Hornstrandir Nature Reserve


Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve was established in 1975. Its boundaries are in the Skorarheiði moor between the fjords of Hrafnfjörður and Furufjörður. The reserve area thus covers the Hornstrandir region, part of the Jökulfirðir fjords (or the rural district of Sléttuhreppur) and part of the district of Grunnaví­kurhreppur. The Nature and Food Agency is responsible for the Reserve.

A deserted area - still utilised
Social changes resulted in the abandonment of all farms during World War II and in the post-war period. The land is mostly private property and the land owners are entitled to its traditional utilisation, i.e. eider farming, fishing in rivers and lakes, hunting birds and gathering eggs. Few dozen houses are located within the Nature Reserve are, both old, renovated farmsteads and new summer cottages. People often spend the whole summer in these houses, and it is important that tourists refrain from pitching their tents too close to them.

Through the ages, nature and human life in Hornstrandir were closely interwoven. Traditional agriculture was always limited; instead, the inhabitants based their livelihood on the sea and bird cliffs. Trips between farms were difficult, during the winter time. Outlaws travelled to Hornstrandir in order to board foreign ships and leave the country. On top of all this, attacks of polar bears could also be expected. As a result of these conditions, the history of the region assumes a depth which gives an added dimension to visits to the nature reserve. The primary factor that made farming in Hornstrandir different from that of other parts of the country was the struggle with the bird cliffs. The cliffs were an important source of food, but their utilisation was hazardous.

About 260 species of flowering plants and ferns are known to grow in the nature reserve area. Most of these species are common in the West Fjords, but there are also rare species in the region. The region has been totally preserved against grazing for several decades. Continuous growth reaches an altidtude of no more than 300-400 metres. Examples of beautiful plants in the reserve are sea pea and sea lungworth, which can be seen on the beaches. Because of heavy snowfall, the land is in the process of shedding its cover of snow throughout the summer. The vegetation is therefore extremely sensitive and must be approched with great care.

Field mice are common in the area, but foxes are the prevailing mammals. Seals, are common sight on the beach. About 30 species of birds nest in the nature reserve, and many more species can be observed. The most interesting points for bird watching are the bird cliffs, Hornbjarg, Hælaví­kurbjarg and Riturinn, with their superabundance of birds.

Wheather and equipment
Tourists must bring along tents, if staying over night.  It is necessary  to bring warm and waterproof clothing even if you are just going to stay for few hours or for a few days.  Snow can be expected at any time of the year and storms can break with little warning. Thick fog often occurs in the region. Being able to use a compass can come in handy and it is good to have GPS with you . All food must be brought along, and visitors should be prepared for delays. Boats are not always available to collect people at scheduled times. There are radios in emergency huts.  A trip to Hornstrandir must be well organised.  Good maps are essential.  Further information can be obtained from Westtours office and theTourist Information Centres in Ísafjörður and Hólmaví­k.

Text: Þorleifur Eirí­ksson, updated be West Tours


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