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Snæfell's herd is divide into Norðurheiðar heath herd west and north of Jökulsá á Dal river (hunting area 1) and Fljótsdalur valley herd east of the river (hunting area 2) (figure 1). Hvert veiðisvæði skiptist nánar í talningasvæði (mynd 2). Only animals in Snæfell's herd are discussed here. The condition of the reindeer population as a whole is discussed in more detail in in annual monitoring reports (Icelandic only) from the East Iceland Natural Research Center (Náttúrustofu Austurlands). The report also shows information on hunting, and it is worth pointing out that Icelandic authorities annually issue a limited number of hunting licenses in order to control that the stock does not grow out of proportion. The report also contains information on changes in the weight of the animals, which indicate the well-being of the stock and is an important feature in controlling the breed.

Figure 1. Division in reindeer hunting area in East Iceland 2019

Figure 1. Division in reindeer hunting area in East Iceland 2019 (Skarphéðinn G. Þórisson og Rán Þórarinsdóttir 2020.

Figure 2.  Division in counting area for Snæfell's herd (hunting area 1 and 2). Counting area in hunting area 1, north of Kringilsárrani, Sauðárrani and Brúaröræfi wilderness, is called Norðurheiðar heath.

Figure 2.  Division in counting area for Snæfell's herd (hunting area 1 and 2). Counting area in hunting area 1, north of Kringilsárrani, Sauðárrani and Brúaröræfi wilderness, is called Norðurheiðar heath. (Skarphéðinn G. Þórisson og Rán Þórarinsdóttir 2020).

Figure 3. An average of 3 years intervals of numbers of reindeers in Snæfell's herd based on counting during the summer 1965-2019. Revised number north of Snæfellsöræfi wilderness and Jökuldalur valley is mostly based on counting in the breeding season after the year 2009.

The development of the reindeer population since 1965 is characterized by five stages:

  1. 1965-1976. Increase and peak reached 1972-1976, no hunting 1965-1967 and 1970-1971
  2. 1977-1984. Migration causes reduction, presumably part of the herd migrated to the fjords
  3. 1985-1999. Number of animals low (fluctuating between 1000-1500)
  4. 2000-2007. Increase until 2005 and then intentional reduction by hunting.
  5. 2008 - 2019. Expansion to the east and north causes a decrease in traditional areas in summer counts in Snæfellsöræfi and disappears from Kringilsár- and Sauðárrani. As the season progresses, they increase in Fljótsdalsherd, especially in Vesturöræfi.

In the summer of 2019, there was little change in the number of reindeer in Snæfell's herd. Only 23 animals were found west of Jökla in Norðurheiðaherd but none were in Kringilsár- and Sauðárrani. A large part of the herd now spends the summer north of the reindeer distribution area (Norðurheiði) and little has been included in the summer census in recent years. The total number of reindeer west and north of Jökla, in Kringilsárrani, Sauðárrani and in Norðurheiði during the summer is about 1000 animals. Due to the difficulty of finding them on Norðurheiði in July, the numbers are partly based on counts during the breeding season and information from hunters and locals. Fluctuations in the number of reindeer east of Hálslón are explained by the fact that reindeer from Snæfellsöræfi, sometimes walk further east of their traditional summer pastures and disproportionate whether they return in the July count of Snæfell's herd. The increase in the number of reindeer in Vesturöræfi in recent years is a strong indication that Vesturöræfi is gaining its former place as the main summer pasture of Fljótsdals herd.

The overall result is that the number of animals in Snæfell's herd fluctuates between years and west of Jökla, in Kringilsrárrani and Sauðárrani they have almost disappeared.

Table 1. Distribution of animals in Snæfellsöræfi in summer counts of recent years.



Undir Fellum


















































1 419


















The Engineering Research Institute of University of Iceland was responsible for counting reindeer for Landsvirkjun from air, during calving season north of Brúarjökull glacier, from 1993 until 2013 (See report from 2013: Hreindýratalning norðan Vatnajökuls LV-2013/127 (Icelandic only).

Since 2005, the East Iceland Nature Research Center (Náttúrustofa Austurlands) has monitored reindeer calving season from ground and more recently from the air.

Frá 2005 hefur Náttúrustofa Austurlands séð um athuganir á burði hreindýra af landi og í seinni tíð úr lofti. In the beginning, it was mainly on ground in Snæfellsöræfi, but in recent years the research area has expanded to the north along with the movement of animals in recent years.

In 2015, a report was published which contains summary and data collected over 9 years period (2005-2013) LV-2015/130 (Icelandic only). Until the year 2019 the focus will be to take a look at how large part of the Snæfell's herd is calving in the reserch area from year to year, which is the main calving season and the main calving area and its characteristic. And finally, possible effects from Kárahnjúkavirkjun power plant.

Landsvirkjun power plant sponsored tagging of reindeer in order to monitor their migrations and get a better picture of reindeer grazing in the years after the Kárahnjúkar power plant began operations. The first animals were marked in 2009. The results of research on reindeer grazing with GPS devices in the years 2009-2011 were published in the autumn of 2014 NA-140140 (Icelandic only). According to the movements of individual marked animals, home areas were defined, which varied both in terms of location and size according to the seasons. Compared with vegetation maps, it was possible to understand their food choices, which turned out to be quite different from region to region, to name a few aspects of the research. Continuation of marking has been agreed.

Landsvirkjun (LV) and East Iceland Nature Research Center (NA) are prepering for changes in monitoring protocall with greater emphasis on the integration of reindeer and vegetation ctudies and the potential impact of the great increase of pink footed goose.

Raw data in excel a document from The East Iceland Nature Research Center published with permission.

Updated: April 29, 2020
Source: The East Iceland Nature Research Center (2020)

Metrics, Targets and Monitoring Protocol

What is measured?

The number of reindeer and diffusion in Snæfellsöræfi wilderness i.e. Brúaröræfi wilderness, Vesturöræfi wilderness, Undir Fellum, Múli and Hraun.

Monitoring Protocol

Direct counting and aerial photos taken in week 1-2 of July each summer are used to estimate the number of animals.


Not more than 15% decrease in the reindeer stock in Vesturöræfi wilderness, Múli, and Hraun east of Snæfell mountain.

Possible countermeasures

Not applicable, monitoring only.


Changes of indicator

This indicator was originally number 24.2. It was then named Reindeer and can be found under that number in documents of the project from 2005 and 2006.

The indicator number has been changed twice.

Table 1. Changes to name and number of indicator
Year Nr. Indicator name
2020 2.5.1 Reindeer
2007 2.23 Reindeer


The distribution and composition of Snæfell's herd has been monitored over the summer since 1965 with counts from an aircraft in first two weeks of July (Figures 3 and 4). The number of animals increased from 1965 and peaked in 1972 and 1976, or over 3,500 animals. Over the next ten years, their number halved and remained steady until the year 2000. The next six years, the number of animals in Snæfell's herd increased to almost 3,000, and at the same time they mostly roamed Fljótsdalsheiði instead of Vesturöræfi, which had been their main summer grazing land. After 2006, the number of animals, from the Snæfell's herd, east of Hálslón decreased to about 700 animals in 2011 but increased to about 1200 the following year. The decrease in the number of reindeer in Snæfell's herd east of Hálslón is mainly due to the export of animals from the herd to the fjords from Breiðdalur south to Lónsheiði. In the summer of 2017, it was clear that some of the animals were returning to Snæfellsöræfi and in recent years their number has steadily increased in Vesturöræfi.

Part of the Snæfell's herd walk west of Hálslón during the counting period i.e. to Kringilsárrana and Sauðárrana. There were an average of 230 animals in the years 1987 to 1999 and 220 animals from 2000 to 2012. The changes in 2007 were that adult buck no longer came to Kringilsárranan as they had done ten years before. No reindeer were found in the Kringilsárrani and Sauðárrani in the 2015 and 2019 counts, only 8 animals in 2016, 20 animals in 2017 and 25 animals in 2018 (Figure 5). They have increased north of Jökulsá á Dal in recent years and were estimated at 1143 in the summer of 2019, but no animals were found that year in Sauðár- and Kringilsárrani in July.

Figure 4. Summer counts at Snæfellsöræfi 1965-2019. The number north of Jökuldalur is partly based on information other than traditional summer counts.

Figure 5. Number of reindeer from Snæfell's herd west of Hálslón (in Kringilsár- and Sauðárrani) according to summer counts 1979-2019.

Updated: April 29, 2020
Source: The East Iceland Nature Research Center (2020)

Rationale for Indicator Selection

Kárahnjúkvirkjun power plant will have have some effects on reindeer habitats but it is not clear if the project will influence the size of the stock or only change reindeer migration patterns. Reindeer were imported to Iceland late in the 17th century. They are important to East Icelanders because they generate income from hunting licenses. Also, reindeer are beautiful animals and characteristic of the area.

The Kárahnjúkavirkjun power plant will effect reindeer habitats since the reindeer typically used some of the land that was inundated by the Hálslón reservoir and reservoirs in Múli and Hraun, decrease of breeding areas in Háls, because a part of them were inundated by Hálslón reservoir and interruptions in the spring and autumn migration of reindeer across the river Jökulsá á Dal river close to Kárahnjúkar. New roads and increased traffic also could disturb the reindeer and change migration patterns. Landsvirkjun power plant sponsors research on the migration patterns of reindeer, both those that belong to the Snæfell's herd and those related to Álftafjördur fjord. Jökulsá á Dal river ran through the middle of where Hálslón reservoir is located. About 19 km2 of vegetated land east of the river and 13km2 west of the river was inundated by Hálslón reservoir. A total of 6 km2 of vegetative land was inundated by smaller reservoirs in Múli and Hraun.

From phase I/II report on indicators and baseline from April 2005

Further reading

LV-2019/083 - Reindeer winter forage

LV-2019/083 - Reindeer winter forage


Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are key species in the Arctic and are under threat of fragmentation and degradation of habitat. Access to winter forage, especially lichens, is considered one major factor determining growth of the species’ populations. Thus, knowledge of the state of winter forage ranges is important to ensure adaptive management of reindeer populations. Long-term monitoring of winter foraging areas can provide augmented knowledge and has been carried out in Norway for decades. With this project, we aim to establish comparable methods between the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the East Iceland Nature Research Centre (NA) for
monitoring of reindeer winter forage.

In 2016, NA met up with NINA to study their monitoring of reindeer grazing areas in Hardangervidda in Norway. Each of NINA’s monitoring sites included five plots, four were open for grazing but the fifth was covered with a mesh basked for comparison. In 2018, NINA’s scientist Hans Tømmervik met up with NA to launch research on reindeer winter forage in Iceland with comparable methodology as carried out in Norway. Six transects with a total of 22 permanent monitoring sites were laid out in defined winter foraging areas in NE-Iceland.

Here we represent the results from the field study in Iceland. Lichen cover varied between transects, monitoring sites and plots and ranged from 8% to 22% on average at each transect. Most abundant lichen species throughout the study area were Cetraria islandica and Cladonia arbuscula. The data from the field work in 2018 will be used as a baseline in the monitoring of reindeer winter forage rangelands in Iceland. Data gathering will be done with regular intervals and changes in lichen cover between years, transects and open/enclosed plots will be studied. This long-term monitoring research will provide information for sustainable management of reindeer stocks in both Iceland
and Norway.

You can view more material related to the indicator by clicking on the link above.