Like many other breathtaking landscapes, the forests that once covered 40% of Iceland were cut down to make way for buildings and farmland. This lead to a rapid deforestation and massive soil erosion. “Iceland is certainly among the worst examples in the world of deforestation,” says Prostur Eysteinsson, Director of Icelandic Forrest Services. As the first settlers began to move in they brought with them bring sheep, cattle, and swine. As a result, land had to be cleared out to make way for farmland. The light vegetation that was left was susceptible to frost heaving, storms, and other environmental disturbances exposing the soil. Luckily, part of the destruction could be mended and the Icelandic Forest services has taken on this challenge to bring back the woodlands of Iceland.
However, planting trees is not as simple as it sounds due the current rapid change in climate. In the 1950’s, Iceland planted Siberian Birch which is a thin, fast growing tree that is acclimated to cold temperatures. These trees lasted a few decades and then suddenly began to die. The cause was the mild winters that disrupted the trees’ natural cycles. The aim of the agency is to produce seeds for trees that are genetically well adapted to the current conditions of Iceland as well as the pressure put on the land by human activity. After a few years of searching, the agency selected a few species that are well adapted to the climate of Iceland and began to grow them in modern tree nurseries to obtain their offsprings. Thanks to the efforts of the forest services, now more than ever in the past thousand years, Iceland forest trees are beginning to grow again, giving us an optimistic and green vision of the future.