Since humans arrived to Iceland, 96% of forests have been cut down and the vegetated part has reduced from 60% to less than 25%, due to severe erosion caused by sheep overgrazing. The Soil conservation service of Iceland has some projects aimed at revegetation.

In autumn 2015, I hiked in eastern Iceland (Lónsoræfi area) and was somewhat dismayed by the impact of sheep even in remote and steep valleys in a nature reserve. In spring 2016, I visited Rùm, Scotland, an island now sheep-free, and noticed the dramatic difference in vegetation compared with the parts of sheep-infested mainland Scotland I had experienced before.

Where may I find parts of Iceland where sheep are banished and where natural vegetation is given a chance to recover¹?

¹Not counting ice caps and glaciers and their immediate vicinity which are naturally free from vegetation.

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    I don't think there are any. There is indeed more sheep than people in Iceland (according to my tour guide though), and people had much bigger impact to the natural vegetation (according to the same source). I haven't seen any forests traveling around there, but heard there are couple - very small though. They are all fenced to protect from sheep grazing, but otherwise there are no areas where sheep is banished.
    – George Y.
    Dec 13, 2016 at 3:24
  • I'll post mine as answer to get this out of "unanswered"; would delete if someone comes with a better one.
    – George Y.
    Dec 30, 2016 at 4:57
  • Doesn't really help you, but if you really want to know what Iceland was like centuries ago, the coastal areas of New Foundland/Labrador are much like it used to be.
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 11, 2017 at 13:33
  • @CGCampbell Really? Newfoundland is on my bucket list to return to (particularly the south coast), but I found Newfoundland more like Sweden or Norway than like Iceland. Iceland is volcanic with very young geology, whereas Newfoundland and particularly Labrador is on the Canadian Shield, just like Sweden and Norway being on the Scandinavian Shield.
    – gerrit
    Jan 11, 2017 at 14:06

2 Answers 2


Based on limited personal experience. I haven't seen all Iceland myself, but from what I've seen it doesn't look like there is anything left what one could reasonably consider a forest. At least not by European/American standards.

When being on several guide tours I also heard there are a couple of very small forests coming from reforestry projects. Those forests are indeed all fenced to protect from sheep grazing, but those are relatively new and therefore small.

As a side note, there is more sheep than people in Iceland (according to my tour guide), and people had much bigger impact to the natural vegetation (according to the same source).

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    And the climate did not really allow trees to grow till recently so all efforts to reforest the island were failing till the second half of the 20th century, or even the last quarter of that century.
    – Willeke
    Dec 30, 2016 at 10:24
  • People brought sheep so I don't think it makes much sense to say people had a much bigger impact to the natural vegetation. The impact by sheep is a subset of the impact by people.
    – gerrit
    Jan 4, 2017 at 10:32

You'll find several small forests in Iceland, Hallormsstadaskogur in the East. Vaglaskogur in the North and Baejarstadaskogur in the South. More importantly there are several very large nature reserves where grazing is limited.

Take a look at Nordic Adventure Travel.

Skaftafell is quite well known.

  • Which ones are the very large nature reserves where grazing is forbidden? I've been to Lónsöræfi, which was very beautiful, but it does have (over)grazing.
    – gerrit
    Jan 11, 2017 at 14:08
  • Forbidden was a too strong word, there is some limited grazing in the largest reserves but nothing that should seriously affect them.
    – Karlth
    Jan 13, 2017 at 10:04
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    Vatnajokuls reserve is the largest, Skaftafell is one. Husafell. Nordurdalur in Westfjords Hornstrandir (No grazing). Surtsey (No humans!)
    – Karlth
    Jan 13, 2017 at 10:11

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