Icelandic Ranger’s Course Becomes Fully Booked in Two Minutes

The Icelandic Ranger’s Course became fully booked just two minutes after it opened for registration yesterday morning. 36 places were offered on the course, which is due to take place during a four-week period in February.

Rangers operate in various national parks and nature reserves in Iceland. They are responsible for providing tourists with necessary information, as well as taking care of maintenance in the area. Rangers are usually employed only during the summer season.

According to Kristín Ósk Jónasdóttir, a specialist at the Environment Agency of Iceland, who has overseen the course for the past few years, the course is increasingly drawing a larger attendance.

“Last year, the course filled up four minutes after it opened for registration. Which means that it happened 100% more quickly this year,” she jokes.

She says that less than five years ago, registration for the course remained open for a month or so before filling up. But what explains this sudden increase in applications?

“I think environmental awareness is increasing amongst Icelanders. They appreciate nature more than they used to and realise the importance of environmental protection.” She adds that camping and hiking is more popular in Iceland than ever. “The job combines outdoor activities and nature preservation, which seems to appeal to a lot of people.”

Landing a job as a ranger is not guaranteed upon completing a Ranger Course. However, those who have done the course have priority over other applicants. “There has not been a problem filling vacant posts for the past years,” Jónasdóttir says. She adds that rangers are a very diverse group of people, both in terms of gender, age and background. “We have even had people with PhDs working for us as rangers,” she says.

The Icelandic Ranger’s Course takes place once a year, so those who did not make it this time will have to wait another year. Jónasdóttir says it is a pity that the agency cannot accept everyone who is interested in joining the course. “The applicants are selected by a computer program on a first come, first served basis,” she says.

She emphasises that some universities offer similar courses to students of geology, tourism, biology and geography.

Infrastructure Development in New Nature Reserves

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson and Birkir Jón Jónsson by Dynjandi waterfall.

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has allocated 140 million ISK ($1,102,535, €893,712) to emergency operations and infrastructure development in areas that were declared nature conserves in 2020.

Wooden platforms will be constructed in the Geysir geothermal area, which was declared a nature conserve last summer, as well as gravel paths and an observation platform. Infrastructure in Kerlingarfjöll will also be built, as the area is on a red list due to tourist onslaught and at risk of losing its characteristics that led to it being protected. The strain is most visible in Neðri Hveravellir where a lack of control and infrastructure leaves the unique geothermal area and delicate clay soil unprotected. Walking platforms will be constructed to protect sinter and the hot spring clay from desire paths and foot traffic.

A pedestrian bridge will be constructed on the 5 km hiking path from Ásgarður to Hveradalir. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area but Ásgarðsá river can be deep and fast-flowing and can prove a hindrance to people who don’t want to wade across it. The project leaders also suggest the work will be done in the vicinity of Búrfell and Búrfell canyon, where another popular hiking trail is straining its environment. The delicate flora in the area is liable for damage because of foot traffic. Additional projects include informational signs by Goðafoss waterfall, infrastructure by Háifoss waterfall in Þjórsárdalur and research into whether further infrastructure is needed by Gjáin and Hjálparfoss.

“Nature reserves are important to protect the natural and cultural value of the land for the next generations. By conserving areas, an additional attraction is created that can be helpful to create jobs in rural areas,” stated Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “I’ve focused on directing infrastructure funds to newly conserved areas and to deal with issues as soon as they arise. In 2020, eight locations became conserved areas and in many, improvements are needed to make sure nature is receiving the benefit of the doubt.”

Are There Animals Other Than Birds In the Borgarvogur Inlet?

Female eiderducks

The proposed conservation area in the Borgarvogur inlet mostly consists of mudflats, which are submerged in seawater when the tide comes in. The yellow algae, marine worms, polychaetes, and insects on the surface provide a veritable feast for the birds in the area.  More than twenty different types of birds have been spotted there, including eider ducks and white-tailed eagles. The reason the Environment Agency gives for proposing the nature reserve is that the area is Iceland’s most extensive yellow-algae mudflats, the diverse birdlife and to preserve the greenhouse-gas-binding mudflats.

As the proposed conservation area is mostly mudflats, rocks and small islands, and lies right next to the town of Borgarnes (pop. 2,115), there aren’t many mammals in the area. In fact, Iceland doesn’t have many species of mammals at all. There might be the occasional fox, mink, rat, or mouse passing through. Seal sightings are very rare, and the water is mostly too shallow for even the smallest whales. There are no reindeer in west Iceland. The land on the other side of the inlet is mostly wetlands and farmland, so you might see some sheep and Icelandic horses.

icelandic sheep

Borgarvogur Inlet To Become Nature Reserve

Borgarvogur inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland

The Environment Agency of Iceland, along with landowners and the Borgarbyggð municipality has introduced plans to make Borgarvogur, a narrow inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland, a nature reserve.

Borgarvogur is one of West Iceland’s most important birdlife areas. The inlet and the surrounding wetlands and mudflats are essential for the surrounding area due to its plant and animal life. Over 20 bird species are found in the surrounding wetlands, mudflats, and bayland.

Borgarvogur inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland
Guðrún Jónsdóttir

Borgarvogur consists of a wide expanse of mudflats, categorized as yellow algae mudflats, and is the largest known such area in Iceland. Yellow algae mudflats contain high densities of algae and other small living organisms but mudflats are also helpful in containing greenhouse gasses. The area’s research and educational value is high and the area is ideal for birdwatching.

By conserving the area, the Environmental Agency is looking to permanently protect the natural state of Borgarvogur and the biological diversity of the area so that it can develop naturally of its own accord. Also to ensure research and monitoring of the areas biosphere and so that the public can use the area to study nature. The suggested conservation area limits are shown on the map below.

Proposed Borgarvogur Nature Reserve Limits
Environmental Agency of Iceland.

The Environmental Agency’s notification is the first step in the conservation process and after the introductory period, representatives from the Environmental Agency, landowners, municipality and Ministry for the Environment and natural resources will draft conservation terms and present to parties of interest. the conservation will then be advertised and the public will be able to comment on the proposal.

Fewer Mated Arctic Fox Pairs in Hornstrandir Than Last Year

Arctic Fox Iceland

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve in the Westfjords has half the number of arctic fox pairs with young than it usually does at this time of year, RÚV reports. The drop in the number of mated pairs comes even as the animals’ territory has doubled in size. Human foot traffic through the area is thought to disturb the foxes a great deal, particularly mothers who are still nursing their young and have to stay in their dens.

These findings were among those made by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History (IINH) and their collaborators at the Arctic Fox Centre after their yearly site visit to Hornstrandir from June 17 – 30. During this time, researchers made stops at every known burrow in the reserve and made note of whether these were inhabited, as well as tracking foxes’ movements in and out of them. Three burrows were monitored for twelve hours, specifically to monitor how long adult foxes spent in them, and what food they brought back to them, if any. A log was kept of any food scraps that had been left in or around the burrows and stool samples were collected for future study.

Researchers also monitored and made observations about the number of visitors moving through fox-inhabited areas, as well as their behaviour around burrows. As IINH reported on its Facebook page, visitor traffic was minimal at the start of the expedition, but it increased during the almost two weeks that researchers were present in the reserve.

Even though the number of mated arctic fox pairs with young is significantly less than usual, the research teams affirm that the overall status of the population is good. Even so, researchers plan to monitor human traffic through Hornstrandir and another expedition to the reserve is already planned for later this summer to check in on the status of the arctic fox population at that time. Researchers hope that any travellers to Hornstrandir will follow the directions of the park rangers, stay on marked paths, and not disturb any wildlife they may encounter while visiting.

Rangers Remove Tourist Warts

Rangers are systemically removing cairns left behind by travellers out in nature. This ever-growing problem did not start yesterday, and rangers are witnessing new mounds being placed every day in Vatnajökull national park, for example. Rangers state that they disrupt the natural look of the country and that it is important to educate people on the matter.

Many rangers have started to call the stone mounds ‘tourist warts’. Helga Árnadóttir, a ranger in the south part of Vatnajökull national park, says that it is safe to call it a plague at this point in time. She states that the problem isn’t new and that there’s not really one reason for travellers putting them up. People seem to instantly build up a mound from rocks which they find on their way, and that there’s always a danger that when one mound is placed, others will follow.

The rangers working in the national park work hard to disassemble the mounds as they are not part of the natural landscape which travellers have come to see, and especially not within nature reserves. By placing the mounds, travellers are putting a human touch on a natural area. In fact, visitors in nature reserves are prohibited from disrupting the natural landscape in any way. Furthermore, displacing stones can leave ugly open sores in grown land.

In centuries past, mounds served the purpose to direct travellers and those mounds are considered cultural relics today. Many of those directional mounds still serve that purpose today to direct travellers in the highlands.

The Environmental Agency of Iceland shed a light on this persistent problem on its Facebook page when it told the story of ranger Helena. Helena, who is a ranger in Þjórsárdalur, removed a mound close to Hjálparfoss waterfall. The mound was made up of 3219 stones in total and it took Helena an hour and eighteen minutes to disassemble the whole mount. Once she had removed them all, the area gained back its natural outlook.

“Let’s defend the country together. Let’s not build unnecessary mounds and let’s encourage others not to do so,” part of the status read.

We ask travellers and hikers to respect nature and leave it as it was. If you intend to travel to Iceland, please take a look at the Icelandic Tourist Pledge

Vatnajökull National Park Now Largest in Western Europe

The Vatnajökull National Park is being expanded by 560 sq km (216 sq mi), Vísir reports. The entire park now covers some 14,700 sq km (5,700 sq mi) or nearly 15% of Iceland’s total land area, making it the largest national park in Western Europe.

The boundaries of the park have now extended to include the Herðubreið Reserve. Established in 1974, the reserve was named for what is colloquially recognised as “the queen of Icelandic mountains.” Mt. Herðubreið is a 1,682m (5,518ft)-tall tuya, or flat-topped, steep-sided volcano (not active since the Pleistocene era), located in the northeastern highlands, not far from the Askja volcano. The Herðubreið Reserve also includes other impressive “nature pearls,” such as the Ódaðahraun desert, known for its “unusual geological formations, sands, and broad lava fields that have been formed by various volcanic sources during different periods.”

In January, an application was formally submitted to have Vatnajökull National Park added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which already includes the Þingvellir National Park and the island of Surtsey. Should the application be approved, the UNESCO World Heritage designation will also apply to the expanded area of the park, i.e. the former Herðubreið Reserve. A response on the application is expected by July 5.

The expansion of Vatnajökull National Park is, “…an important step in nature conservation,” remarked Minister of the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “With this, 0.5% of Iceland will now be part of the national park, including unique geological formations, natural spring areas, vast highlands, and then, of course, the queen of Icelandic mountains, Herðubreið… Not a bad gift for the 75th birthday of the Republic.”

Látrabjarg Bird Cliff to Be Protected

The Environment Agency of Iceland has presented a proposal for the protection of the Látrabjarg bird cliffs in the Westfjords. The agency has been working on the proposal since 2011 in collaboration with landowners, local authorities, and other stakeholders and is now seeking comments on it from the public.

One of Europe’s biggest bird cliffs, Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland. A staggering number of seabirds nest there every year, including the largest population of razorbills in the world, with 160,968 nesting pairs. Guillemots (225,912 pairs), thick-billed murres (118,034), fulmars (99,894 pairs), puffins (50,00 pairs), kittiwakes (32,028 pairs) also nest along Látrabjarg.

The proposed boundaries for the Látrabjarg preserve would enclose an area of 2,340 hectares (around 9 sq mi; 23.4 sq km). In addition to protecting the cliffs themselves, the preserve would extend one kilometre out to sea, with the intention of safeguarding the surrounding marine environment as well.

The proposed boundaries of the Látrabjarg Nature Reserve.

Per the written proposal, the primary goal of designating Látrabjarg a protected area is to “protect the unique and diverse ecosystem of the area and habitat for birds, especially the seabird nesting site. The protected status is simultaneously intended to protect and maintain the natural condition [of the site] as well as the magnificent landscape from sea level all the way up to the highest point of one of the North Atlantic’s largest bird cliffs.”

Granting the cliffs protected status is also intended to protect its cultural heritage, ensure that it continues to be monitored and studied by scientists, and redouble educational outreach related to its rich bird life.

The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is June 18, 2019. They can be submitted by email at [email protected] or by post to the Environment Agency of Iceland, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.

New Conservation Laws Go Into Effect at Hornstrandir

New land management and conservation regulations around the Hornstrandir nature preserve in the Westfjords went into effect on Friday, RÚV reports. The new regulations now ban camping outside of specially designated areas and put significant restrictions on cruise ship landings, among other measures that have been put in place to keep the preserve as “untouched as possible” for future generations.

Hornstrandir was established as a nature preserve in 1975. The updated Hornstrandir regulations are the result of a collaboration between local land owners, as well as planning authorities and the Environment Agency of Iceland. They reiterate the overall conservation plan for Hornstrandir, and also lay out an action plan for the more pressing concerns related to the preserve and the order in which they need to be prioritized between now and 2023. Travel habits have changed a great deal since the last time these regulations were examined, Kristín Ósk Jónasdóttir, a specialist working with the Environment Agency, points out, which is why it was important to update them now.

Per the new regulations, it is no longer legal for visitors to camp in Hornstrandir except in specifically designated areas where sanitary facilities have been provided. Likewise, visitors may not ride bikes or bring dogs within the preserve (exceptions are made for dog owners who live within the boundaries of the preserve, as well as people with rescue or service dogs). Tour group size will be limited: a maximum of 30 people in the western part of the preserve and 15 in the eastern part. Larger tour groups will need to apply to the Environment Agency for an exception. The landing of cruise ships with 50 passengers or more will also no longer be permitted within the preserve. It’s also requested that the Coast Guard update its navigational chart such that all ship traffic must be at least 115 metres [377 ft] away from all sea bird colonies and require that permission to take videos or photographs be specially obtained from the Environment Agency, as both can have a negative effect not only on other visitors’ experience, but also on the wildlife itself.

Kristín Ósk says that maintaining the tranquility of the preserve is important, which is why helicopter landings and drone operation is also not allowed within its boundaries. Similarly are small aircraft landings only allowed within designated areas in the preserve. “In all reality, we’re trying to keep the preserve as untouched as possible and what we’ve been trying to do in the preceding decades should still be possible for coming generations to do as well.”

Cruise Ship Landings in Nature Reserves Still Unregulated

As many as 200 cruise ship passengers disembarked at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords in a single day this week, RÚV reports. This is currently legal, as at present, there are no regulations in place regarding cruise ship landfalls in nature reserves.

This is the second time that the Le Boreal cruise ship has landed in Hornstrandir, and not the first time it’s received criticism for doing so. Last year, however, the criticism was largely to do with it neglecting to go through the proper procedure when it entered the country—namely, it did not undergo a customs inspection. This time around, the ship went through customs in Ísafjörður before proceeding on its way.

Regulations are still under development regarding size limits for cruise ships that wish to land in protected natural areas. Until such rules take effect, however, any ship that undergoes a custom inspection is free to land. “We’ve sent requests to all tourism service providers, including providers who offer cruises, requesting certain limits on the number of people [coming ashore],” explained Kristín Ósk Jónasdóttir, a park ranger who works for the Environmental Agency and who witnessed Le Boreal’s landing this week.

It’s recommended, for instance, that after particularly wet periods, groups of no more than 20 people come ashore at a nature preserve. “It’s undeniable that bringing 200 people into such a delicate environment has a significant impact,” Kristín continued. “And I’m worried that while we don’t have the means to stop this, there are just more ships waiting in the wings that want to do this, too.”

Kristín sees this as an issue that effects Iceland as a whole. “We need to set rules regarding cruise ship landfall for the whole country, both in nature reserves and those areas that aren’t protected, so that we can manage this traffic.”