Success for Iceland: Vatnajökull National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage – Is the Highland National Park next?

Icelandic Highlands, volcano. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

At the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in July in Baku the Vatnajökull National Park was approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as follows: Vatnajökull National Park – dynamic nature of fire and ice (Iceland) — This iconic volcanic region covers an area of over 1,400,000 ha, nearly 14% of Iceland’s territory. It numbers ten central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial. Two of these are among the most active in Iceland. The interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the jökulhlaup – a sudden flood caused by the breach of the margin of a glacier during an eruption. This recurrent phenomenon has led to the emergence of unique sandur plains, river systems and rapidly evolving canyons. Volcanic areas are home to endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the Ice Age.

Fjallsárlón. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

Snorri Baldursson, the author of the most comprehensive illustrated description of Iceland’s nature (Lífríki Islands), has worked several years for achieving this success for Iceland. The protected area history started already in 1967 when the Icelandic government, in cooperation with WWF and involvement of Sir Peter Scott, established the Skaftafell National Park, which in 2008 became part of the much larger Vatnajökull National Park. Another part of the history began in 1997 when the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) was established with the primary goal of establishing a national park in the highlands. The catalyst was a plan by the government to build a huge hydropower complex for a new aluminium smelter in Eastern Iceland, damning major glacial rivers running north and east from the Vatnajökull Glacier. The campaign, which was supported among others by WWF, Bjørk and other outstanding members of Iceland’s society, resulted in half a success: The establishment of the Vatnajökull National Park. However, an aluminium smelter was built in Reidafjördur and a related huge power plant was realised in the highlands. The establishment of the Vatnajökul national park in 2008 can be seen as a kind of compensation for the loss of parts of the wilderness in the highlands and therefore was supported by the aluminium company Alcoa.

Langisjór. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

However, in 2015 INCA (a member of LT&C) and Landvernd joined forces. Their common and continuous goal is to complete the success story and get the entire Highlands of Iceland designated as a national park! Meanwhile, the former common campaigner of INCA and Landvernd, the present Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, who recently applauded the decision of getting Vatnajökull National Park on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, still has to complete his main task. As stated in the coalition agreement the present government is committed to “establish a national park in the central highland region of the country”. And further: “this will be done in consultation with a committee composed of members of all political parties, the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, the local authorities, nature-conservation and outdoor-life associations and other players. The possibility of establishing national parks in other regions will also be examined.”

This provides a promising outlook to become an even greater success story of Iceland than the listening of Vatajökul National Park as a World Heritage site. It would be the perfect gift to the world from Iceland when the present UN Decade of Biodiversity will be concluded in 2020. LT&C has profiled this initiative and found out during a workshop attached to the LT&C-Annual Meeting in Iceland in 2017, that the campaign was supported by Iceland’s entire tourism industry. This will be a great LT&C-Example, where tourism supported the establishment of a huge new national park.

Make a donation

We are grateful that you support the work and mission of LT&C! We accept donations through Credit Card, PayPal or international bank transfer:

Alternative 1: Donate through Credit Card:

Alternative 2: Donate through PayPal (amount in Euro):

Please click the Donate button and then choose your PayPal account

Alternative 3: Donate through international bank transfer

Bank details:
Cultura Sparebank
Pb. 6800, St. Olavs plass
N-0130 Oslo

Name: Linking Tourism & Conservation,
Account no.: 1254 05 95168
IBAN: NO8712540595168

Please mark payments with your name and/or email address

Sign up now

Sign up for an LT&C membership by filling in the details below.

Add your LT&C-Example

Would you like your LT&C-Example/Initiative to be listed on our website? Please fill in the form below.

  • Would you like your LT&C example/initiative to be listed on our website? Please fill in the form below.
  • Please tell us about your LT&C example/initiative and how it fits with Linking Tourism & Conservation (LT&C)
  • Please elaborate on the following topics:
    a) Political/management support
    b) Financial support
    c) Educational support
  • Website with more information on the LT&C example/initiative
  • Please leave your contact details so that we can get in touch with you. This information will not be displayed on our website unless you ask us to.
  • By submitting this form you accept our current LT&C Privacy policy and that we may store and manage your contact information and that we may use the submitted material on our website.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.