The Highlands as a National Park

The Iceland Nature Conservation Association, the Icelandic Environment Association and the Nature Conservation Fund held a large summit “Protect the Park” in Harpa Music Hall on February 26th and 27th with topics regarding the centre highlands and the formation of a National Park in the Highlands of Iceland as a whole. A variety of experts on the subject gave talks and lectures also touching on Vatnajökull glacier national park as a case study.

The centre of Iceland is commonly known as the Highlands, it’s a vast natural wilderness with glaciers, rivers, volcanoes and endless desserts of lava and pumice, greener than green moss and wetlands, probably the last big wilderness in Europe. The Highlands are inhabitable and are closed for humans for the greater part of the year, only open for the short summer months with rangers and guides protecting it and guiding visitors around its wonders.

There is a mobilisation going on in the country involving a number of nature conservation collaborations that goes by the name “Heart of Iceland” as the borders of the Icelandic Highlands roughly outline the shape of a heart. The Heart of Iceland was established for the fight to create a national park in Iceland’s Highlands.

According to a Gallup poll from 2015 the majority of Icelanders want a national park in the Highlands. The intention is to protect the highlands from further damming of rivers to feed power plants for heavy industry like aluminium smelters. With the current government devising quite a few plans to harness, applying increasing pressure in the name of economy to build power plants, built-up roads, and power lines. Specifically, there are proposals to make a built-up road across Kjölur plateau, another built-up road across Sprengisandur plateau along with high-voltage power lines, and Icelandic power companies are preparing to build up to fifteen power plants in the Highlands according to the The support in the poll however comes from across the political spectrum; with 51% of those who support the current government on board.

Heart of Iceland petition can be found here

To quite them directly, “Iceland’s Highlands make up the largest remaining area of untouched wilderness in Europe. This incredible place is not just a treasure that belongs to us; it belongs to the world as a whole. Nowhere else can we find another Lake Mývatn, Þjórsárver wetlands, Sprengisandur, Skaftafell or Lake Langisjór.” They go on to state; “We now have a unique opportunity to turn the Highlands into a national park by bill of law to be adopted by the parliament. Thus all plans for power lines, road construction and/or other man-made structures which would fragment valuable landscapes of the highlands will belong to history.”

Photo by Víðir Björnsson. The Highlands, seen from Drekagil.