One of the first things visitors notice when they come to Iceland is that there are almost no trees. Of the trees that do grow here, most are short, scrubby birch. As the perennial joke goes, “What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up!” While this stereotype isn’t too far from the truth, the South actually has several lovely forested areas, including Haukadalur, Þjórsárdalur, the Historical Pine Grove in Þingvellir, and the spectacular Þórsmörk nature reserve.
The most common tree species are birch and pine, and many forests have walking trails, recreational areas and campsites – perfect for a day of peaceful wandering. What many don’t realise is this hasn’t always been the case. As much as 40% of the country was forested until the time of the first settlers, who cleared the trees to create grazing land for their sheep.
Today, about 2% of the country is forested, though that is changing, with efforts to increase coverage to 12% by 2100.