ELD at the "Gate to Hell" in Iceland

From 3-6 March 2020, the ELD Initiative held a workshop in Reykjavik, Iceland, to assist the national government with a project to valuate ecosystem services in the Hekluskógar area. The workshop brought together stakeholders in government, academia and conservation groups.  

ELD's scientific co-ordinator, Richard Thomas, guided the group through the development of an ELD case study in the Hekluskógar reserve. Hekluskógar is a highly degraded nature reserve at the base of Mt Hekla, which is an active volcano in south Iceland that is known as the "gate to hell" in Icelandic folklore. The area is characterised by a diversity of ecosystem services, ranging from tephra control, grazing and pasture production to mining and hydroelectric energy generation and recreation from Iceland’s booming tourism industry. The participants were guided through ELD's 6+1 step approach, which is the ELD's Initiative's methodology intended to facilitate scientifically sound cost-benefit analyses to inform decision-making processes.

The primary objective of the case study is to assess the total economic value (TEV) of the ecosystem services in the Hekluskógar reserve. TEV is not intended to put a price tag on invaluable assets but rather refers to the comprehensive nature of the valuation, as opposed to determining an overall sum of ecosystem services. This way, the ELD case study can help the Hekluskógar reserve gain visibility in the broader government's policy choices and puts priceless assets on the map.

Following this assessment, the aim is to use the case study to impact land-use and agricultural policy at both national and local levels in Iceland. The project is further intended to impact on planning frameworks and push Iceland's discussion on economic incentives to reverse land degradation and promote sustainable land management, such as the development of payments for ecosystem services.

The project will be led by the University of Iceland and funded by the Icelandic Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources. Assisting the project are the Icelandic Forest ServiceSoil Conservation ServiceAgricultural University of Iceland and the Agricultural Advisory Centre. The process is already marked by significant collaborations between government and academia, and will be characterised by robust community engagement and co-operation.

ELD would like to thank the Icelandic Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources for the invitation to guide the development of this project. We also extend our gratitude to the workshop participants for their engagement, input and enthusiasm for a collaborative project. ELD is very excited to see the outcomes of this case study.