Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a result of the diverging Eurasian and North-American plates; an island created by thousands of years of volcanic activity. It is distinctive in every aspect: environment, geology, biodiversity, ecology, history and culture. The wildlife, flora and fauna and glacial geology – all within one landscape – makes Iceland one of the most uniquely interesting biological and geological environments that can be found on the planet today. Being an island, it is particularly prone to increasing anthropeogenic and environmental stresses, making research in the area both interesting and vital. This point is only made more significant when considering the figures – Iceland homes 52% of the global golden plover population; the population of waders is in decline across the world, coastal and soil erosion are becoming increasingly prevalent problems across the country, all of which will only become increasingly exacerbated in the future.
Skálanes Nature and Heritage Reserve is a 1250 hectare reserve containing habitats and ecosystems representative of the East fjords region and high latitudinal areas. Encompassing a variety of habitats from sea cliffs, melt-water streams, expanses of heath-land and wetland, secluded bays and stark upland peaks, this ecosystem is home to an enormous array of interesting species. From the migrating herds of reindeer to the Arctic foxes, mink and wood mice, with 47 species of birds visiting throughout the year and an impressive number of nesting sea birds during the summer months, (including golden plovers, kittiwakes, godwits, fulmars, whimbrels, redwings, eider ducks, harlequin ducks, puffins and one of the country’s largest tern colonies), not to mention the aquatic species ranging from cod, haddock, capelin and pollock to cetaceans such as orcas, minkes, seals ,dolphins and rorquals, this reserve is a perfect choice for a conservation-based expedition.
The expeditions from the University of Glasgow have been using Skálanes as a base for research since 2008, having proved itself as a worthwhile location in terms of research potential. This expedition builds on those which have gone before and provides an excellent introduction to field science for this group of students. The research programme has been devised by the students, in consultation with staff at Skálanes and in Glasgow, to build on skills learned through their relevant studies. The expedition will greatly increase knowledge of the biodiversity of this area in East Fjords region of Iceland.
This expedition not only provides the team with an invaluable experience unobtainable from the pages of a book, but it also teaches us about how to be more in tune with our surroundings. We are expected to do manual labour, looking after the animals as well as sharing our knowledge with guests and visitors about the importance of Skálanes’ continued existence. Most importantly for us, is the prospect of being part of a dynamic team working towards a communal goal.