Sheep farmers are grazing their sheep in the highland pastures Almenningar, next to the nature reserve Þórsmörk in south Iceland. The Iceland Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland have harshly criticized the move.
Archive photo by Páll Stefánsson.
“It is never our intention to graze our sheep on our neighbor’s land, but if the neighbor is supposed to fence off his land and doesn’t do it—how long are we supposed to wait?” asks Guðmundur Viðarsson, spokesperson for the owners of the highland pastures in Almenningar, next to Þórsmörk, Fréttablaðið reports.
The farmers’ actions have been deemed as immoral, as their sheep now have access to sensitive forestation areas in Þórsmörk.
Guðmundur responded by saying it is the role of the Iceland Forest Service to separate the forestation area from the highland pastures. He added farmers have already given them three years to put up a fence.
In a declaration, the Iceland Forest Service protests the driving of the sheep into Almenningar.
“The pastures—which are considered unsuitable for grazing in a recent report from the Agricultural University of Iceland—is not fenced off […]. There is a risk of such grazing ruining decades of work conducted by volunteers and institutions in reclaiming birch forests and vegetation in the Þórsmörk area,” the declaration reads.
The affair has a long history. In 1930 farmers in Fljótshlíð handed over the area to the Iceland Forest Service for administration under the condition that it be fenced off.
In 1990 a ten-year agreement on the preservation of Almenningar was made, following which the Iceland Forest Service removed the fence as its maintenance was expensive and the fence was considered unnecessary in light of the agreement.
After the agreement expired, farmers were unwilling to extend it and wanted to resume the grazing of sheep in Almenningar. A court determined that the area was a public land but farmers kept the ownership of highland pasture rights.
Sveinn Runólfsson, director of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, told RÚV that farmers are violating the mountain herding agreement of Rangárvallasýsla County and a new agreement of the local government on the driving of sheep to highland pastures, which states that sheep cannot be grazed in areas before their grazing capabilities have been evaluated.
Guðmundur dismisses Sveinn’s reasoning, commenting, “he just has to sue.”
In his blog on dv.is, author and guide Páll Ásgeir Ásgeirsson pointed out that the 28 sheep in question are owned by two men, a tinsmith and computer scientist, indicating that they are not serious farmers.
Páll Ásgeir is outraged by the grazing of sheep in Almenningar, calling it “terrorism”.