Become a conservation volunteer in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland and join our teams to preserve the Vatnajökull National Park in Skaftafell - a green oasis surrounded by one of the world’s biggest glaciers, located in the southeast of Iceland, and certainly one of the most beautiful areas in the country.
Conservation volunteers can join for 2 weeks up to 4 weeks from June to August each year.
Individuals, groups and students all welcome.
Cost for food, accommodation (camping), equipment, programme materials and training starts from £350.
The Skaftafell National Park area is managed by Vatnajökull National Park and international volunteers have played a very important part in the management of the areas hiking trails since 1996. Skaftafell National Park is a very popular hiking area due to its outstanding landscape of glaciers, mountains, varied vegetation and glacier lagoons. This is a very special area embraced by two long glacier tongues in the southeast of the country and is ideally suited for those interested to hike and work in a remote and wild area.
Conservation volunteering in Skaftafell National Park will be in teams of up to 8 volunteers with qualified and experienced team leaders carrying out a variety of wilderness management projects.
Work will focus on the trail network around Skaftafell center and on Kristínartýndar mountain trails. Trails in this area suffer from severe erosion and next summer the project will include new repair techniques. The work is organised by Iceland’s Environment Agency (Umhverfisstofnun) in partnership with Vatnajökulsþjógarður who manage the area.
The work of conservation volunteers in Skaftafell National Park will include:
The material is usually gathered from close to the work sites but sometimes timber recycled from old bridge constructions are used. Sometimes the material is moved by hand the work can be quite physically demanding.
Well marked trails help to protect fragile areas from the effects of trampling by encouraging hikers to keep to the paths. Good trails also improve safety for visitors to the area. Other tasks includes the removal of invasive plant species.
Skaftafell National Park conservation volunteers will work closely with the park’s rangers and our teams now play a very important role in the practical management of the Skaftafell National Park.
No previous experience of this work is necessary as training will be provided by experienced leaders. The working day normally runs from 09:00 – 17:00 with breaks for lunch and coffee. However, please be prepared for some flexibility due to the nature of Iceland’s changeable weather. Some of our worksites may be away from the campsite close to the glacier. All conservation volunteers need to bring a sturdy tent and warm clothes (or you can rent a tent when you arrive).
**Last year's achievements - Together our teams completed over 200 weeks of trail construction and erosion control work throughout the area.**
14th to 27th June
28th June to 11th July
12th July to 25th July
26th July to 8th August
9th August to 22nd August
23rd August to 5th September
6th September to 19th September
20th September to 3rd October
4th October to 17th October
18th October to 31st October
1st November to 14th November
15th November to 28th November
29th November to 12th December
13th December to 26th December
Volunteering in Skaftafell National Park can be for durations of 2 or 4 weeks. You will be in groups of 8 volunteers.
To volunteer in Skaftafell National Park, the cost for the 2 week programme is £350 and 4 weeks is £500, which covers all project costs, including all food, camping, equipment provided for the project (not personal), facilities, all training and supervision by project manager and volunteers, WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support.
Food and accommodation
When volunteering in Skaftafell National Park you will be camping by the rangers’ hut 1 km away from the Skaftafell camping site. You will need a tent that is sturdy and can withstand strong winds. Good cooking facilities are in the hut. You will cook as a group and live in your individual tents. The volunteer rooms at the rangers’ hut have a kitchen with an oven, fridges and a freezer, a living room with sofa, two toilets and multiple showers, plus a storage room. At the hut there is also wireless Internet access available. A list of personal items to bring will be given to you with your final package if you are accepted on the project.
If you wish to rent a tent, this is possible and the extra cost is 40 GBP - please email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested and this will be provided when you arrive.
The meeting point for the commencement of the programme is on the starting dates: 15th June, 29th June, 13th July and 28th July at 16.00h at Skaftafell Information Center. Buses from Reykjavik's BSÍ Coach Station www.re.is and Harpa Concert Hall www.sterna.is run daily to Skaftafell during the summer and the journey takes approximately 7 hours, and stops on the way by Seljalandsfoss and Skogarfoss waterfalls, and Vík. The bus ticket costs around 80 GBP for a return ticket. It is necessary that you fly into Reykjavik the day before your starting date where you can spend the night at the Youth Hostel (cheapest in Reykjavik i.e www.kexhostel.is or www.hostel.is/Hostels/Reykjavikhostels/ ) and catch the bus in the morning, please note the bus only runs once a day (leaving around 08:00 or 7:50). The Icelandic airlines are Icelandair, www.icelandair.com and Wowair www.wowair.is and connect Iceland to several cities in Europe and USA. During the summer Easyjet and Lufthansa are also flying to Iceland. Please note, you are responsible for all of your bus and airline costs to and from the meeting point. From mainland Europe there is also the possibility to take a Ferry, passing the Faroe Islands.
Type of volunteers needed
To volunteer in Skaftafell National Park you should be between 18 to 50 years old, fit, healthy and capable of carrying out work in all conditions in a cold and wet climate. In addition, you need to be prepared to do a lot of walking and hiking on uneven ground every day, and to be comfortable living in rustic conditions and camping in a tent for two weeks or more. The area of Skaftafell is rugged wilderness, so it is important that you have already had some exposure to this type of terrain. This programme may be sometimes difficult due to long hiking and for those who have no previous camping experience. No specific skills are needed, but those with previous experience of manual conservation work, trail work, botany, terrestrial monitoring etc. would be particularly useful, as well as those who are self-motivated, as you will get more out of the project if you are. The project will especially appeal to those with an interest in conservation, restoration, wilderness and low impact camping. Anyone with additional skills is especially welcome!
Health, weather, facilities
The gulf stream and the south-westerly winds from the Atlantic give Iceland a mild temperature. However, the unfortunate side is that this warm air creates condensation which way sometimes brings some rain. Summers in Iceland can be very erratic - to volunteer in Skaftafell National Park you should be prepared for rainy conditions, with occasional sunny spells. Temperatures in the summer average about 12 degrees celsius, but remember that it will be mostly light whilst you are there due to the midnight sun phenomenon. When the sun does come out, the beauty is breathtaking!
Below is an interactive map showing the project location for volunteering in Skaftafell National Park:
Skaftafell, Vatnajökul National Park
Skaftafell in the southeast of Iceland is situated in a very green area embraced by two big glacier tongues, and surrounded by glaciers, glacier lagoons, the highest mountain of Iceland, and also a vast black sand plain. The area is managed by Vatnajökull National Park who maintains the area’s network of hiking trails in partneship with Umhverfisstofnun. A lot of different tours are possible, from hiking on the glaciers to trekking with its waterfall or five small day treks, to the summits of surrounding peaks, with rewarding views, even in bad weather. This leads to an especially warm climate, better than in the rest of south Iceland.
The video below is a personal video taken by an ex volunteer Bryen McGuire, who volunteered in Iceland during the summer of 2013. This video gives potential volunteers the opportunity to witness part of daily life during the project.
Volunteer Sam Triggs, who joined the project in August 2012 created this video showcasing the Thorsmork region where the project is located:
Alisa Macleod joined the programme from 17th to 29th July 2011 and gives her feedback on the project:
I was the first of my group to arrive at Landmannalaugar so the Rangers kindly took me in for a cup of tea until the rest turned up. The group were great fun, well organised in the mess tent and everyone got on, pitched in and made me feel really welcome as the only 'newbie'. I don't think I've ever laughed so much in one week either. The trail work was physically hard work but manageable and we had good instruction from Jamie & Joe. The Rangers were lovely too - always on hand to help and chat and the last night bbq/chilli night with them was cool.
Landmannalaugar was an awsome place to be, I had read about and seen photos beforehand but they really weren't able to convey the spectacularness of the area - the colours, shapes, warmth and eeriness of the midnight sun too!
For the second week, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I was able to head over to Skaftafell with half of the group I was with and then onwards to Laki. It was nice to meet the other volunteers at Skaftafell that the group had been talking about and also have a day or so to get used to a different bunch of people that I'd go with to Laki.
Roger was leading this group and he wasn't afraid to tell you off if you weren't doing what you were told! We stayed in a refuge/bunk-house without electricity or running water, so took turns to fetch water from the 'lake' a couple hundred yards away. Luckily we had loo paper for the long-drop loos outside. The weather had turned for this week from bright sunshine to proper grey, wet and windy days so there was ample opportunity to clamber into orange waterproofs. It's amazing to think that we put stone steps that will hopefully be there for years into one of the Laki craters and marked out a new path up the mountain! Rangers: Kari and Eyglo were brilliant and interesting as guides on walks in the lava channels, as was Kari's grandson Sindri who was over for the holidays and had a giggle messing about with us and teaching us Icelandic words & phrases.
Again, the landscape was awsome but completely different to the previous week and fantastic to climb to the top of Laki Mountain and see the spine of craters lining the route between Myrdalsjokull and Vatnajokull.
Even though the 2 weeks were physically demanding I came home completely relaxed and inspired. I would definitely go back to Iceland and see more - volunteering was an excellent way of seeing a number of places and meet some super people.
Alibhe Murphy volunteered on the Iceland Wilderness Management project in Summer 2011, and describes the experience:
My time in Iceland was fantastic. Living in that weird and wonderful landscape was such a treat and I loved being out doors all day everyday. Ian was a very attentive and caring leader and the rangers Brodthi and Volti (forgive the spellings) had a pride in their country that was infectious. Working along side the volunteers that had been there for 3 months greatly added to the experience and I learnt alot about the country through their stories.
Matthew Craig writes about his experience in Iceland in July 2010:
I applied for conservation work in Iceland for a number of reasons. Primarily, as a keen geographer, I wanted to make a positive difference to the environment. Secondly, I was fascinated by the prospect of observing- and interacting with- the environmental work, development, and ethics of one of the world’s greenest nations. Thirdly, I was keen to meet new people with similar values to myself- with whom I could positively interact and work alongside- in order to create a better environment.
The work was split into two weeks. The first week was spent working on a path alongside the ‘Dettifoss’ Waterfall. Large amounts of tourist erosion had occurred off the main path, upon the surrounding vegetation. The objective was to line the original path with boulders as a deterrent to people straying onto the surrounding area. The eroded path was then resurfaced with soil from a designated area; which was then covered by pumice stone- obtained by deposits of the nearby river. Through the exploitation of natural, renewable resources, the importance of sustainability in a work environment was observed.
Teamwork was essential here; whilst around half the 13-strong team prepared the path to be lined, the remainder collected the boulders in pairs, making a large number of trips to and from the path. Independent work would have been ineffective, so it was necessary to use teamwork skills. The tiring, repetitive nature of the work made an enthusiastic attitude essential; in order for the work to be carried out efficiently, it was necessary to encourage others to keep going in spite of fatigue. Moreover, the importance of remaining enthusiastic in spite of circumstance was highlighted on a personal level. Further teamwork was used in collecting soil and pumice; a ‘human chain’ system was developed, whereby the material was transported quickly and effectively to and from the path.
The second week involved the extensive removal of lupus- an invasive, foreign plant species- from a number of different ecosystems. Working alongside senior members of the Iceland Environment Agency, I gained a valuable insight into the daily routines of such an organisation, and its values of teamwork, efficiency, and sustainability. Although the work was repetitive, teamwork and high morale were used to develop different ways to remove the lupus most effectively.
Both weeks required a strict schedule to be met. On both weeks, the team was camping; on work days (every day except for the weekend), it was necessary to be awake by 8am; to be out of the tent, to have had breakfast, and to have made lunch by 9am; and to have set off for work as soon as possible thereafter. The team carried out conservation work until mid-late afternoon, with the exception of a number of short breaks throughout the day. Optimistic targets were set for each day; with high morale, good teamwork, self-motivation and effective scheduling, the targets were met without fail.
Overall, my time in Iceland proved to be a valuable experience, during which I developed a wide range of employability skills- and during which I acquired a valuable knowledge into the importance of conservation and sustainability, for our natural environment.
Iceland Wilderness Management Programme Volunteer - Alan Silcock, from the UK, writes about his experience in Iceland and gives his feedback on the project:
- Your general feeling about the project and the work carried out.
Again I couldn't have wished for better! There was a good atmosphere between all the different groups. Chas (Project Manager) was excellent, very approachable and organised. Julie our group leader was easy going and also very friendly. Having the smaller group we did have to work a bit harder than others to see similar progress but we were all happy with that. The Icelandic locals and ones from the campsite and park all were friendly easy-going people.
As far as I know we were extremely lucky with the weather compared to what it could have been like, not half as much rain as I had expected or planned for (not that I'm complaining!). Brilliant country for this type of trip, especially so because of the cost of living. This would be the only affordable way that I could think of to see the real Iceland.
Definitely, each country I have visited has left me with stories and experiences, this trip was certainly no different.
Have a good sturdy tent, comfortable boots and a debit card/ credit card.
If you are interested in conservation volunteering in Skaftafell National Park, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your deposit of £120. If for some reason, your application is declined, we would reimburse this deposit fully. However for those who are accepted, the full amount needs to be paid 6 weeks before departure. Once your place is confirmed on the programme, you will receive pre-departure information with all details on your project, Iceland, suggested items to bring etc.