Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Nature

More than a fifth of Iceland is now included in protected areas and nature monuments

By Staff

  • Rugged beauty The Central Highlands and the highlands and wilderness areas in the Strandir region are among the largest untouched wilderness areas in Europe. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

National Parks, protected areas and nature monuments now cover 21.6% of the surface area of Iceland, according to the Environment Agency. This could expand dramatically in the next years if plans by the government to establish a new National Park which covers the entire Central Highlands, and ideas by the incoming Minister of the Environment to establish a new National Park in the Strandir region in the Northern Westfjords peninsula are realized.

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon now a protected site
This year the nature preserve in Þjórsárver highland oasis and Vatnajökull National Park were expanded. Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon was added to Vatnajökull National Park after the government exercised eminent domain to prevent investors from acquiring the site.

Read more: Investors who had hoped to buy Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon blast its inclusion in National Park

This expansion brought the total area of protected sites in Iceland to 22,233.3 square kilometers (8,584.4 square miles). The total surface area of Iceland is 103,000 square kilometers (39,770 square miles). 

Plans for new Central Highlands National Park

Ingvararfoss, Skjálfandi

Ingvararfoss waterfall One of the waterfalls in Skjálfandi river. One of several waterfalls which would have been destroyed if plans to build a new hydropower dam in the river had been realized. Photo/Steinar Kaldal

The policy agreement of the incoming Left Green led coalition government includes a promise to establish a National Park in the Central Highlands. It is not clear exactly what areas would be included in such a National Park. The Central Highlands cover nearly 40% of the total surface area of Iceland.

Read more: Head of leading conservationist and environmental NGO named Minister of Environment

Significant parts of the Central Highlands are already been incorporated in Vatnajökull National Park or otherwise declared protected areas. Still, roughly 60% of the Central Highlands are outside protected areas. If a new Central Highlands National Park were to cover the entire area it would mean that more than 50% of Iceland was covered by National Parks and protected areas. 

Strandir region a new National Park

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve
Hornstrandir The Hornstrandir Nature Preserve could become part of a new National Park Photo/Guðmundur Þ. Egilsson

The new Minister of the Environment has said publicly that the ministry would like took into creating a new National Park in the Westfjords. This National Park would not only include the Strandir Nature Preserve, but other wilderness areas in the Strandir region.

Read more: Conservationists reject plans for hydropower plants in untouched Westfjords wilderness

The first site National Park in Iceland was established in 1928 when Þingvellir National Park was established. The largest expansion of the National Park system took place in 2008 when Vatnajökull National Park was established.

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