Environment: Turning Iceland's highlands into a protected national park

Langasáta in the Landmannalaugar region: an area which would fall ...

Langasáta in the Landmannalaugar region: an area which would fall into the proposed Highland National Park. Mbl.is/ Rax (Ragnar Axelsson)

If the central highlands of Iceland were turned into a protected national park, it would span 40 thousand square kilometres and become the largest national park in Europe. 

The Icelandic highlands are comprised of unique geological formations. "Just like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Bryce are America's greatest treasures, or the Eiffel tower in Paris and other historic buildings in other countries are of great cultural importance, the highlands are Iceland's greatest treasure. Our natural heritage is no less importan than our cultural heritage, for example, our manuscripts," says Steinar Kaldal, project manager of Landvernd, The Icelandic Environment Association and the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association. 

Kjölur in the central highlands - Langjökull glacier reaching into ...

Kjölur in the central highlands - Langjökull glacier reaching into Hvítárvatn lake. Mbl.is/ Sigurður Bogi Sævarsson

Recently, representatives of 21 associations signed a statement of intent to make the central highlands into a national park. The project has been in preparation for over a year, in combining the efforts of nature protection societes, mountaineering and hiking societies and the travel industry. All concerned parties agreed that the highlands should be protected, resulting in the statement of intent, which also stated that protection of nature was vital for the central highlands and the experience of a wild expanse of nature. Research has shown that Icelandic nature is the number one reason for visiting the country for 80 % of tourists. 

If the central highlands of Iceland were turned into a ...

If the central highlands of Iceland were turned into a protected national park, it would span 40 thousand square kilometres and be the largest national park in Europe. Map/Morgunblaðið

Against further exploitation and construction

"The statement of intent is the first stop in a long journey. Founding a national park will take several years," says Kaldal. In a recent poll conducted by Gallup, 60% of Icelanders were in favour of founding a national park in the highlands and only 13% were against it. 

On Friday March 18th, a draft parliamentary resolution was made by seven MP's from all Iceland's political parties except the Left Green Party to place the central highlands of Icelands on the Unesco World Heritage List. 

Political parties VG (The Left Green Party) and Samfylkingin (The Social Democratic Alliance had previously made draft parliamentary resolutions for founding a highland national park. The former warned against further exploitation and construction in the highlands which would "rob the area, and Iceland as a whole, of unique formations and characteristics." The latter voiced concerns that construction in the highlands to exploit natural energy and the increase in tourists could cause irrepairable damage. "We need to guard this incredible area."

"We hope that this issue will be adressed before the parliamentary elections of 2017," says Kaldal. 

The snow-covered central highlands in winter.

The snow-covered central highlands in winter. Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

Mountain lakes, volcanoes, lava fields and great expanses

A large national park in Iceland's highlands would include 14 thousand square kilometres of the area which is already inside the Vatnajökull national park. It would be outlined by mount Skjaldbreiður in the south and the heaths of Húnavatnssýsla county to the north, the highlands beyond Vatnajökull and Jökulsárgljúfur to the north, and to the west, Sprengisandur, Þjórsárver, Kerlingarfjöll, Kjölur and more areas. In the last couple of years, ideas have been voiced to found a volcano national park in the south highlands comprised of Landmannalaugar, Torfajökull, Katla and Laki. 

The volcanic gases from the recent Holuhraun eruption caused an ...

The volcanic gases from the recent Holuhraun eruption caused an ethereal mist over the central highlands. Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

"It's easy to imagine areas within a highland national park supporting the ecologically efficient use of its land through outdoor activities and tourism created by enterprises and employment initiatives based on the ideals of natural conservation and sustainability," says Kaldal. " For example, the volcanoes of the south highlands, the mountain lakes in the north west and the great expanses of the central highlands, to name a few," says Kaldal. 

For further information on the Protect the Park incentive click HERE. 

Related stories: 

Protest to save the Icelandic highlands

Björk calls for an emergency press conference

The Central Highlands National Park

The Víti crater in the central highlands offers warm waters ...

The Víti crater in the central highlands offers warm waters in which people can bathe. Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

Vonarskarð. The central highlands offer geothermal energy and rivers which ...

Vonarskarð. The central highlands offer geothermal energy and rivers which can be harnessed - but at what cost? Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

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