Feasibility of barrier removal in Mýrar and surrounding areas, Iceland

Identifying barriers for removal and opportunities for habitat restoration on the water courses, lakes, and surrounding peatlands in the Mýrar area.

Introduction

Mýrar is a lowland coastal area in western Iceland consisting of multiple small water catchments. It is characterised by peatlands, multiple small shallow lakes, ponds and narrow streams. Limited knowledge exists on lowland lakes and small streams in Mýrar but they are most likely important for brown/sea trout and the endangered European eel.

Mýrar is an Important Bird Area (IBA) as the site has significance for the international conservation of breeding waders such as black-tailed godwit, common snipe, common redshank, dunlin and whimbrel.The Icelandic Institute of Natural History has suggested the area for Nature Conservation Register due to the area’s importance for birds, especially waders but also for waterbirds, such as red-throated diver, great northern diver and whooper swan.  The area is sparsely populated, with farms and summer homes scattered around.

At a glance

CountryIceland
Key habitatsSmall streams, shallow lowland lakes, and peatlands
Focal speciesEel, brown/sea trout, waders and waterbirds
Project typeBarrier identification and prioritisation
Project statusLive

Project context and opportunity

Mýrar has been affected by canalisation of streams which in some cases have created barriers limiting fish migration, in other cases formed erosion gullys resulting in degradation of the peatlands. Ditches draining the surrounding peatlands have in many cases changed flow and runoff properties of catchments and in some cases lakes have been partially or completely drained. In an earlier assessment covering just 3,000 ha of the site, the removal of three barriers would open up an estimated 4 km of streams and 180 ha of lake area with accompanying restoration of the wetlands. The current project will look at the 50,000 ha site with the expectation of a significant number of barriers being removed, reopening of streams and lakes and restoration of the wetlands.

Project aims

The goal of the project is to identify barriers for removal and opportunities for habitat restoration on the water courses, the lakes, and surrounding peatlands in the Mýrar area. Mapped barriers will be prioritised, and a plan laid out for barrier removal in streams and ecological restoration of habitats. The goal is not only to reopen migration between marine and freshwater habitats, but to reopen and restore spawning and nursing habitats for salmonids in the streams. Likewise, the breeding wader populations are expected to have an increase in densities and populations. Most of the area is privately owned and communication with and cooperation of the landowners is key to the fulfillment of the project.

Partners

Birdlife Iceland

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Agricultural University of Iceland

Icelandic Institute of Natural History

Marine & Freshwater Research Institute

RSPB