The Environment Agency of Iceland has reported ten incidents of illegal, off-road driving since the beginning of June, RÚV reports. Division Head Ólafur A. Jónsson says there’s a need to better educate the public—and particularly visiting travelers—about areas in the countryside where people are not permitted to drive as many off-roading violations are, he says, inadvertent.
The ten incidents have taken place in the South and the Southern Highlands: two at Dýrhólaey promontory on the south coast, one at the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the highlands, and seven in the Fjallabak nature reserve. The damage done to the landscape was significant enough in these incidents to report them to the police.
Although Ólafur says there was not a cumulative increase in these incidents as of the end of last year, his office is, nevertheless, in almost daily contact with the police about similar issues and says that his office is still working on raising public awareness about the fragility of Iceland’s natural landscapes. To this end, the Environment Agency has begun collaborating with Search and Rescue on matters related to land protection and new educational materials distributed to tourists. They are also preparing a database which will chart all of the roads in Iceland that it is permissible for people to drive on. “In most cases, you want to think these were unintentional acts,” he says, “that people didn’t mean to do any damage, had thought it was permitted [to drive off-road] or something like that.”
Intentional or not, Ólafur believes that fines are important in the event of serious damage being done to the landscape. Only a few days ago, French tourists driving two jeeps were fined ISK 200,000 ($1,900/€1,600) each for off-road driving near Kerlingarfjöll mountain range. The travellers called for help when they got their cars stuck in mud near the mountain Loðmundur. The area has been closed to vehicles due to wet conditions. The individuals’ driving damaged vegetation and soil in the area. The two individuals were questioned at the police station in Selfoss, South Iceland, where they paid the fine.
“I think that everyone who comes [into a protected area] needs to pay a fine to the police,” he said. “When you get up to amounts like that, I think it’s really important.”