The World is Our Classroom

25 09 2012

This area is free-range, as long as you don’t get too close to the cliff edge. Luckily no one dropped out of the course – literally!  Increased foot traffic threatens the area. The land is privately owned and any attempts for management have been by the locals with no federal support. (And yes, that is a person up there)

This weekend our class and profs hopped on a bus that was ‘born’ in 1984 and took a field trip to the Southern Westfjords. We got to experience many things, see many landscapes, and meet with many people. While nothing was unimpressive, my favorite had to be the Látrabjarg cliffs, the westernmost point of Europe. From the beach to the very top they reach 444m high and are a natural phenomena on a grand scale. The cliffs are occupied by millions of Puffins, Gannets, Guillmots and Razorbills.

How can one not think this guy is adorable? There were no Puffins when we were at the cliffs as most of the breeding birds had already gone south for the winter.

For centuries, the cliff was a major local source of food for these remote rural communities. Farmers would catch birds and gather eggs, risking their lives as they dangled precariously from ropes over the cliff top. Sometimes as many as 40,000 eggs and 36,000 birds were taken. Eggs are still collected from the cliff today, partly to keep alive this tradition that has been handed from one generation to the next for centuries. This is a rich tradition that employs many unique tools and harvesting techniques. The bird populations are on the decline, but the science points to food scarcity as the reason and not egg harvest since the locals only take around 1% of the total eggs. As they are the biggest bird cliff in the northern Atlantic, Látrabjarg is fast becoming a tourist destination. The area is in the process of becoming a national park and the utility and conservation of the resource is being debated.

A GREAT account of the tradition is in the following blog:
http://lovefamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2007/10/climbing-bird-cliffs.html

This presentation by a Conservation Officer was inside a lighthouse. He told us of the many issues in the process of making the area a national park, the stakeholders, and the intended outcomes. As an expert on both the ecology and local community, he had a great mind to pick!

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