Scientists have mapped Iceland’s uninhabited wilderness in more detail than ever before. A new report on the project, prepared by the Wildland Research Institute (WRi) on behalf of Icelandic initiative Óbyggð kortlagning provides information that can help policymakers and nature conservationists preserve these areas in their best possible form. Previous studies for the European Union Wilderness Register have shown that Iceland retains approximately 43% of Europe’s top one percent wildest areas.
Around half of Iceland’s Central Highland falls under the definition of uninhabited wilderness, and the report divides it into 17 distinct areas. One third of the uninhabited wilderness mapped in the project is privately owned, while the other two thirds are on public land. The areas were mapped and defined according to international standards.
Maps are essential for conservation efforts
WRi Director Dr. Steve Carver told RÚV it is important for Icelanders to be able to clearly distinguish between wilderness and other areas, and that as wild areas diminish globally, Iceland’s wilderness will become still more valuable.
“If we look at biodiversity goals after 2020, the top priority is protecting the remaining unspoilt areas,” Dr. Carver stated. “That’s why they need to be mapped. Once a line has been drawn on a map, it can be put into context legally, in Icelandic law on nature conservation, so it’s possible to make decisions about where to build, where power lines can be laid, and where hydropower plans can be built so as not to spoil this important resource.”
Iceland’s Nature Conservation Act No 60/2013 outlines the goal of mapping wilderness across the whole of Iceland by June 2023.
Planned power plants threaten wild areas
The report identifies four main historical threats to wilderness in Iceland: impacts from geothermal and hydropower infrastructure; tourism; recreational 4×4 driving; and off-road driving. “These have resulted in the steady attrition of wilderness areas over the last 80 years. Many of these threats are ongoing with further expansion of electrical power generation and associated transmission infrastructure,” the report states.
Proposals to expand hydropower, geothermal power, and wind power generation in the Central Highlands are “of particular concern,” according to the report’s authors, as they are “all capable of vastly impacting wilderness qualities.”
Interested readers can view the full report online.