On a crisp Icelandic morning, we were greeted by Bjorn, who was beaming with enthusiasm. Mark and I piled into the back of his car with volunteers from an organization called Seeds. We’re driving to a site slightly outside of Reykjavik where his organization, Gróður fyrir fólk í Landnámi Ingólfs (GFF), and Seeds volunteers plant saplings in the spring. As we drove, we learn about the history of the project and the accompanying research.
As Bjorn spoke, the barren landscape along the way became more apparent. “Lowland areas should be vegetated,” Bjorn stated, highlighting the fact that in many areas there was hardly grass. This meant little plant variety and very sparse wildlife habitat.
The lack of trees may not seem like a surprise for a country home to glaciers, geysers, and volcanos, but Bjorn explains the lack of vegetation was less a result of the climate and more a residual effect of the original settlement and resulting soil erosion. The idea that “the Vikings cut down all of the trees” isn’t completely inaccurate.
While it is estimated that 25-40 percent of Iceland was once forested, the current statistic rests at less than one percent. Based on these stats, reforestation efforts have been at the forefront of Icelandic governmental policy and environmental efforts for over a century; and many organizations exist to tackle these solutions.
Over the course of the year, volunteers join SEEDS from around the world to help GFF shovel manure, spread seeds and plant saplings. Meanwhile local students also assist in planting, collecting measurements and taking their research back to classrooms.
As we headed back to Reykjavik we passed a hillside where manure had been spread and grass planted in the shape of a heart. I take this as confirmation of Bjorn’s belief that as awareness of climate change has increased in recent years, environmental enthusiasts have been buoyed to do their part. It’s a reminder of the big vision these environmentalists have for a greener future.