There’s an old Icelandic saying that, if you get lost in an Icelandic forrest, stand up. This is pretty accurate reflection of the landscape in Iceland nowadays because there was a time when Iceland basically had no trees. Over the past century or so, as tourists flocked to the island and environmentalists started to raise concerns, people began paying more attention to this issue. Because of the new attention, reforestation began to happen all over the country, but mostly in the main cities. It’s more common to see a tree in Reykjavik than in the surrounding countryside.
It wasn’t always this way though. Back before the Vikings arrived, it’s estimated that almost half the country was covered in trees. As soon as they sailed into iceland, they started chopping everything down and exploiting the land for its resources. Basic colonizer stuff. They used the wood for building material and to burn. Once the forests were all gone, they let their sheep roam around, which led to soil erosion and loss, which made it near impossible for trees to grow back.
You might be wondering if trees can even grow in Iceland since it’s so cold and there’s volcanic rock everywhere. The answer is yes! Despite the long, cold winters, there are some trees, especially Birch and Rowan, that are strong enough to survive until the long, warm days of summer. In some areas, there’s too much stone from volcanoes to grow trees, but this is a blessing in disguise. Volcanic ash is actually a really great fertilizer. When volcanoes have erupted over the past, the ash that comes out with the lava falls down into areas and makes the land even richer.
In the future, maybe the saying that to find your way in an Icelandic forrest, all you have to do is stand up, will just be one of those things that grandparents say to brag about how hard they had it in the old days, when they had to walk uphill both ways to get to school.