The joke is as old as the hills, and it goes something like this: how do you avoid getting lost in an Icelandic forest? You stand up.
Ha ha ha. Right, now that’s out of the way, we can explain a little bit about what is going on with Iceland and its (lack of) trees. The sagas are replete with stories of the forest that once filled Iceland. If they were really there, then where are they now?
The story is two-fold: it is very likely that the numbers of trees in Iceland was slightly exaggerated, to make Iceland more attractive for future settlers; and the trees that were there were cut down for fuel, shelter and because they were a nuisance. Combine this with the (very) short growing season in Iceland for vegetation at these near-arctic latitudes and the recovery rate for new vegetation is very slow. As far as rearing sheep were concerned. Over the course of about 50 years, the 40% of Iceland that was covered in Birch forests was all but gone.
What do Icelandic forests look like? The native Icelandic birch tends to be short and not very tree-like, that is to say with a large central trunk. It tends to grow more numerous shorter trunks, and do not rise very far in the air, hence the whole joke about the Icelandic forests.
In recent years there has been a massive and concerted effort to reforest (as well as a forest) Iceland. Here, then you want a nice big forest and you want it quickly, then you plant pine. There are plenty of pine forest in various parts of Iceland, and many times you will find patches of birch and pine close to one another
So where can you find a forest in Iceland? Well, there are a few places. The biggest forest in Iceland by far is Hallormsstaðaskógur, located in the East of Iceland on the edge of the lake Lagarfljót, with a length of 25km (16mi) and width of 2.5km (1.6mi). It is Iceland’s first national forest and was established in 1905. The downy birch trees reach 18m in height!
There are also large pine forests in the Þjórsárdalur river valley in the south of Iceland on your way towards the highlands on road 26/32 as well as of course Þórsmörk which literally translates to Thor’s Woods. In every place, you will find spectacular scenery and a wonderful place to explore the forests and then hike up the nearby and surrounding mountains.
So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and explore the great forest of Iceland! Let us know how you get on. And whatever you do, don’t get lost!
The Niceland team was invited to come to the Forest Games or “Skógarleikarnir 2018” in Heiðmörk this past weekend. They taught about the forest, forestry in Iceland and gave us valuable insight into this growing trend and planting forests in Iceland.
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