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NordGen Forest Working Group on Genetic Resources visited Iceland and gained more knowledge about the countrys special conditions for forestry.

The importance of genetic diversity in Icelandic forestry was discussed when NordGen Forest Working Group on Genetic Resources went to Iceland to participate in a seminar. Another topic was EUFORGEN's report on genetic aspects of forest reproductive material. During the trip, several visits were also made to some of the country's many planting sites of forest trees.

The Icelandic Forest Service (IFS) hosted the working group meeting in Iceland last week. The program included working meetings, forest excursions and a seminar held at the IFS office in Selfoss, south-west Iceland. Director Thröstur Eysteinsson opened the seminar and talked about Icelandic forestry, which is at an exciting stage. Iceland is one of the countries in the world with the lowest coverage of forest area. For example, of all European countries, only the Vatican City State has less forest or woodland – for obvious reasons. But this year, Iceland reached a milestone when the woodland coverage reached two percent. – It is a fantastic time to work with forestry in Iceland. We produced 6 million seedlings this year and will hopefully reach 10 to 12 million within three years. To get there, we need more forest nurseries, Eysteinsson said. Because of the proportion of bare land in Iceland, the country has a unique opportunity to sequester carbon by planting forests, something that the politicians have taken notice of. The country's carbon dioxide trade has meant that the interest in planting trees has increased among private companies. – All this means that the genetic resources in forestry, and the work of this group, are more important than ever to us. Both in terms of maintaining forest diversity, but also to improve the material we use, continued Eysteinsson.

Special Conditions

Iceland's isolated northern location in the middle of the Atlantic creates special conditions for forestry. Compared to the mainland, the country has significantly fewer problems with wildlife damage, diseases and insect attacks. On the other hand, mild winters, windiness on barren land and the great variation in the climate, mean a greater challenge when it comes to establishing forests. The shape of the landscape and the distance to the sea may change the conditions significantly. – Our experiments have shown, among other things, that it is not possible to plant Sitka spruce in areas prone to radiative frosts, e.g. on flat land or valley bottoms. Siberian larch has proven to be valuable on poor soils in the north and east of the country but it copes poorly with mild winters in the south and west. Therefore, we use a hybrid between European and Siberian larch instead with good results, said Brynjar Skúlason, researcher at IFS. During the seminar, Mari Rusanen, researcher at Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), gave a presentation on the European cooperation programme EUFORGEN and the report "Genetic aspects linked to production and use of forest reproductive material (FRM)." The text contains 38 recommendations that address various genetic aspects that one should be aware of linked to the production and use of forest planting material. – The conditions between the European countries are very different and it is difficult to give general recommendations. Therefore, a Nordic interpretation of the report is needed, said Mari Rusanen.

Nordic Perspective

For that reason, the NordGen Forest Working Group on Genetic Resources is working with a

series of articles on the EUFORGEN report

from a Nordic perspective. In the coming year, around ten articles will be published on NordGen's website. Mari Mette Tollefsrud, researcher at NIBIO, is the main author of

the first article now published,

which revolves around how the Nordic countries should achieve a balance between increased forest growth and genetic diversity, as well as the possibilities within breeding to prepare the forest for an uncertain future. After the seminar, the working group visited a variety of tree plantations in the southern parts of the country. One of the excursions went to a nursery that was abandoned in the 1940s. In this area, several non-native tree species can be found. For example, the country’s first black cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa

) planted in 1944, today 25 meters high, European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) planted in 1937, as well as hybrids between European and Siberian larch, a combination that also is exported to Greenland. – Iceland is not a “hot spot” for forest genetic resources. We only have four native tree species, the lowest number in the world, said Adalsteinn Sigurgeirsson, deputy director IFS. Of these, only one (downy birch; Betula pubescens

) forms woodlands and the best trees were cut down a long time ago. – The remaining birch has gone through nearly wholesale degradation over the eleven centuries since the country was settled. Well-managed genetic resources are the key if we are to succeed in creating a resilient forest in Iceland, Sigurgeirsson continued.


  • The country's is 103,000 square kilometers in size, 58% percent of the land area consists of mountainous areas and (or) land located 400 meters above sea level.

  • During the first settlements, 25-40% of the country's surface was covered by birch forest, today the same percentage is 1.5%. The remaining forest land (0.5%) is planted.

  • Over the years, hundreds of different tree species from Europe and North America have been planted on trials in Iceland.

  • During 2016-2019, the distribution of the planted forest looked like this: birch 29%, pine 25%, larch 21%, spruce 14%, Populus 8%, other 3%. The country's tallest tree is a Sitka spruce measuring more than 29 meters (a new official measurement will be announced soon).

Source: IFS


  • The European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) is an international cooperation programme that promotes the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources in Europe.

  • EUFORGEN was established in 1994, experts from the member countries exchange information and experience, analyses policies and practice, and develop science-based strategies, tools and methods to improve the management of forest genetic resources.