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British billionaire now one of Iceland's largest landowners, owns 0.3% of entire island

By Staff

  • At Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum The British billionaire has bought a number of farms in N.E. Iceland, including the highland farm Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum. Photo/Höfði fasteignasala

The British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has risen to become the largest landowner in Iceland. The farms Ratcliffe has purchased in N.E. Iceland make up nearly a third of a percent of the surface of Iceland, including a large stretch of the Central Highlands. Ratcliffe has not revealed what he paid for the land, but he tells the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that his purchases are inspired by his believe that untouched wildernesses will only become more valuable and important. 

From fracking to conservation
Ratcliffe's fortune is based in the chemical industry. He has come under fire in the UK for extracting natural gas with hydraulic fracking. Environmentalists have argued that fracking pollutes groundwater. His investments in Iceland, however, have all been focused on natural conservation and protection of pristine wilderness. Ratcliffe is particularly concerned with protecting the water quality of salmon fishing rivers in North East Iceland.

Read more: British billionaire buys vast farm in the highlands. Intends to do “absolutely nothing” with it

The lands Ratcliffe has been acquiring are all in North East Iceland, clustered around the salmon fishing rivers of Vopnafjörður fjord. He owns three farms in the fjord, Síreksstaðir, Háteigur and Gruðmundarstaðir, as well as a third of a fishing club which owns 23 farms in the fjord. His most important acquisition was a 72% stake in the Highland farm Grímsstaðir á fjöllum. The state owns 25% of the farm, and one local landowner 3%.

Protecting the North Atlantic salmon
Some locals have expressed concern that land purchases by foreign billionaires can disrupt farming and local communities. Ratcliffe, however, has promised that his intention is to allow farming to continue on the lands he has purchased, offering the pastures and fields rent free to local farmers to cultivate.

Ratcliffe tells the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that his purchases are motivated by conservation: "Man has damaged a lot of the environment around the world, in one way or the other, and there is a sort of uniqueness about places which are untouched by humans, and I think that inherently there will be a value, because people like to go to places where the landscape is untouched."

He told RÚV that he did not intend to build or change the properties he has acquired: His main goal is to protect the salmon fishing rivers in North East Iceland, and thus help strengthen the North Atlantic salmon population.

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