The landscape of Iceland has changed a lot in the last thousand years. When the original Vikings settlers first arrived in the ninth century, it’s estimated that the island was covered in 25 to 40 percent forests made of birch trees. With their permanent settlements, the Vikings needed resources to continue expanding their homes. Being an agrarian society, they turned their eyes to the forests that covered some of the lands and began clearing the areas to create fields for farms and grazing land for sheep.
Within a few centuries, almost all of the trees had been slashed and burned, and new trees were not growing due to sheep grazing on all the saplings. This rapid deforestation has resulted in massive soil erosion that puts the island at risk for desertification.
Now Icelanders would like to get some of those forests back, to improve and stabilize the country’s harsh soils, help agriculture and fight climate change.
To combat the almost total decimation of Iceland’s forest, organized forestry began in 1899 and those beginnings led to the formation of the Icelandic Forestry Service in 1908, who are in charge of the mammoth task of bringing back the woodlands. With the help of a massive number of volunteer workers, forestry societies and forest farmers, Iceland’s trees are slowly beginning to make a comeback.
Watch this short film by Euforgen and National Geographic to learn more about how their efforts are working to benefit Iceland’s economy and ecology through forestry.