Icelandic Birch Forests Threatened by Imported Pests

Birch trees in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland

Experts at the Icelandic Forest Service say unclear timber import regulations threaten local birch forests. Imported timber, especially timber that contains bark, may carry insects or pests that are not native to Iceland and could harm or kill Icelandic birch trees.

RÚV reports that an Icelandic company recently imported tree trunks from Poland with the bark still attached. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority ordered the wood be destroyed or sent back, but the Food and Agriculture Ministry reversed the ruling after it was appealed by the importer. Experts at the Icelandic Forest Service say tree trunks with bark are more likely to carry invasive species and call for stricter regulations on their import.

“Imports probably pose the biggest risk. We import Christmas trees on a large scale every year and all kinds of growth in soil, which is imported with some residue. And we never know what it may be hiding, despite being certified and what that entails,” says Pétur Halldórsson, the Forestry Service’s director of publicity.

Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is the only tree species that naturally forms forests in Iceland. There are few native pests in Iceland, and experts say that local plants could therefore be particularly vulnerable to the arrival of invasive species. Bark beetles, for example, have done significant damage to forests in mainland Europe in recent years and if imported to Iceland, could hurt local birch forests. The beetles breed between the bark and the wood of various tree species, and their larvae feed on living tissues below the bark of the tree, leading to the death of the tree if enough larvae are present. Their presence can also make trees more susceptible to fungal infestation.

“We have gotten two bad pests on birch in the last few years and these pests have no natural predators as of yet,” stated Pétur. “So things are happening and we don’t want worse things to happen.”

Closure of Post Offices Continues Across Iceland

Pósturinn postbox

Two post offices in Iceland will be closed and mail handling services in six countryside areas will be discontinued in the near future, according to a press release from Pósturinn, Iceland’s national postal service. It’s the latest announcement in a series of closures at the company in recent years. Pósturinn states that it aims to open more self-service Póstbox parcel lockers where customers can both receive packages.

Pósturinn will close the post offices at Mjódd shopping centre in Reykjavík and in Ólafsvík, West Iceland. Six additional mail-handling services operated in shops across the country will be closed. These are the services operated in Hveragerði, Bolungarvík, Súðavík, Grenivík, Laugar, and Reykjahlíð. Pósturinn will continue to operate other services in those areas, however, including parcel lockers, postal van services, letter carrier services, and land mail services in order to fulfill its legal obligations.

Pósturinn CEO Þórhildur Ólöf Helgadóttir states the company’s focus is on developing services in line with changing needs and demands of patrons. “Demand for post office services has decreased. As a result, it is logical to develop other types of solutions. Our most satisfied customers are those who use Póstbox parcel lockers, and in addition, it is now possible to post packages using Póstbox parcel lockers. Most parcel lockers are accessible 24/7 and are easy to use.”

Reykjavík Public Buses See Increase in Ridership

public transportation iceland

The Reykjavík capital area public bus service Strætó has seen an increase in ridership in the past several months. The increase is seen as far back as December, but recent labour strikes that may affect petrol supplies may be having an effect. Strætó CEO Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson told mbl.is the service is prepared for more riders and for the impact strikes may have.

“We’ve seen a lot of ridership in recent months, even before the strike,” Jóhannes Svavar stated. “Whether that is connected to the strike, I won’t assert just yet.” Diesel supplies are running low in the capital area due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, and the same may happen to petrol supplies if the strike continues. Were capital area commuters forced to leave their cars at home, an increasing number may turn to Strætó to get them from A to B. Jóhannes Svavar says the service is prepared. Strætó’s own fuel supplies would last the company about two weeks in the case of a fuel shortage, according to Jóhannes Svavar.

Heavy snow in December may have also encouraged commuters to opt for public transportation rather than private vehicles.

Read more about public transportation in Iceland.

Why do Icelandic students still learn Danish?

iceland denmark king christian ix

The fact that Icelandic students still learn Danish in school is tied up with the long history of Icelandic-Danish relations.

Up until Iceland’s independence in 1944, Iceland was a colony of Denmark. In addition to being taught in primary and secondary school, Danish was also the gateway to many higher professions, since studying at the university in Copenhagen was one of the most prestigious educations an upwardly mobile Icelander in the 19th century could get. In fact, Copenhagen was in many ways the centre of Icelandic intellectual life up until the modern era. To this day, many Icelanders choose to attend university in another Nordic nation, such as Norway, Denmark, or Sweden. Because the Nordics are all good places to study and work, there remains an incentive today to develop a baseline proficiency with the language.

Despite its status as a relic of the colonial past, Danish language education still serves some practical and positive purposes today. Written Danish and Norwegian are very similar, and a background in Danish can play a key role in communicating with other Scandinavians. Some have, however, wondered whether Norwegian should instead be taught, as it is more mutually intelligible with Swedish, especially in its spoken form. However, another reason Danish education has stayed in place in Iceland is that Iceland’s neighbours were historically, and continue to be, Danish colonies as well. Specifically, Danish is still taught in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, two territories that have strong historical and cultural ties to Iceland.

This reason is perhaps not front-and-centre in Icelandic education policy, but there is also something to be said for learning a language from a different language group. Norwegian and Icelandic were both West Norse languages, and are therefore more closely related to one another today. Danish and Swedish historically had more contact and influence on one another and are considered East Norse languages. Some argue that learning an East Norse language gives Icelanders the best of both worlds, allowing for communication with both Norwegians and Swedes as well. Note, however, that despite these language groupings, the written forms of the modern Scandinavian language are all more or less mutually intelligible among one another.

Of course, the final reason, like so much in history, is simply force of habit. Languages are useful because other people use them, so it stands to reason that if many scientific, historic, and academic documents were written in Danish, then there is good reason to continue the tradition because it still has some utility.