Three welcome new Ramsar Sites in Iceland

04/04/2013

The government of Iceland, which designated its first site for the List of Wetlands of International Importance back in 1977, has recently added three more beautiful new Ramsar Sites to bring the national total to six. As summarized from the RISs by Ramsar's Laura Máiz-Tomé, Assistant Advisor for Europe, Andakill Protected Habitat Area (Andakíll, Hvanneyri) (3,086 hectares, 64°33'41"N 021°46'09"W), a Nature Reserve and Habitat Protected Area, is a complex wetland located at the estuary of the fjord Borgarfjörður, with two rivers, Hvítá and Andakilsá, and the lake Vatnshamravatn, as well as alluvial floodplains, marshes, and managed hayfields. The shallow and rich freshwater lake hosts numerous species of waterbirds, among them shelducks Tadorna tadorna and the White-Tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. When the tide is low, extensive mud, sand and gravel bars provide important feeding grounds for waterbirds.

There is a peninsula into the fjord which consists of rows of rocky outcrops and extensive freshwater bogs. Along the river Hvítá there are alluvial plains created by regular floods containing high sediment loads and providing an important resting, feeding and breeding area for such wetland birds as the Greenland White-fronted goose Anser albifrons flavirostris. On the other side of the peninsula, the floodplains of river Andakilsá includeextensive wetlands and marshes primarily used for livestock grazing. The main hydrological value of thewetland is flood control, sediments and nutrients retention, carbon storage, and shoreline stabilization. Within the site there is the campus of the University of Agriculture of Iceland and a wetland centre for research and awareness raising for visitors. The three excellent photos are by Björn Thorsteinsson.





The second new site, Gudlaugstungur Nature Reserve (Friðland í Guðlaugstungum) (40,160 hectares, 64°57'00"N 019°16'00"W) is one of the most extensive wetland areas in the central highlands of Iceland, comprising an extensive mosaic of sedge fens, palsa mires and drier heathland. The site is crossed by small streams and glacial rivers, and small ponds are abundant. The wetland area is surrounded by species-rich dwarf willow scrub heath land with high cover of mosses and lichens, which provide diverse habitats for plants, animals and birds. Guðlaugstungur-wetland harbours the largest breeding colony of the Pink-Footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus in the world, estimated at 13,600 pairs in 2002 or over 25% of the national and 18-21% of the world population of this species. There are no major humanmade structures within the reserve area, with the exception of a gravel road and a mountain cabin in the northwestern part. Farmers currently hold traditional grazing and fishing rights. The area is unhabited but receives seasonal tourists during the summer. Soil erosion and overgrazing are the main factors threatening the ecological character of the site.

And the third, Snæfell and Eyjabakkar Area (Snæfells- og Eyjabakkasvæðið) (26,450 hectares, 64°43'00"N 15°32'00"W) comprises a well-known National Park, Habitat/Species Management Area, and Nature Reserve situated in the northeastern boundaries of the Vatnajökull icecap, in the outwash plain formed by the river Jökulsá í Fljótsda where it flows through the depression to the north of Eyjabakkajökull glacier. Small ponds and lakes, sedge and sandy fens, palsa mires, moist sedge and moss heath are the main habitat types. The site is a key area for moulting of Pink-Footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus during summer. The most common breeding birds of the Eyjabakkar wetlands and surrounding heathlands are Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus, Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, dunlin Calidris alpina and Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis.

There are no major humanmade structures within the reserve area with the exception of the new Fljótsdalsvirkjun power plant. The main land uses within the site are grazing and some tourism. Some of the factors affecting the site's ecological character are soil erosion and global warming, which is reducing glaciers, permafrost and palsa formations.

The full Ramsar Information Sheet and maps will be soon available on Wetlands International's Ramsar Sites Information Service (http://ramsar.wetlands.org).

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