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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 57 Class Central reviews

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

  • 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.
  • Lisa Loucks-Christenson
    This course is full of information and shares a timeline of the impacts of humans, sheep farming, the impacts of overgrazing and degradation on the land. I enjoyed the timeline of how things have changed and what has been put into place via programs and government to make sheep farming sustainable for the future. Great course. Thank you!
  • Anonymous
    This course was very informative, easy to understand and goes into detail about the history of sheep farming in Iceland. As well as current attempts to create more sustainable sheep farming practises.
  • 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.
  • Anonymous
    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…
  • 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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    Awesome little course, very informative, a lot of surprising information on iceland and its ecosystem, influenced by sheep grazing. highly recommended!
  • Anonymous
    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
    Interesting short course introducing the complexities of managing sheep grazing in Iceland. Suitable for any level of knowledge about agriculture.
  • 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
    sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep sheep YES GOOD COURSE SHEEP SHEP

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