livestock. Sheep were incredibly important to the Vikings, both for their meat and their wool. This livestock grazing was an enormous contributing factor in the demise of forestry in Iceland. The Vikings also needed wood for other purposes – all of these factors contribute to the lack of forest in Iceland today.
Our Environmental Policy