Strengthening the link between us
A story from Iceland a new land of Membership
– by, Böðvar Jónsson
““Skógar” (or “forests”) is both a historic and treasured site in Iceland. It was the location where, in the 9th century and beyond, tribal chiefs of the early settlers met to resolve disputes” – Böðvar Jónsson
The story of the International Tree Foundation is touching and beautiful, and I consider it an honour to be the first Icelandic member of this venerable organisation. I am truly touched by the inspiring mission and lofty goals of ITF.
The reforestation group that I am involved with concerns a parcel of land called “Skógar” (or “forests”).
It is both an historic and treasured site in Iceland. It was the location where, in the 9th century and beyond, tribal chiefs of the early settlers met to resolve disputes and discuss other issues.
It is also the site where Matthias Jochumsson, the Poet-Laureate of Iceland (left), was born.
A nephew of Matthias Jochumsson, Jochum Eggertsson (right), famous in his own right, was known as a writer, poet, translator, amateur archaeologist and more. Jochum, too, had a great interest in Skógar, and in 1950 was able to purchase the land. He had a vision of how he wanted to develop the land, and was one of the first individuals in Iceland to promote reforestation. The area Jochum chose, because of its historic background and his family ties to it, was at that time isolated and the weather conditions were formidable. He worked alone, living in a small hut on the land, in the isolated northwest corner of Iceland, starting the replanting process as the first step in the effort to regrow the depleted forests. At that time only a handful of people in the country saw any meaning in what he was doing. This is reminiscent of the Man of the Trees, Richard St. Barbe Baker, who himself did not tread the common road.
Jochum was one of the early members of the Baha’i Community in Iceland. Prior to his passing in 1966, he endowed the property at Skogar to the Baha’i Community with the stipulation that his reforestation efforts would be continued.
Skógar was originally a farm with a land cover of 13 sq. Km, mostly mountainous. The site lies in the northwest portion of the country in a region called the Westfjords. The exact location is 65°34‘ North (just south of the arctic circle) and 22°06‘ West.
Over time, the forests the farm takes its name from were slowly destroyed. There are early descriptions in Icelandic literature recounting the loss of forests in Iceland. The causes of deforestation include the early inhabitant’s use of wood for fuel and dwellings, the grazing of livestock, and destructive weather conditions. As the centuries went by and the forests disappeared, the soil became exposed and eroded due to high winds, cold weather, surface water and other forces of nature. Already in the 1800’s the forests at Skógar, which had been highly prized at its settlement, had been lost, but some of the scrub remained.
Ecosystem degradation is by far the largest environmental problem in Iceland. Vast areas have become deserts through the ages and it is a herculean task to reverse the process and regain what has been lost.
Ours is a part of this task.
We have areas which are desert-like with no vegetation, but these places respond well due to the moist environment. For friends in Africa, the challenge in this respect is greater as their deserts are generally dry and the fine sand on the surface continually undermines the root systems of scrubs, bushes and trees.
- Skógar Pic.1 Gravel bed, beginning of may. Fertiliser spread at this time.
- Skógar Pic.2 Same place beginning of July. Reaction to fertiliser. All kinds of gravel bed flowers appear
- Skógar Pic.3 Gravel beds reacted differently. Some not at all others with only one kind of flower.
- Skógar Pic.4 detailed picture from gravel bed 1. Name of the flower, holurt, (Silene vulgaris)
Looking at these pictures bring questions to mind. How do seeds from plants not found anywhere in the vicinity of these barren areas at Skógar find their way there? How long have they lain in the ground waiting for the right circumstances and nourishment to cause them to take root and grow? Why doesn’t the whole area burst into growth in the same way? Some places show growth of many diverse plant species, while others have growth of just one. Still other areas show no growth at all.
At Skógar, our task of restoring a holistic ecosystem is two-fold: the first is the re-establishment of a healthy soil system, followed by the sowing, seeding, cultivation and caring for new forest elements. Protecting the fragile growth from the destructive winter conditions of Iceland requires additional work. Frost, snow and heavy winds are common and in some places it is necessary to protect the young trees by building shelters.
When we started to work out a strategy for the re-cultivation of Skógar, it was evident that some of the target areas had adequate humidity and shelter that had protected the soil and allowed growth of some ground vegetation to thrive. In those places, it was possible to plant tree seedlings without delay.
Our aim in planting trees was not for timber production, but rather to choose the most diverse species of trees that could thrive in this northwestern portion of Iceland. Some of the trees chosen included spruce, pine, larch, birch, elder, hemlock, mountain ash, and various species of willow and poplar. During this two-fold process we have received valuable support and guidance from the Icelandic Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland. Forestation projects for timber production have begun in other parts of the country where conditions and climate are more suitable.
To help illustrate our situation we are enclosing two aerial photographs – a before and after picture of the land. The first picture shows the older part of the forested areas with planted trees interspersed with the original birch woodlands.
The second picture shows the newer part after just few years of planting and cultivation efforts. Gravel beds are still seen as white areas. The vegetation is still primarily linked to the ponds and streams and rivulets between them, where most of the life-giving moisture is found.
From the older part of the restoration area, Inspection of growth development:
From the new part: Young conifer trees growing up sheltered from the northern wind by birch scrub:
“Our land is diverse and magnificent and our hope is that it will, even in the nearest future, act like an outdoor classroom for children and youth in the area through which we are hoping to create a general public interest in forestation and an assurance that forests can be restored even in the northernmost parts of our country”
A gigantic task
The Icelandic nation faces gigantic task to regain the forest cover of the country. At the same time the world is heading into a future which is full of uncertainty, but our vision for Skógar and the future there does not flinch. As you see from the areal photos our land is diverse and magnificent and our hope is that it will, even in the nearest future act like an outdoor classroom for children and youth in the area through which we are hoping to create a general public interest in forestation and an assurance that forests can be restored even in the northernmost parts of our country.
Böðvar Jónsson, who is thought to be the only ever Member of ITF from Iceland, contacted us to tell us about Skógar and the reforestation taking place there.
If you know of any other ITF Members from Iceland, please do let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by: Geoffrey Pettypiece and Commons