The Nootka lupin was brought to Iceland to help to restore degraded soils. It’s use began in the 1960s when the Icelandic Forestry Service used lupin to fertilise newly-planted forest areas. As a plant which needs a sunny spot, lupins could not thrive once the trees grew tall enough to create shade. After this it was then sown by the Soil Conservation Service to help to improve soils.
Soil erosion is a considerable problem for Iceland. At the time of settlement, Iceland was actually more vegetated, with habitats such as forests, grasslands and willow tundra. Before the Vikings there were no grazing animals in Iceland (the Arctic fox was the only mammal) but with the people came the sheep, goats, cows and horses.
Centuries of sheep farming are thought to have taken their toll on the land putting an intense pressure on fragile grazing lands. Woodlands suffered when sheep could graze the regenerating shoots from felled birch and willow trees, preventing the formation of coppices. In addition, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the climate became harsher slowing vegetation growth, and land was lost to disasters such as meltwater outwash caused by volcanic eruptions under glaciers.
Lyme grass and lupins can both grow in loose soils and help to combat erosion.
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.
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.
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.