Nature Conservation Register

The IINH has prepared a list of proposed areas for the strategic plan of the Nature Conservation Register (Part B) for the protection of habitat types, birds, seals, and geoheritage. The Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate publishes a new Nature Conservation Register at least every five years, as per Article 13 of the Act on Nature Conservation (in Icelandic). The Nature Conservation Register is divided into three parts, which are identified as Part A, B, and C. Part A contains a register of natural heritage sites and areas that have been protected or designated as nature reserves. Part B is the strategic plan of the Nature Conservation Register, i.e., a register of natural heritage sites that the Icelandic parliament has decided to prioritise for protection or designation as nature reserves within the next five years, and Part C is a register of natural heritage sites for which there are grounds for preservation or designation as nature reserves. The legislation emphasises the development of an organised network of conservation areas that will contribute to the protection of biodiversity, geodiversity, and landscape diversity.

The Icelandic Institute of Natural History manages documentation of natural heritage sites, has responsibility for management of Part C of the Nature Conservation Register, and also makes recommendations on sites for inclusion in the strategic plan of the Nature Conservation Register (i.e., Part B). After the selection process is complete, the Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate charges the Environment Agency of Iceland with assessing the necessary conservation measures for the proposed areas for inclusion in the strategic plan and estimating the involved costs. Various other interests emerge in this process, which can affect the final decision on areas for inclusion. However, these other interests are not determining factors when it comes to protection of habitat types, ecosystems, and species. The Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate, in consultation with an advisory committee, submits a motion for a parliamentary resolution on the conservation of these areas.

A prerequisite for efficient nature conservation and the sustainable use of resources in order to maintain a favourable conservation status for the biota and geological features is the organised documentation and classification of nature and the identification and monitoring of key components. Now, for the first time, areas have been selected for Part B of the Nature Conservation Register under the new legislation on nature conservation. The decision was made to emphasise the selection of preservation areas on the basis of habitat types and bird species, and the first steps were taken toward selection of a network of sites for geoheritage preservation. In later stages, areas were added for the protection of waterfalls and seals. An Iceland-wide audit of habitat types and bird species was completed in 2017, whereby habitat types were defined, a revised assessment of Iceland’s bird populations was undertaken, and bird areas of international importance were identified. On the basis of this work, sites were chosen to achieve the aforementioned conservation objectives and establish a coherent network of conservation areas for specific habitat types and bird species.

The Nature Conservation Register and its implementation constitute the core of nature conservation in Iceland. It also functions as a tool for meeting Iceland’s international conservation obligations. In particular, the process of developing the Nature Conservation Register has taken into account the appendices of the Bern Convention, which identify the species and natural habitats to which signatory states have agreed to extend protection. The selection process also builds on Resolution 6 of the Standing Committee to the Bern Convention on specific habitat conservation measures for the habitats of species whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation and the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity. International conventions on geodiversity and geoheritage conservation comparable to those governing the biosphere do not exist. In selecting geological conservation areas, attention was paid to the methods used in other countries and the work of international conservation organisations such as ProGEO (The European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Recommendations of the Icelandic Institute for Natural History on natural areas for inclusion in the implementation plan of the Natural Conservation Register

In April 2018, a total of 112 natural areas in Iceland were selected for recommended inclusion in a coherent network of conservation areas for habitat types, bird species, and geological formations. Fact sheets provide a brief description of each area, the rationale for its selection, and other basic information. The areas are delimited on a map viewer. In some instances, smaller sites were delimited within larger protected areas that support priority natural habitat types or bird species not characteristic for the area as a whole. The intention thereby is not to demarcate these as independent conservation areas. In choosing locations to form an ecological network of conservation areas for habitat types and bird species, experts took an Iceland-wide perspective, considering what selections would fulfil criteria for conservation needs and favourable conservation statuses, irrespective of whether the natural areas in question had already been declared as protected. Many of the sites proposed for inclusion in a network of conservation areas for a given habitat type or bird species are thus located within larger natural areas that already enjoy protected status or have been declared as nature reserves under special laws. In this instance, the sole objective of identifying sites located within more extensive protected areas is to highlight their uniqueness within a larger whole, which must for example be taken into account when preparing a conservation strategy for the area in question. There is also considerable overlap with other natural heritage sites on the current Nature Conservation Register from 1996, as may be examined in the map viewer.

To narrow the focus in selecting special sites for inclusion in the Nature Conservation Register, 31 priority natural habitat types and 51 priority bird species were identified. Selection of habitat types took into account a conservation assessment for each habitat type, evaluating its importance for protected flora and vascular plants on the Red List and its status on the Bern Convention list of habitat types requiring protection. The importance of each habitat type for birdlife diversity and the bird species for which Iceland is responsible was also assessed. Finally, the threats that could impact the status and development of natural habitats were evaluated. Identification of the principal threats to each habitat was emphasised; this assessment is based primarily on the knowledge and evaluation of IINH employees. Bird species were chosen based on three main criteria: (1) the international responsibility of Iceland, quantified as whether 20% or more of the total European population relies on Iceland to breed or stops in Iceland during migration; (2) whether the species is on the Red List, based on the updated Red List published by the IINH in 2018; and (3) whether the species is listed under the Bern Convention as requiring habitat protection.

Selection of geoheritage sites took into account geoheritage protection objectives in nature conservation legislation, which call for the preservation of an organised, complete picture of geological processes and phenomena that will give a continuous overview of the geological history of Iceland, as well as for the protection of geological formations that are special or unique in an Icelandic or international context. A prerequisite for the former objective is detailed documentation of all major geological formations in the country, which does not exist at present. Selection of geoheritage sites therefore focused on the objective of protecting geological formations that are special or unique in an Icelandic or international context. Selection of special geological areas involved a review of those areas that have previously been recommended for protection, together with areas that are already on the Nature Conservation Register. Their conservation value was assessed in the context of relevant guidelines, with the greatest emphasis being on rarity, scientific value, and nativeness. The threats that could impact their value were evaluated. Finally, areas were prioritised in terms of their conservation value and endangeredness.

Additions to Nature Conservation Register

Additional areas for the protection of natural waterfalls and seals were selected for inclusion in the strategic plan and published in December 2020. A total of 12 waterfall sites were chosen, which fall into the category of geological conservation areas. Proposals for protected waterfalls were based on the Natural Heritage Board’s register of waterfalls and their classification. All waterfalls in the top category for preservation that have not already been declared protected were selected. Selection of waterfalls not in the top category took into account their geographical distribution and imminent threats. Included within the boundaries of waterfall sites are gorges, canyon rims, and other waterfalls in the vicinity of the main waterfall that form a coherent part of the unity of the landscape.

The two seal species found in Icelandic coastal areas are both on the IINH Red List for Mammals. They are also priority species for habitat protection under the Bern Convention. Selection of sites for protection of seals was based on seal counts carried out by the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute; seals were counted at haul-outs in each geographical area, with numerous counting zones in each of these areas. In identifying sites for selection, two ground rules were defined: (1) that an area had contained more than 10% of the total population at some point over the counting period (from around 1980 to 2018) and (2) that 100 or more seals had been at haul-outs within the counting area. A total of 19 areas were proposed for the protection of seals, thereof five for the protection of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus).

Many of these additional conservation areas for waterfalls and seals are the same or largely the same as those proposed earlier; in some instances the conservation area has been slightly enlarged. A total of 131 conservation areas are now proposed for inclusion in the strategic plan of the Nature Conservation Register for the protection of habitat types, birds, seals, and geoheritage.


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Glymur 1,60 X
Álftanes-Skerjafjörður 31,40 X X
Elliðavatn 2,10 X
Elliðavogur-Grafarvogur 1,00 X
Blikastaðakró-Leiruvogur 5,30 X
Leirvogsvatn 5,10 X
Hofsvík 0,70 X
Hvalfjörður 87,50 X X X
Krýsuvíkurberg 8,70 X
Eldey 12,60 X
Öngulbrjótsnef 1,30 X
Kalmanstjörn-Garðskagi 12,90 X X
Vatnsleysuströnd 0,94 X
Tröllafoss 0,36 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Mýrar-Löngufjörur 1.303,40 X X X X X
Breiðafjörður 2.930,52 X X X
Laxárdalsheiði 541,60 X
Reykhólar 0,50 X X
Blautós 4,60 X X
Grunnafjörður 14,00 X X
Andakíll 30,90 X
Ferjubakkaflói-Sólheimatunga 9,80 X X
Litla-Skarð 1,10 X
Lambeyrarkvísl 0,07 X
Oddauppsprettur 0,06 X
Snæfellsnes 184,30 X X
Akranes 1,00 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Drangajökull 1.281,00 X
Vigur 7,00 X
Borgarey 6,70 X
Kaldalón 33,20 X
Æðey 7,20 X
Hornstrandafriðland 637,40 X
Látrabjarg 18,20 X
Patreksfjörður-Djúp 51,70 X
Hærriöxl 0,00 X
Dýrafjörður 12,00 X
Önundarfjörður 6,90 X
Goðdalur 0,23 X X
Reykjanes 3,00 X X
Ísafjarðardjúp 156,67 X
Furufjörður-Munaðarnes 116,49 X
Fossar í Rjúkanda, Hvalá og Eyvindarfjarðará 8,92 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Orravatnsrústir 72,90 X
Kolufossar 0,50 X
Skagi 552,70 X X X
Láglendi Skagafjarðar 184,90 X X X
Drangey 6,60 X
Málmey 14,60 X X
Guðlaugstungur-Álfgeirstungur 398,50 X X
Grímstunguheiði-Blanda 369,60 X
Hóp-Vatnsdalur 157,00 X X X X
Arnarvatnsheiði 1.875,60 X X X
Orravatnsrústir 28,90 X X
Fossar í Vatnsdalsá 3,74 X
Húnaflói 188,80 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Leirhnjúkur-Gjástykki 144,00 X
Tjörnes 21,00 X
Aldeyjarfoss, Ingvararfoss og Hrafnabjargafoss 4,80 X
Melrakkaslétta 1.121,10 X X X
Svartá-Suðurá 19,10 X X
Skjálfandafljót ofan Aldeyjarfoss 1.183,40 X
Herðubreiðarlindir 163,40 X
Búrfellshraun 50,60 X
Mývatn-Laxá 153,60 X
Vestmannsvatn 5,70 X
Öxarfjörður 229,60 X
Skoruvíkurbjarg 7,40 X
Langanesbjörg 29,60 X
Grímsey 22,00 X
Hvanndalabjörg 3,80 X
Hrísey 31,10 X
Laufás 7,40 X
Tjörnes 6,40 X
Skeifárfoss á Tjörnesi 0,17 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Skarðsfjörður 58,80 X X X
Viðvíkurbjörg 11,50 X
Úthérað 464,65 X X X
Jökuldalsheiði 394,70 X
Dalatangi 0,56
Vattarnes 0,28 X
Skrúður 6,20 X
Fáskrúðsfjörður 117,70 X
Berufjörður 3,00 X
Papey 16,70 X
Álftafjörður 58,10 X X
Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður 14.130,70 X X X X
Fjallsá-Fagurhólsmýri 112,40 X X
Ingólfshöfði 4,00 X
Skeiðarársandur 761,13 X X
Þvottárskriður-Hvalnesskriður 5,50 X
Lónsfjörður 28,90 X
Hornafjörður-Kolgríma 184,00 X X X
Hengifoss og Litlanesfoss 1,33 X
Stuðlafoss og Stuðalagil 0,95 X
Álftafjörður-Hamarsfjörður-Papey 86,60 X
Papafjörður-Vigur 34,06 X


Area Km2 Land Freshwater Beach Birds Seal Geoheritage
Veiðivötn-Vatnaöldur 1.253,00 X
Geysir 3,00 X
Seljalandsfoss og Gljúfrabúi 0,00 X
Núpsstaðaskógur 15,70 X
Höfðaflatir 2,40 X
Laugarvatn-Apavatn-Brúará 44,30 X X X
Sogið-Þingvallavatn 97,60 X
Stokkseyri-Eyrarbakki 44,56 X X X
Steinsmýrarflóð-Grenlækur 78,50 X
Mýrdalur 2,90 X
Lauffellsmýrar 55,90 X
Hólmsá 9,80 X
Torfajökull 514,70 X X
Eystri-Rangá 1,10 X
Lambhagavatn 0,80 X
Skúmsstaðavatn 13,80 X X
Sauðholtsnes 17,70 X
Eystra-Gíslholtsvatn 1,40 X
Almenningur 4,10 X
Miklumýrar 35,70 X
Ytri-Rangá 34,20 X
Vestmannaeyjar 139,10 X X
Veiðivötn 227,80 X
Þjórsárver 384,70 X X
Kerlingarfjöll 68,40 X X
Svartárbotnar 0,18 X
Ölfusforir-Ölfusárós 55,20 X
Hengladalir 10,10 X X
Selvogur 6,00 X X
Grændalur 6,20 X X
Kvernufoss 1,28 X
Fossabrekkur 0,20 X
Kúðafljót 44,30 X
Þjórsá 20,37 X