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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

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4.9 rating, based on 40 reviews

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

  • 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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This was a great course which provides an excellent overview of the ecological challenges related to sheep farming in Iceland. The course was very well designed, and I loved the short videos that were put together. I actually was so captivated and interested in the subject, that I finished it in one day :-). Thank you!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    I really enjoyed this course. I think it's valuable information wherever you live pertaining to sustainability. I learned a lot from this short course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Awesome little course, very informative, a lot of surprising information on iceland and its ecosystem, influenced by sheep grazing. highly recommended!
  • 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
  • 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

    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!
  • Lisa Mccarthy

    Lisa Mccarthy completed this course.

    I really enjoyed this MOOC. It is short, with lots of excellent short videos, which are easily digestable. I have a good understanding of the consequences of exceeding carrying capacity, but I hadn't considered lot of the factors and points raised in this course. I've learnt a lot about agricultural practices, geology, ecology, the specific challenges of Iceland, policies and both national and international research groups/interests. I loved the music and the scenery. I look forward to sharing my new insights with my students. Thank you!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Though the course is focused on Icelandic sheep grazing, the situation here can be applied to many situations all over the world. This course demonstrates nicely how complex ecological research and the implementation of sustainable practices can be. It is a well-rounded course that focuses on the ecological, economical, and cultural aspects of sheep grazing which are important for developing any sustainable practice. Very well done and I highly recommend this course!
  • Martin Tufi Galindo

    Martin Tufi Galindo completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Great course! I take this course to learn something about sheep systems in iceland, as i am studying (near to complete it) a degree in agronomic Engineering, in University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. i found it really interesting, easy to complete, good organized and can be done by anyone. Good case of study where i reinforce some theoretical knowledge aplied to a real case. Like i have previous knowledge it cost my less than expected to end it.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course is very informative. Regardless of where we are, sustainable farming and attaining a balance between nature and economic practice makes a difference to our next generation. Sustainable farming is not only for Iceland but every country in the agricultural business. Also, consumer should drive farming practices and shun away from farming practices that makes irreversible damage to the environment.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I found Iceland to be an ideal case study of a subject that I am interested in.
    It is fascinating that the history of human settlement in Iceland commences in the ninth century. As a native of the UK, quite a short period compared to the history of human settlement where I live.
    The discussion between the participants from around the world enhanced the learning experience.
  • Anonymous
    Thank you very much for putting this course together. You get an understanding of how manmade phenomena (i.e. sheep grazing) can change en environment and how complex it is to solve the problems coming from this. Isabel is a super encouraging and friendly teacher you like to listen to. I was also amazed at how each and every question got answered very promptly.

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