Ten thousand plants planted this summer

This summer, about 10,000 plants have been planted in connection with the Six Rivers Project’s reforestation effort in North East Iceland. The planting is part of Six Rivers’ extensive development, protection, and research work to support and protect the Icelandic salmon.

The project calls for both human resources and significant investment, and its long-term goal is to increase food resources for young salmon in the rivers by introducing more bioactivity into the ecosystem.

The project began last year under the guidance of forester Else Möller. Experimental planting took place, and a plan was made for planting in the coming years. According to Helgi Þorsteinsson, a guide and farmer at Ytra Nýpi in Vopnafjörður, who has taken over as project manager, the work is done according to Else’s plan, while still taking into account the situation at hand, such as access to plants.

“When we set out, there was some plant scarcity in the country. Still, we found the plants needed here and there and have now planted about 10 thousand plants,” Helgi says. More than half of the planting this summer is birch. The rest is a blend of European rowan, tea-leaved willow, woolly willow and alder, as well as experiments with elm.

“There have been five of us working on the planting this summer,” Helgi says. In addition to him a foreman was hired and three young people, aged 16 to 18 years old. He says the work’s continued focus is on native species. “And although elm is strictly not a domestic species, it is closely related to birch. Besides, fossil remains of elm have been found here since before the ice age.”

The team who have been planting in Vopnafjörður, Six Rivers Project
Part of the team that has been working on planting in Vopnafjörður this summer. Helgi Þorsteinsson is at the front.

Vegetation restoration and planting is an important activity that increases soil quality in areas of soil erosion and enriches the area’s ecosystem. The hope is that the reforestation will improve the long-term food supply of juvenile salmon in the rivers. However, the results of the experiment will not be known until many years and even decades, reflecting the long-term thinking of the Six Rivers Project. The approach, to protect and restore the quality of the ecosystems, also relies on farmers’ continued cultivation and traditional farming of the land, enriching the quality of the habitats along the rivers.

“Although the status of salmon stocks in Iceland at first glance seems good compared to other countries, the conclusion cannot be that action to support salmon, globally classified as an endangered species, is not needed. The measures that have been taken here have helped to keep it from disappearing, as ever fewer fish return to the rivers from the sea. Egg-planting, salmon ladders and other measures have supported the stock size of our rivers, but the decline calls for action. And If we do not act now, we run the risk of losing the species,” says Gísli Ásgeirsson, Strengur Angling Club’s managing director.

About farm transactions

In a letter to the editor in Bændabladid’s (The Farmers’ Newspaper) latest edition (19 March 2020), Gísli Ásgeirsson, Strengur’s CEO, talks about the Six Rivers Conservation Project, farm transactions, and limits to farm transactions proposed by the Prime Minister.

The text of the article is as follows:

Strengur Angling Club was founded 60 years ago. Its activities have at times been included in the public debate about farm transactions, where opinions are divided. Strengur is also amongst those that will be affected by the newly proposed legislative changes that would make the sale of farms over certain size limits subject to the ministerial approval. The draft legislation is by many considered excessively burdensome, with the changes affecting a multitude of farms in Iceland, including most farms in the East and North East. And more may be affected that one would have thought initially.

Strengur’s interests have been well publicised in recent months. Our objectives are clear, to arrest the decline of the Atlantic salmon, now an endangered species, whilst benefitting the local community, sustainability and for the long term. This initiative is called the Six Rivers Salmon Conservation Project. It focuses on wild salmon stocks in the rivers of North East Iceland and has no plans to expand beyond that area.

ísli Ásgeirsson, Strengur’s CEO, in a letter to the editor at Bændabladid’s (The Farmers’ Newspaper)

As many know the project is instigated by a combination of Mr Ratcliffe’s land holdings in Iceland and by Strengur Angling’s profits generated from the sale of fishing licences on the six rivers in the North East. (For more information about the conservation project, please visit www.sixrivers.is.)

Strengur and many others have handed in opinions on the draft legislation in the government’s Consultation Portal. Some are highly critical of the proposed changes. Amongst them is the opinion handed in by the Farmers’ Association on March 11th. It points out that all restrictions on the sale of real estate, including farms, are going to limit the group of buyers and thereby devalue the property. “Lower value then means less room for a mortgage. In the Farmers’ Association’s opinion an independent examination is needed on the effects that limiting rules, such as those suggested, could have on the value and eligibility of assets, and on their consequences for the asset holders, including implications for their obligations,” the opinion states. The Association is also critical of how much authority is granted to the minister and warn that limits to the sale of property go against the property rights protected by Article 72 of the Icelandic Constitution.

This view is reflected in many other opinions that have been handed in. The views expressed in an article penned by Gunnar Þorgeirsson, newly elected chairman of the Farmers’ Association, in Bændablaðið on March 5th, this year, should also be noted, in which he states “it is no less important for the government to define a policy on what to do with state-owned farms, for they are many and unoccupied, and affect the settlement organisation in the rural areas.”

Whether the PM’s proposed Land Act changes help counter a trend where farming is being abandoned is debatable. The problems facing agriculture are well known. Bændablaðið’s frontpage story on October 24th 2019 was about the multitude of farms not in operation after having been inherited by descendants not interested in farming. This debate continues.

The goals of the proposed legislation – to ensure that land and resources are used for the benefit of the society and to be supportive of a diverse and competitive agricultural industry, nature conservation and the maintenance and development of residential areas, and of sustainable land use – fit well with the Six Rivers’ conservation and development work in the North East.

Continued traditional farming supports the goals of the conservation project and Strengur’s desire is to support coming generations in pursuing farming as an occupation. To that end, long-term lease agreements have been arranged. The transactions have sometimes lifted burdensome debts from farms, making farming them more feasible. In fact, farming has not been abandoned on any farm purchased in connection to the conservation project and in one case, farming was reintroduced where it was about to be discontinued.

In our opinion, the Six Rivers Conservation Project’s positive effects are not exclusive to the conservation work itself, but also greatly benefit the local community, including farmers. The end goal is for the project to be sustainable, with its entire income reinvested to continue development, thereby making it a long-term source of employment and activity in the area. Our objective is clear, to arrest the decline of the Atlantic Salmon in a sustainable manner, whilst benefitting the local community.

Gísli Ásgeirsson, CEO, Strengur Angling Club

Videos of lectures for the annual Salmon Symposium

New photos from the international Symposium on the Salmon in Reykjavik on January 23rd have now been added to the web.

The Symposium was well attended, bringing together leading world experts on the salmon to discuss ways to save the threatened species. The salmon is now classified as endangered after an alarming drop in numbers in the past 25 years.

The experts pledged to increase international cooperation to tackle the problem and found the Six Rivers Conservation Project and research in Iceland to be one of the most promising endeavours to save the wild Atlantic salmon and reverse the trend that threatens the species all over the world.

Below are a few photos.

Six Rivers Project, PhD students Sammi Lai and Olivia Morris talking to Imperial College’s Guy Woodward

PhD students Sammi Lai and Olivia Morris talking to Imperial College’s Guy Woodward at the beginning of the conference in Reykjavik.

Discussions were lively.

Conference photographer was Arnþór Birkisson.

Experts pledge to act

RUNNING OUT OF TIME: WORLD EXPERTS PLEDGE TO ACT BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE FOR THE ATLANTIC SALMON.

  • Classified as endangered, the population of Wild North Atlantic Salmon has slumped by 70% and is now at its lowest level ever recorded[1].
  • World Experts met in Reykjavik to accelerate research into the conservation of this iconic species. 
  • The conference was arranged by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, an ardent supporter of the Atlantic Salmon, as evidence grows of collapsing wild populations. 
  • Dr Peter Williams, Technology Director of INEOS Group, says, “Collaborations of this quality and scale are incredibly important to secure the survival of the wild Atlantic Salmon. The world is now looking to Iceland and our Six Rivers Project to help inform conservation actions in other countries.”

The Six Rivers Conservation Project, established by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Founder and Chairman of INEOS, has brought together leading global Experts at a conference on the Future of the Atlantic Salmon, held in Reykjavik on January 23rd

The Experts pledged to accelerate the scientific understanding of the threats to the species and rapidly establish new conservation strategies to reverse the decline. World-leading mathematicians, data analysts, ecologists, biologists, botanists from across the world will combine forces in one of the world’s largest salmon conservation initiatives. This is being jointly led by the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) Iceland and Imperial College UK. Key learnings will be networked across the world to help other ecosystems. 

“The North Atlantic Salmon is a keystone species in the ecosystem. Iceland’s rivers have simple ecosystems providing ideal research conditions. Their latitude also brings with it a potential sensitivity to the effects of climate change more so than in other parts of the world.” Professor Guy Woodward, Imperial College, London

Dr Rasmus Lauridsen, Head of Fisheries Research, Game & Wildlife Trust, UK highlighted new knowledge coming from the latest tagging techniques and analysis. This high-tech data is being gathered by the Six Rivers Project in its North East Iceland rivers to establish changes in feeding behaviour, growth and migration that might help decipher the puzzle

Dr James Rosindell, Reader in Biodiversity Theory at Imperial College, London, enlightened the conference with the use of predictive modelling, using new and historic data from decades of MFRI monitoring on the Six Rivers. As the project develops new models will begin to more accurately forecast changes in salmon populations, essential in the battle against their decline. 

The Six Rivers Conservation Project is focused on preserving both the land and river ecosystems across six rivers in North East Iceland, supporting one of the last safe-havens where salmon populations still thrive. The rivers selected are some of the simplest ecosystems of their kind. Building scientific knowledge from these ecosystems offers the best chance of identifying the reasons for, and strategies to, reverse this decline. 

The conservation strategies across the Six Rivers have a three-pronged approach; annual egg planting from salmon indigenous to the rivers, building salmon ladders to open-up new spawning areas and replenishing depleted indigenous vegetation and trees to boost food resources; all of which are intended to improve survival rates and population growth. These practical enhancements are undertaken in close collaboration with the local Farmers and Communities. 

Funding of this vitally important conservation and research comes from Sir Jim Ratcliffe directly and in the form of all profits from his Strengur Angling business and his Icelandic land holdings. As the Six Rivers Project develops it will become self-funding of its conservation work far into the future. 

“The world is now looking to Iceland and the Six Rivers Project to help inform conservation in other countries. It is a holistic programme that considers the river, the land, catchment areas and the marine environment. We are underpinning this approach by state-of-the-art science. This conference in Iceland, which we hope to hold annually, will play an incredibly important part in the survival of the Atlantic Salmon.” Dr Peter Williams, Technology Director of INEOS Group

“The Atlantic Salmon is now endangered. By bringing together a collaboration of world Experts we aim to reverse the decline. Our conservation work with the Six Rivers Project is helping to support the salmon in the North East of Iceland, but we need to do a lot more. We hope the Governments will get behind us in these endeavors too.” Mr Gisli Asgeirsson, CEO of Strengur Angling

Fish caught in the rivers of the Six Rivers Salmon Conservation Project is released again.

[1] INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR THE EXPLORATION OF THE SEA WORKING GROUP ON NORTH ATLANTIC SALMON 2019 – www.ices.dk/community/groups/Pages/WGNAS.aspx

Leading Experts presenting at the conference included: Professor Guy Woodward of Imperial CollegeLondon, Dr Guðni Guðbergsson Director of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute Iceland, Dr Colin Bull of The Missing Salmon Alliance and Dr Nikolai Friberg of Norwegian Institute for Water Research. They were joined by Professor Phil McGinnity from the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork, Dr Rasmus Lauridsen Head of Fisheries Research at Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and Dr James Rosindell Reader in Quantitative Biology at Imperial College.