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Iceland Mag


Growing tourism threatens the value of the nature preserve of Hornstrandir in the Westfjords

By Staff

  • Hikers in Hornstrandir With no roads or moern infrastructure, wild nature reigns supreme in the Hornstrandir region. But the appeal of untouched nature is drawing in more visitors, threatening the very thing which makes this region unique. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson.

Unprepared travellers and lack of infrastructure to handle the growing flood of visitors are causing growing problems in the Hornstrandir nature preserve. A tour company which has transported hikers to the region is considering whether to have all visitors sign a waiver indicating they are aware of the conditions in the region and understand that they take full personal responsibility for their travels.

Growing numbers of unprepared travellers

Valgeir Höskuldsson the manager of Vesturferðir, a company which transports large numbers of visitors to Hornstrandir nature preserve every year tells the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RÚV that growing tourism and the growing popularity of the region have resulted in an increase in the number of woefully unprepared travellers. “The great majority knows what they are doing, but when there have been problems, and we have been forced to fetch people, it is frequently because people have underestimated conditions.”

Read more: Hornstrandir: Where the Arctic Fox reigns supreme

Látrar lighthouse on Hornstrandir Valgeir points out that during a severe storm in August a group of hikerrs became stranded in an emergency shelter at Látrar. The group would have had no way of contacting the outside world if one member had not been carrying a satellite phone. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The problem, Valgeir argues, is that people don’t understand how remote and isolated the region is. Previously all travellers in the region were experienced hikers, but now “regular tourists” have become more common. These people, he argues, are not always fully prepared. One thing he mentions travellers have not counted on is how spotty the cell phone coverage is. If people get into trouble they might not be able to phone for help. 

Forcing visitors to read instructions or controlling their inflow offered as solutions
Having people read short instructions and sign a waiver is one solution Valgeir argues. Another is to control the flow of travellers into the area. The supervisor of the preserve has recently made a similar argument, adding that investments must be made in infrastructure to handle the growing number of visitors. 


Only accessible by boat The lack of any modern infrastructure makes the region unique. Photo/Pjetur.

Jón Smári Jónsson the supervisor of the nature preserve in Hornstrandir recently told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that the growing number of cruise ships who visit the area is a particular concern. He points out that there is no infrastructure anywhere in the region to handle hundreds of visitors at a time. For example, toilet facilities are lacking.

A protected wilderness area threatened by growing tourism

Only two employees are on duty in the entire preserve during the summers. Jón Snorri points out that there are no facilities anywhere in the region to handle large numbers of visitors, and that the delicate vegetation and nature could easily be damaged by large, unmanaged crowds of tourists. Growing numbers of visitors can also affect the animal life in the region. 

Hornstrandir, Strandir, Vestfirðir, Westfjords

Dramatic and remote Hornstrandir are more isolated than many visitors realize. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The Hornstrandir nature preserve was created in 1975, 40 years ago. The region had been inhabited since the settlement of Iceland, with a number of farms were in the area and one small village, in Aðalvík bay on the West tip of Hornstrandir. However, the remoteness of the area and the fact that most settlements could only be reached by boat, resulted in in rapid de-population in the first decades of the 20th century. By mid-century the last inhabitants had left. No roads were ever built in the region.

Hornstrandir is one of few areas in the world which are categorized as a Category 1b Wilderness Area, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. A Category 1b Wilderness Area requires stricter limits than imposed in National parks. Human visits should be kept to a minimum, only allowing travel of people’s own devices, for example by foot. Wilderness areas can be classified as such only if they are devoid of modern infrastructure.

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