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Mountain Farming in Northeast Iceland
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Humanities.
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This presentation will focus on hay and grass harvesting in the Mývatn area in the northeastern highlands of Iceland during the period ca. 1700 to 1950. Mývatn refers to the lake that is the most significant geographical feature of the region. The name literally means “Midge Lake” and refers to the flies or midges, of vital importance for the local ecosystem, that provide food for fish and waterbirds. Mývatn is regarded as one of Iceland’s most precious natural treasures. The lake and its outflowing river, the Laxá, are renowned as a breeding ground for a large number of species of migratory waterfowl. Mývatn and the Laxá river were protected by law in 1974, and in 1978 placed on the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance (http://www.ramsar.org/). The area may have been one of the first regions of Iceland to be settled, and is unique in the way that it has practiced sustainable natural extraction for its most vital resources for an extended period of time. Part of the reason for this lies in the rich natural resources of the area. Until the early part of the twentieth century, the inhabitants lived almost entirely on the proceeds of the land by farming, fishing for trout in the lake, and collecting the eggs of wild birds. However, the area has experienced a series of “boom and bust” cycles in terms of the identification and use of its natural resources, and it is noteworthy that soil erosion has ravaged the area and the adjacent hinterlands at alarming rates (Júlíusson, 2001; Hicks, 2014). In recent decades, economic and social life has changed radically, accompanied by a very rapid increase in tourism.

 

The original settlers to Iceland in the late ninth century brought with them a way of life that focused on a farming economy based on animal husbandry. Cattle, sheep, and horses were the main domestic animals. With its North Atlantic location, marginal for agriculture, grass was the only viable crop. Thus, the success or failure of the all-important grass crop, coupled with winter rangeland grazing, was the one aspect of the economy on which all else rested. The significance of this cannot be overemphasized, and the single most important activity for the farmer was to gather enough hay to keep the livestock fed over the winter. If the harvest failed, and the livestock starved, then the human population was also subject to major stressors leading to malnutrition, social dislocation, and ultimately death.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015.
National Category
Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-26844OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-26844DiVA: diva2:891799
Conference
Perth III: Mountains of our Future Earth Conference, The Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth, Scotland, 4-8 October, 2015
Available from: 2016-01-07 Created: 2016-01-07 Last updated: 2016-04-25Bibliographically approved

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