Visit to Hekluskógar restoration project

3 July 2023
GRÓ LRT fellows with two SCSI specialists: Magnús Þór Einarsson and Hrefna Jensdóttir
GRÓ LRT fellows with two SCSI specialists: Magnús Þór Einarsson and Hrefna Jensdóttir

Field excursions are an essential part of the GRÓ LRT six-month training as they connect the classroom lectures to actual restoration- and degradation cases around Iceland.

Last week, the GRÓ LRT fellows went on an excursion to the Hekluskógar project area in Southern Iceland. The focus of this excursion was on land degradation, ecosystem collapse and the wet deserts in Iceland, while also studying restoration methods to restore vast tracts of land.

The fellows learned about the degradation history of the area, which covers roughly 1% of Iceland, and how a combination of unsustainable land use, cold climatic periods and volcanic eruptions caused extensive loss of vegetation and soils. This led to the collapse of the ecosystem that previously shielded the region from recurrent tephra fall from the nearby active volcano Mount Hekla.

The Hekluskógar project aims to restore native birch woodland ecosystems in the area, which can provide valuable ecosystem services and mitigate potential damage from volcanic ash during future Mt. Hekla eruptions. The fellows had the opportunity to explore various sites within the area, witnessing different stages of restoration. They were introduced to the cost-effective, natural regeneration method used to restore the area, or the creation of “islands” of native birch that naturally spread into nearby areas.

Magnús Þór Einarsson, Project Manager of woodland restoration, and Hrefna Jensdóttir, District Consultant, both from the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, were our guides in the Hekluskógar project area.

Other activities of the day included visits to the commonwealth farm in Þjórsárdalur, a reconstructed farmhouse that was buried under volcanic tephra from Mt. Hekla in 1104, and sightseeing stop at the picturesque waterfall Hjálparfoss.