Off the beaten track

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One of the qualities which attracts visitors to Iceland is its wilderness, and all that open space can tempt people into testing their driving skills and the capabilities of their cars.

Off-road tyre marks near Krafla
Off-road car tracks in volcanic sands near Krafla

Unfortunately, as Guðbjörg Gunnasdóttir (Manager of Snæfellsjókull National Park) explained to me, these are very fragile environments which are easily damaged and susceptible to erosion. Soils tend to be loose, vegetation is very fragile and water can be channelled along tracks increasing soil erosion.

Tracks can take decades to recover and so the Environment Agency of Iceland is trying to raise awareness of this issue so that everyone can experience Iceland’s raw beauty.

Old re-vegetated track near Krafla
Old re-vegetated track near Krafla
Leaflet warning of the consequences (environmental and criminal) of illegal off-road driving.
Leaflet warning of the consequences (environmental and criminal) of illegal off-road driving.

We have seen quite a lot of evidence of old trackways on the Icelandic landscape. The one below was from our first day on the Reykjanes peninsula, where the compacted soil had been colonised by different species to those found in across the surrounding marshland.



4 thoughts on “Off the beaten track

    Claire Miles said:
    August 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Does this have a corollary with off-roading (and other users’) damage to tracks in the Peak District I wonder with regard to changes in soil structure, vegetation, resistant species etc?

      Rachel responded:
      August 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      A good question, and not one I have much of an answer to! The leaflet from the Environment Agency suggests that the damage done on vegetative ground in Iceland is particularly severe as the growing season is so short and the plants are very slow growing. There are marshy peat lands where the changes to soil structure must be similar, but the expanses of volcanic sand are desert-like and I guess are more like trampling sand dunes.

    Claire Miles said:
    August 13, 2014 at 10:36 am

    At a quick look I couldn’t find any info either specific to changes in vegetation following such damage in the Peak District. However there are so many other causes of damage to large areas of peat moorland – wind erosion, erosion following heather burning etc that its perhaps much less of a consideration, although obviously a lot of work is put into managing the damage caused by visitor access.

      Rachel responded:
      August 13, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      I guess the major problem is erosion and so it doesn’t matter really what caused the damage in the first place, just that the soil has been exposed. Iceland is experiencing a massive boom in tourism and so I think they want to start raising awareness before the situation really develops.
      Interestingly a student on the Italian field course this year looked at changing biodiversity with distance from a path and she still found an effect after several metres. Probably as people drift off the path to look at something interesting (especially as it was next to a botanical field station!).

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