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Sheep in the Land of Fire and Ice

University of Iceland via edX


Land use without adequate management can drive environmental degradation. Grazing management is an example of such land use and represents a common problem in many regions of the world. The aim of this short course is to raise awareness of the environmental risks associated with unsustainable management of natural resources. This course uses Iceland as a case study because here traditional sheep grazing has been associated with extensive environmental degradation. We examine the sustainability of sheep grazing in Iceland and explore how history, socioeconomic factors and environmental conditions have influenced the management of grazing resources. The development of sustainable management practices needs to take into account ecological, as well as economic and social aspects. We can devise general rules and guiding principles for management based on our current understanding of the socio-ecological systems, but fine-tuning of specific management decisions, for example regarding stocking rates or the duration of the grazing season will have to be site-specific. A better understanding of the consequences of these practices and how their ecological impacts vary under different environmental conditions will improve management decisions and increase the sustainability of management practices in the face of ongoing environmental changes.


2.1 Sheep grazing in the North
2.2 Sheep grazing in Iceland
2.3 Sheep grazing can lead to soil erosion
3.1 Iceland before sheep
3.2 Modelling the ecosystem
3.3 Then, sheep arrived
3.4 Efforts to mitigate environmental degradation
4.1 Sheep in Iceland today
4.2 Current efforts in ecological research
4.3 Sustainable sheep grazing?

Taught by

Isabel C Barrio, David S Hik, Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Ólafur Arnalds, Egill Erlendsson, Þórunn Pétursdóttir, Jóhann Þórisson, Björn Helgi Barkarsson, Bryndís Marteinsdóttir, Tara Mulloy, Unnsteinn Snorri Snorrason and Anja Mager


4.9 rating, based on 55 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Sheep in the Land of Fire and Ice

  • Teresa G. Love
    I am currently in Iceland on a tour with a small group. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and, having now seen the huge numbers of sheep throughout the country, appreciate even more how sustainability is critical for Iceland and the world.
  • Bjarni Hjartarson
    As a Icelander this courses helped me to understand the connection between sheep farming and grassing in my loved Iceland. I encourage both Icelanders and other people to take this short course and understand this concept.
  • Pat Bowden completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    It sounded quirky enough to be interesting and I'm glad I took this short course!

    It covers a surprising range of material: history, ecology, geology, farming practices, government policies, and sustainability.
  • Szabolcs Sulik completed this course.

    This is a lovely short course. It won't last longer than 2 or 3 hours, really. I loved the way they combined the different tools during the course. I liked the embedded Q&A section the most.
  • Anonymous
    I am a mining engineer, a lot of geological exploration is around volcanos. Sheep grazing in Iceland happens to involve volcanos too. This class gives me a better understanding of the concerns and land management related to sheep grazing, I particularly enjoyed the part on land erosion.
  • Anonymous
    I found the course very interesting, the information was valuable and presented in a very plaesant way. It made me more aware of the problem of land degradation and the influence of sheep on it.
  • Anonymous
    I recommend this course, it is very well put together and informative! I learned a lot from this course and I can use it in my studies.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I found this course, which I took because of an interest in Iceland in general, and having a vet student daughter who is doing lambing as we speak, really interesting. It posed questions that I had not considered, and educated me on efforts towards sustainable...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This class is fascinating. It has it all. Volcanoes, glaciers, marauding sheep, cold spells, fall round up, farmers seeing the need for changed. The class brings experts for each video to speak about soil erosion, farming practices, sediment cores, pollen records, . . on and on. Excellent. The videos are well made, clear graphics, wonderful cello music.

    This class covers a variety of information very well. Plus you get to watch videos of Iceland. It is clear and easy to understand.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course was short, but extremely accessible and informative. I have no particular ties to sheep grazing or Iceland, but as someone interested in land management in general, I found the content to be thought-provoking and interesting. I see it as a case study for how farming and land use can affect local ecosystems, and I think the biggest takeaways are applicable in many different contexts.
  • Anonymous
    This is a great course to understand how sheep industry has shaped the landscape of Iceland. The current environmental issues facing the land and the people and above all the proactive methods undertaken to overcome those problems. If you are keen and care for the environment than this is a great course. l strongly recommend this course.
  • Anonymous
    Concise, interesting and well narrated. You get an informed sense of the balance between raising sheep and their cultural significance and their environmental impact on Iceland. It was very calming participating in this MOC and the cello music was splendid.
  • Profile image for Leah Barber
    Leah Barber

    Leah Barber completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    I found this course to be detailed and informative. I have a background in conservation, but still found myself learning lots. The class is actually more interesting than the name sounds.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Interesting short course introducing the complexities of managing sheep grazing in Iceland. Suitable for any level of knowledge about agriculture.
  • Anonymous
    sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep YES GOOD COURSE SHEEP SHEP
  • Anonymous
    I often lose interest with MOOCs but this one was well paced and struck a good balance between being accessible, but also introducing you to plenty of new terminology and concepts. I would definitely recommend it - and I don't even have a particular interest in sheep.
  • Profile image for Ashley Winter
    Ashley Winter

    Ashley Winter completed this course.

    This course was interesting. I found learning some of the history of Iceland to be fascination. There were a few aspects of the course that I wish went into more detail like sustainable management practices specifically, and other examples of what Iceland is doing to mitigate the effects of environmental degradation, etc.. I took an AP environmental science course this past year so some of the information that was presented in this course was review for me. But if you are little informed on the topic, this course is great for you. I still enjoyed this course and it was interesting to learn more about a country that I absolutly loved visiting. (btw I'm a highschool senior to give you more idea why I thought the way I did about this course)
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting short course with a focus on an interdisciplinary approach (ecology, biology, history, economy and other areas are covered)

    It is not diffcult to complete the course, however it still gives a very good insight to sheep grazing and its ecological effects.

    Helpful course notes and a glossary are provided as well.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The course both from the perspective of ground level ecology, no pun intended, the effects of the invasive species, Homo sapiens, on Iceland, and from the perspective of general conceptual application could not have been better. I found the presenters deeply committed to their specific sciences and the application of those sciences to the sustainability of sheep farming in Iceland. Further, the individual lessons were of a more than palatable size, and the connection between lessons and their integration into a holistic understanding of the problems of sustainability in general superb. Enough said other than, WELL DONE!
  • Anon
    This is course is extremely easy to complete. It can be finished in a couple hours. For someone wanting to enter the field of botany and plant science, this course incorporating ecology and historical background is quite interesting.

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