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.”

Icelandic Forestry Service Asks Public For Help

icelandic forests birch reforestation

The national collection of birch seeds began last week in Garðsárreittur in Eyjafjörður. The national initiative aims to reforest 5% of Iceland in birch forests, and volunteers from throughout Iceland are invited to gather birch seeds for the project.

Over the weekend, some 50 volunteers were able to gather some one and a half million seeds. An impressive number, but around 450 birch seeds fit into one teaspoon alone.

Currently, only around 1.5% of Iceland is forested with birch. In an interview with RÚV, Kristinn H. Þorsteinsson, project director of the initiative stated: “In order to be able to cover the country and get up to 5%, we need many hands, we need the whole nation. We need individuals, companies, schools and families to help out.”

The project began in 2020 in response to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Now, the goal is to reforest 5% of Iceland, equating to around 5,000 square kilometres,  with birch.

In the above video from the Icelandic Forest Service, the collection of birch seeds is demonstrated for those wanting to help out.

Birch trees begin developing their seeds in early September, and they can be collected up through November, according to Hreinn Óskarsson, forestry expert at the Icelandic Forestry Service.

The initiative is also enlisting the help of several companies in Iceland, including Bónus and Olís, where volunteers can donate any seeds collected. Both Bónus and Olís will be accepting seed donation at all of their locations.

Seeds should dried before being donated. More information is available at the initiative’s website.

In Post-Ice Age First, Iceland Records 30m-Tall Tree

katrin jakobsdottir icelandic forest

An Icelandic tree planted in 1949 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur was recently measured at 30.15m, making it the tallest recorded tree in Iceland since the Ice Age.

The tree in question, a sitka spruce, was given the honorary title of “tree of the year” by the Icelandic Forest Service, an award given since 1989 to trees outstanding in their fields.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir was present for the ceremony, and even helped with the triangulation of its height.

In a speech at the ceremony, Katrín spoke to the importance of Icelandic reforestation and the role that forests must play in Iceland’s climate goals. She additionally spoke to her own personal history with the forest at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, where she has several significant memories and experiences.

In addition to the PM, several other officials were present for the ceremony, such as Jónatan Garðarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Forestry Association.




Government Publishes First-Ever Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has released the Icelandic government’s first-ever joint policy on land reclamation and reforestation. This per a press release on the government’s website on Friday.

The plans for land reclamation and reforestation look ahead to 2031, but the primary action plan covers 2022-2026 and will shape the government’s priorities in these areas for the coming years. The action plan calls for research on the impacts of land reclamation, reforestation, and the restoration of biodiversity in the wetlands, as well as the creation of new quality criteria for reforestation land selection, and an evaluation of carbon balancing for emissions accounting. Another primary objective aims to restore the ecosystems of disturbed lands, wetlands, and both natural and newly cultivated forests.

In her capacity as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s focus is on the protection, proliferation, and integrity of Iceland’s ecosystems, reads the press release. She also seeks to promote nature-based solutions in climate matters, as well as solutions that are in line with international agreements, support sustainable land use, increase knowledge, cooperation, and public health, and promote sustainable development in rural Iceland.

“I place a lot of emphasis on food production that’s based on sustainable development, whether that’s at land or at sea,” remarked Svandís. “With this plan, land reclamation and reforestation both contribute to sustainable development of communities all around the country. There will be employment opportunities in richer natural resources and development will be built on a sustainable foundation.”

See Also: New Report Examines Food Self-Sufficiency in Five Nordic Island Societies

The policy has been prepared in accordance with recent laws on land reclamation, forests, and reforestation and outlines the government’s vision for the future in these areas, as well as its core values and attendant priorities. The policy is also guided by developments at the international level and Iceland’s international agreements with the United Nations and other global organizations.

It has been in the works since 2019, when project boards were appointed with the task of formulating proposals for both a land reclamation and a national forestry plan. The two boards presented their proposals at an open forum in spring 2021, after which, the proposals were submitted to the Ministry along with an environmental assessment and a summary of the main comments received. The full policies, both the long-term 2031 plan and the 2022-2026 action plan, are available on the government website.

Six Million Plants This Year, But Production Still Short of Carbon Neutrality Goal

Iceland needs to rapidly increase its plant cultivation in order to meet the government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, RÚV reports.

Þröstur Eysteinsson, director of the Icelandic Forest Service, says that in order to meet the goal, plant production in Iceland will have to at least double over the next three to five years, and that production capacity will need to increase even more after that. Currently, there is not enough room in local nurseries and greenhouses to meet this demand.

“As the situation stands, our greenhouses are at full capacity,” Þröstur explained in an interview. “Because it’s May, the spring sowing has already been planned out and it isn’t possible to add anything that will be ready in spring 2023, that is to say, next spring. So for any new projects that are coming in, the earliest they could get plants is 2024.”

The Forest Service intends to deliver six million plants this year, says Þröstur, which is equivalent to pre-crash levels of production. “It was around five million last year, and four million the year before that. This is a rapid increase. Then we need seven to eight million next year, which we may not manage, and ten to twelve in 2025.”

Iceland’s Forests Could Double in Size in the Next Two Decades

forestry forest tree

If Iceland sticks to its plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, it will double its forest cover in the next two decades, RÚV reports. Forests cover just 2% of the country’s surface area today. Hreinn Óskarsson of the Icelandic Forest Service says afforestation can be an emotional issue for Icelanders, who are attached to the landscape in its current form.

Forests currently cover around 2% of Iceland’s total surface area, equivalent to around half of the Reykjanes peninsula. Glaciers, in comparison, cover around 10%. When humans first settled permanently in Iceland in the 9th century, forests covered somewhere between 25-40% of the island, but most of them were cleared to make room for sheep and cattle, whose grazing prevented the forests from growing back. The Icelandic Forest Service (IFS) was founded in 1908 but it wasn’t until the 1950s that large-scale afforestation began in the country.

Read More: Bringing Back Iceland’s Forests

The forests planted in Iceland more than half a century ago are now producing usable wood, comparable in quality to wood imported from abroad. Earlier this month, a new 100-metre pedestrian (and horse) bridge across Iceland’s Þjórsá river was unveiled, built entirely from Icelandic timber. It is the first project of its kind. Trausti Jóhansson, a forest warden in South Iceland, stated he is proud that forestry has reached this point in Iceland. There is growing demand for Icelandic timber, according to Trausti, and more parties getting involved in production. “We’re always developing Icelandic timber further and further.”

Glulam to be Made from Icelandic Lumber

Over the last few weeks the Icelandic Forest Service, Límtré/Vírnet and Innovation Center Iceland have been conducting research into the possibility of using Icelandic lumber to produce glue laminated structural beams, sometimes called glulam, RÚV reports. Imported wood has hitherto been used for the application.

Glulam is a type of engineered wood, made from lumber that is bonded together with structural adhesives. It is commonly used as structural beams in all types of man-made structures, such as sports halls, glasshouses, gazebos and even bridges.

“We’re very excited about this. It’s great that we’re embarking on this journey,” says forester Trausti Jóhannsson. “Finally we’re creating real lumber from our trees, people are saying. Not just cutting them down, putting them in the wood chipper and then burning them. We’re now thinking towards the future.”

“The through line in this project is environmentalism,” says Logi Unnarson, advisor at Límtré/Vírnet. “We are well aware of the importance of this project. Now there are plans to increase forestry in Iceland, so it’s obvious that we’d benefit greatly from using Icelandic lumber. We’d spare us the transportation of heavy goods from Europe and be able to concentrate on building up a strong lumber industry here.”

The Icelandic glulam will soon be tested at the Innovation Center Iceland with first result being expected by spring.

Four Million Trees to be Planted in 2019

The Icelandic Forest Service intends to plant nearly four million trees this year as part of a long-term climate action plan, RÚV reports. The new plantings will supplement the three million that the Forest Service planted last year, and will include birch, larch, black cottonwood, lodgepole pine, and sitka spruce trees, among other species.

“There are exciting times ahead,” remarked National Forest Division Chief Þröstur Eysteinsson. “This summer, we decided that reforestation would play a big part in Icelanders’ climate action plan and that we should plant a lot more trees in the coming years than we have so far. This won’t start all that quickly, but we expect to get close to four million trees in total and then go up from there.” Tens of millions of krónur are currently being invested in reforestation projects, and Þröstur hopes that by 2020, investment will increase to hundreds of millions.

Iceland’s five-year fiscal plan anticipates spending ISK 6.8 billion [$56.4 million; €49.2 million] on climate-related expenses. The majority of this funding, or ISK 4 billion [$33.2 million; €28.9 million], will be allocated to CO2 capture efforts lead by the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service. The Forest Service will receive an increase of ISK 450 million [$3.7 million; €3.3 million] by 2020, going up to ISK 1.7 billion [$14.1 million; €12.3 million] by 2023.

This year, the Forest Service will be planting a large percentage of its new trees on land in its ownership, particularly in Skorradalur in West Iceland. There will also be significant plantings in in South Iceland at a new grove near Þorlákshöfn—aided by this year’s seedling fundraiser to benefit ICE-SAR—as well as one on Mt. Hekla.

ICE-SAR Earns Over Half of Annual Revenue from Fireworks

Reykjavík Fireworks New Year's Eve

ICE-SAR earned around ISK 800 million ($6.8m/€6m), or up to 60% of its total annual revenue from New Year’s firework sales in 2017 and 2016, RÚV reports. ICE-SAR chairman Smári Sigurðsson says that this year’s fireworks sales figures are not yet available, and may indeed be somewhat lower than previous years, but it’s possible that sales from this year’s new seedlings initiative will make up for any drop-off in firework sales. Smári predicts that this year’s fundraiser will yield somewhere between ISK 700 and 800 million ($5.9-6.8m/€5.5-6m).

Figures for this year’s sales are not yet available as they will continue through January 6, or Þrettándinn, which marks the 13th and last day of Christmas in Iceland. Bonfires are held throughout the country and many people save their holiday fireworks for this day, which is the last legal day to set them off until the next Christmas season. The bonfires and fireworks are, metaphorically speaking, intended to “burn up Christmas” and mark the end of the festive season.

There’s been increasing concern over the pollution caused by the annual fireworks extravaganza in Iceland, and the resulting difficulties experienced, for instance, by people with respiratory problems. As such, the idea of selling seedlings to be planted in a grove outside Þorlákshöfn next summer had been “well-received,” said Smári, and ICE-SAR intends to continue the seedling sale next year and “…develop this partnership with the Icelandic Forest Service further.”

ICE-SAR is entirely funded by donations; it receives no government support. As such, the annual end-of-year fundraiser is particularly important to the organisation’s success for the rest of the year. However, that doesn’t mean that the organisation is dead-set on the continued sale of fireworks specifically.

“We’re not defending fireworks, per se, but we but we want to spend the profits on the work that needs to be done.”