Vegetation, Birdlife & Geology
Vegetation flourishes on Viðey island, which was for centuries regarded as one of the best estates in Iceland. The fields yielded large quantities of hay, and traces can still be seen of the walls that were built to keep grazing livestock out of the hayfields. Over the centuries, the natural marshes of the island have been drained to provide more agricultural land. Today 156 species of vascular plants grow on Viðey, or one-third of the flora of Iceland.
Treasurer Skúli Magnússon made various horticultural experiments in the 18th century, growing potatoes, cabbage and tobacco, and planting trees. One of Skúli’s experiments was a resounding success: the caraway plants he introduced still flourish all over the island. The caraway generally ripens in August.
Many of the oldest sources on Viðey island relate to its birdlife. Over the centuries, the eider duck (Somateria mollissima) colony on Viðey was an important resource, providing valuable eiderdown. After declining in the first half of the 20th century, the eider duck population of Viðey is recovering, and they are now the commonest birds on the island. Its major breeding areas are found on either side of the Þórsnes headland: this area is closed to visitors during the nesting season.
Other common birds on Viðey island include the fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), the greylag goose (Anser anser), the snipe (Gallinago gallinago), the purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima) and the oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus). A few years ago the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) started to breed on Viðey island. A total of about thirty species breed on the island, which is thus a great attraction for bird-lovers. The ponds on the isthmus (Eiðið) are especially rich in birdlife.
Please show consideration for the birds on the island: keep to the marked footpaths and do not disturb nests or nesting birds.
Two million years ago the island was an active volcano, known as the Viðey volcano, and the rock of Viðey island is the oldest in the Reykjavík area. At the end of the last Ice Age, 12–13,000 years ago, sea levels rose due to the melting of the glacial ice and the island was inundated. When the sea level dropped, the island rose once more from the sea, about 9–10,000 years ago.
Viðey island is about 1.6 km in total area, comprising Heimaey (HomeIsland) and Vesturey (WestIsland), which are linked by a narrow neck of land or isthmus, Eiðið. The easternmost part of Heimaey is known as Austurey (EastIsland).
Spectacular rock formations can be seen along the shore of the island, as well as on Virkishöfði (Battlement Headland) and Eiðisbjarg. The island is constantly being eroded by the forces of the sea, and this is especially clearly seen at Kríusandur and Þórsnes.
Please take care when walking along the cliffs.