The operator of Reykjavík Domestic Airport, Isavia, has requested that 2,900 trees in Öskjuhlíð forest be felled immediately, or 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees, to improve flight safety. Öskjuhlíð is one of the oldest forests in Reykjavík and is on the natural heritage register. If the request is approved, it would constitute felling about one-third of the forest or at least half of its oldest and tallest trees.
Isavia sent a request to the City of Reykjavík on July 6 demanding city authorities fell trees within the approach zone to the airport from the east in order to improve flight safety. Isavia suggests two possibilities: felling all the trees within two areas of the forest, a total of 2,900 trees; or felling around 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees.
Protected green space enjoyed by many
The forest enjoys protection both within the neighbourhood zoning plan and as a city park in the city’s master zoning plan. Öskjuhlíð is also on the natural heritage register. Felling the trees is subject to the consultation and approval of various parties, including the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.
The felling would come at a significant cost, at least ISK 500 million [$3.8 million; €3.5 million] to fell 2,900 trees. That price tag would not include the necessary landscaping of the area after the trees are cut down and removed. In 2017, around 140 trees in the forest were felled to increase flight safety. Isavia put the project out to tender and footed the bill.
Öskjuhlíð is a popular site for outdoor recreation as well as the location of Reykjavík landmark Perlan. Reykjavík University is nestled at the base of the forest and religious organisation Ásatrú has facilities in Öskjuhlíð as well, where they hold regular events. The greater Reykjavík area does not have many forests to boast of, the two main ones besides Öskjuhlíð being Heiðmörk and Elliðárdalur.
Airport location a long-standing debate
Research has shown that afforestation carried out in the greater Reykjavík area since the middle of the 20th century, including in Öskjuhlíð, has decreased the intensity of storms and reduced average windspeeds in and around the city. Instead of felling trees, some have argued that the landing route to the domestic airport from the east could be made safer by extending the runway further west. That would require extending the existing runway out over the ocean, however.
The location of Reykjavík Domestic Airport has been a hot-button issue almost as long as the airport has been around. An agreement has now been made to move it from its current location in Vatnsmýri and build a residential development in its place – but a new location for the airport is yet to be determined and its relocation remains a source of tension between the sitting government and the City of Reykjavík.