Category Archives: Iceland

Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire has a release date!

first off, apologies for the lack of activity on here for so long, many reasons, main one being that its been very time consuming going through the post production process! its not the most dynamic thing to watch either, a computer screen, but I will do a post on all the tech workflow in due course.

Anyway, the good news is that we have our transmission date set!!!!

…..fanfare/drumroll……

It will be broadcast in the UK on May 1st, BBC2 at 9pm

title card

There will of course be a US release in due course on Animal Planet, as soon as I get it I’ll pass it on. in the meantime, here is a link through to The Natural World BBC website

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnnh

and the BBC Earth website is always a good place to visit

http://www.bbc.com/earth/uk/sections/on-location

The Natural World is one of the gems in the BBC’s Natural History Unit, its the longest running series from them in fact, making a dozen or so films every year on a huge range of subjects To them variety is the key, its not restricted to looking at one habitat, species or animal. Anything goes really, as long as it makes a decent film! Hopefully our film will live up to the high expectations, only the viewers can decide that, so tell all your friends and make a date for friday night BBC2 9pm!

You’ll meet the fox family, some very cute ducklings being trained by Thor and his family, the iconic and special Icelandic Horses with Halldor and Snorri, and of course the spectacular Bardarbunga eruption in all its nightime glory.

cubs 3 roundup 4 thor with ducks volc 3volcano 1

more details about extra clips coming soon!

The Horse Whisperers…Part 1

IMG_9717

I’d start by saying that that no, they don’t whisper to horses here in Iceland, not as a matter of course, that was just to get your attention. But whilst you’re here, you may as well sit down, grab a cup of tea and read the ramblings of three chaps who’ve just spent a most amazing week on a farm called Brimnes in Skagafjörður filming the outstandingly beautiful and charismatic Icelandic Horse.

983A9124 2

Hosts for our week (as they were back in May when we visited at foaling time) were Hallador, his wife Maya, daughter Ragga and son in law to be Snorri. They are a wonderful farming family and typically Icelandic in their hospitality, warmth and generosity – Maya’s baking is superb! She rules the house with kindness and cakes! Their family has farmed this very spot for well over a hundred years now, and you can instantly tell the love and deep knowledge they hold for their land its wildlife and their livestock. It nestles down at the foot of the mountains by the sea in this stunningly beautiful Fjord.

 983A9022

This is a typical Icelandic farm with a mixture of sheep, horses and dairy cattle, the milk they produce is a mainstay of their income and jolly tasty it is too! Nothing beats the taste of fresh milk straight from the cow to my mnd.

L1027278

L1027404

Of course in order for the cows to give milk, they have to give birth, so there is a small herd of young calves being brought on for beef, freely roaming the fields that stretch down to the sea.

IMG_9764

Halldor has won awards from the government for his work on this land, recovering many hectares of useless rocky rubble fields (leftovers of centuries old lava flows) to become prime grazing land by the simple and farsighted method of spreading old hay and muck over many years. A brilliantly simple method that just accelerates what mother nature would do on her own.

L1016275-Edit

 IMG_4041

Snorri spends much of his time dealing with the cattle, (which incidentally are left with their horns intact because they like the look of them), getting up every morning to do the milking and tend to any problems the cows may have by hand, like any farm with livestock, there is always an animal that needs care.

L1027451

IMG_9724

It is apparent that Iceland has relatively little in the way of serious issues like TB, F&M etc. but then they don’t go in for very much in the way of intensive rearing, and of course they don’t have a badger problem either. This is no heavily mechanized animal husbandry here, just a deeply rooted personal care for their animals and the products and income that they bring.

 IMG_4033

Its not just medical care of course, as any farmer knows there are hundreds of jobs that need doing on a working farm. For the horses there is the shoeing. A horse needs its hooves maintained on a regular basis to cope with the rough surfaces of tracks and roads, so it has to be shod on a regular basis. Back home that would mean getting the farrier in normally, but not here. Snorri and Halldor do their own farrier work, and extremely sklilled they are at it too. Old shoe removed and new shoe fitted and on in just a few minutes.

983A9003

They cold shoe by the way, recycling and refitting older shoes from a massive collection they keep – very little gets thrown away here, very effective recycling the old way!

 983A8995

983A9056 983A9080

983A9071

983A9062

The cattle and sheep are both distinctively Icelandic breeds, built for the harsh winters here. interestingly the sheep don’t provide as much income as you would think, they pay their way in wool and meat of course, but if you were thinking of getting rich on sheep farming in Iceland, think again. That’s not to say that sheep don’t figure highly on the farmland, they are hardy, with good wool and their meat is delicious, but even though they take care of themselves in the highlands for much of the year, there is an awful lot of work involved in rounding them up and of course at lambing time! Not a profitable exercise…

IMG_9751

The same goes for the main attraction of our visit, The Icelandic Horse, no-one breeds them to make money, but to an Icelandic farmer, the thought of not having some of these unique animals on your land is simply unthinkable.

983A9377 2

So a bit of background to this wonderful animal.

IMG_4020

They weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms (a bit more than our lens then) and stand an average of 13 and 14 hands (132 to 142 cm) high, They are tough, sturdy looking animals with typically long manes and a wide variety of coat colourings, (its actually a double coat for extra insulation in the extreme climate here

983A9263 2

The horses tend to not be easily spooked, probably the result of not having any natural predators, they tend to be friendly, docile and easy to handle and as a result of their isolation from other horses, disease in the breed is pretty much unknown. Any horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return, by law!. As a result, native horses have no acquired immunity to disease, so any outbreak would be devastating to the population.

983A9330 2

The Icelandic is a “five-gaited” breed, as well as the typical gaits of walk, trot and canter or gallop, the breed is noted for its ability to perform two additional gaits.

 983A9021

The first is a gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering and is a natural gait present from birth.

983A9209 2

The breed also performs a gait called pace (skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”) It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour. Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of all. needless to say we all had a try out on the horses, and as we were total beginners to the game, as I have to say the horses were very kind to us funny englishmen and their camera things.

IMG_4008

IMG_4015

Developed from the horses (they are distinctly horses NOT ponies, even though relatively small,) taken to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries, and they are mentioned frequently in the rich literary of Icelandic history.

983A9151 2

Horses were often considered the most prized possession of a medieval Icelander. War horses were sometimes buried alongside their fallen riders and bloody fights were arranged between chosen stallions, these were for entertainment and to pick the best animals for breeding. Frequently going to the death, stallion fights were an important part of Icelandic culture, and drunken brawls among the spectators were common.

In more recent times before motorized transport became common in Iceland, you were readily judged by your horse. It was a sign of your social standing, far more so even than the number of sheep or the size of you land. Of course, it also helped to have a fine horse if you had your eye on a pretty girl (ed note. For the single man (and some women) Iceland has a stupidly high proportion of very, very good looking girls, but that’s for another post). Icelandic horses still play a large part in Icelandic life, many races are still held throughout the country from April through June, as well as performance classes showcasing the breed’s unique gaits. Winter events are often held too, including races on frozen bodies of waterline Lake Myvatn in the North.

horse4

In the summer, those Horses not being used directly around the farm are turned out to high pasture up in the mountains. Mares and their foals are left to their own devices to feed on the fresh mountain grass.

983A9245 2

It’s a time for the new foals to learn about being a real horse, experiencing the difficult terrain, the changeable and sometimes extreme summer weather up there.

983A9130 2

983A2416

I have to say that Im no horse expert, but the Icelandic Horse has a confidence and happiness about it that you don’t often see elsewhere, whether that’s down to it being able to live pretty much a wild existence for large chunks of its life I don’t know, but it pays off with these guys that’s for sure.

983A9140 2

983A2947

Anyway, as the summer turns to autumn, its time for the farmers to think about getting their livestock prepared for the harsh winter ahead. First to come down from the hills are the sheep. Its hard, hard work climbing endless mountains to bring them down and its no surprise to see stooped, exhausted farmers spending 18 hrs a day trying to get the last ones in.

L1027860

L1027719-Edit

Last to be rounded up from the high pastures come the horses, this is where the fun comes in, and what we mainly came to film, but that will have to wait until next time….

For Fox Sake!

Filming wildlife is rarely easy.

983A8504

Once again it would be nice to leave it at that but it would make a very boring blog post. So with that in mind, here we go, let us delve into the utter frustrations, grumblings, mumblings, reflections, magical moments, wins and losses of a fairly typical wildlife shoot.

Where to start….

I may or may not be alone in saying I have a love – hate relationship with filming wildlife. It is one of the best jobs in the world if you like travel, photography and the natural world. However in my humble opinion it is often offset by frustration and the feeling that somehow everything from the wildlife, the elements and even the viewfinder is secretly conspiring against you. There is a lot to live up to if you are a wildlife cameraman/woman there are some legends in the game! Between them they have filmed the worlds most iconic and beautiful films, sequences and stand alone shots. Big shoes to fill and a lot to live up to. Although this does not directly impact on a shoot, there is a certain expectation to maintain the level of craftsmanship and skill these guys have spent years perfecting. I only started filming a few years back, so I still have a lot to learn and I have a lot of respect for what wildlife camera folks and film makers have done before I showed up and snuck in the back door. I suppose it is an added pressure or perhaps just one that only I feel. Who knows.

983A8186

I’ve recently spent a month filming Arctic foxes at Hornstrandir nature reserve in the Westfjords of Iceland. Arctic foxes have a fascinating history in Iceland and are an incredible animal one which I have really come to admire far more than I expected. We have been lucky enough to be working under the guidance of Ester Rut Unesteinsdottir from the arctic fox center in Sudavik arcticfoxcenter.com (their website is full of interesting facts and historical information on the Icelandic fox). Ester is more like an arctic fox than she would like to admit, fit as a fiddle, feisty, determined and highly intelligent. Esters knowledge of the valleys, foxes, secret spots and the trolls of this beautiful nature reserve is second to none.983A8073
A month may seem a long time to film a sequence but if you have been to Iceland and know what the weather can be like, and if you have filmed Icelandic foxes before then you will know (unless you have been very lucky) that both can be rather difficult!

I should mention at this point that Neil and Andy had gone to film Salmon and I need to introduce a new character to the equasion for this blog post! Ben (The Viking) York. Ben is from Films@59, a very well respected post production and camera kit hire company from Bristol (www.filmsat59.com) The boys and girls who run the hire department are a fantastic bunch of people and really know their stuff when it come to banter, cameras and glass and making cups of tea. I digress, poor old Ben is constantly sending out kit 24-7 to wildlife and drama film crews, all happily filming in some far flung corner of this wonderful earth while he and his colleagues work their nuts off in the office in Bristol, so we thought it only fair to get the old boy out of the technical warehouse and into the Icelandic wilds for a baptism of fire and also so he could see what it is like on the other side of the televisual fence.

So he hopped on a plane, met me in Isafjordur, and we made our way to Hornstrandir nature reserve.
After a smooth boat journey of about three hours we arrived safe and sound with no signs of sea sickness.

All Ben and I had to do now was start filming! Ohhh no wait… I need the toilet. See you in half an hour? The “Toblerone” as it is affectionately known is the only toilet in Hornstrandir and is a stiff 30 minute walk from the scientists camp site, if you leave the door open you get a wonderful view, so it is worth the walk. Now all we had to do was set the camp up, put up 5 tents carry the fuel, generator, tripods, lenses, cameras, food and stuff, stuff and more stuff. Why is there always so much stuff, how is it possible to have so much stuff? I blame Ben. Luckily we had some help from the team researching the foxes under the guidance of Ester and also another film crew from Iceland attempting to film the foxes.

983A8283.jpgEDITED
After an extensive recce of the Hornstrandir valleys which takes a good day to hike Ester found a few dens in the research area around Hornvik but only one sighting of a cub and a few glimpses of a very skittish adult male in the far off distance. Not the start I’d hoped for.

Over the coming days, with support from Ester, we made the decision to film at a den which, thanks to Esters confidence it could work, we had a good feeling about….sometimes you have to go with your instincts and trust those in the know. A surprising but rapidly encroaching problem was the vegetation that was growing at an alarming rate. Because the foxes had denned slightly later it meant that if new fox cubs popped out to see the world the chances are you would not even see them let alone get juicy shots for the telly box. Just that one thing is enough to make your shoot really difficult. You can’t go in and chop down the vegetation or disturb the den. In reality there is not much you can do, foxes do not like any type of interference around the den and it is very easy to disturb them, forcing the adults to move the cubs, which is not how we like to roll.

Luckily we had foreseen the vegetation problem in the highly technical (that’s going to F *** us up radar) and had chosen an area which was slightly behind in growth terms giving us a fighting chance. The foxes at Hornstrandir appeared to be denning slightly later than previous years possibly due to the very heavy snow fall during the winter so in the typical fashion of most things conspiring against you, the first obstacle to overcome was the fact that no cubs are showing at the dens.

Getting to the den site is a good hike, Ben loved it! for the first day. The hike is fairly easy without kit, but with everything you need for a day and evening filming is a different matter, luckily Ben turned Viking pretty quickly and was a great help lugging the kit and working as an assistant, he also made a mean hot chocolate and chicken tikka packet meal….

I may or may not be alone in saying you enter into a strange time vortex on a shoot like this, days and weeks roll into one, and a single hour takes six to pass, the five days you have left to finish the shoot seems to take a year or two. You give up shaving or caring what you look like, you eat like a caveman, drink from the glacial rivers and all in all become a slightly odd creature (maybe thats just me). The drive or determination to nail the sequence is something all wildlife cameramen/women understand very well and it is a highly important characteristic needed for this type of filming. Wildlife camera folks have been doggedly chasing these sequences for years and only by this determination do you get to see all the beautiful footage on wildlife television series and films. Hats off to all those men and women working so hard to showcase the natural world.

Ben and I got to know our foxes pretty well over the coming weeks and started to gain some trust mainly with the female but not so much with the wily old male who always kept distance and a beedy eye on our movements. Observing how the foxes behave to see if any patterns emerge always helps with planning a days filming but just like the weather in Iceland, soon as you think it is sunny it clouds up and starts raining, snowing and blowing a gale, then the northern lights pop out and a volcano erupts! It is a crazy place. The foxes are the same as the weather, they change behaviour like the wind, I suppose that is what makes them so unique but also so difficult to film, they are very unpredictable just as you think you have a pattern it changes. That is wildlife for you.

983A8834

We had good days and bad days in terms of filming. It was not unusual to sit in the rain for 13 hours with only one sighting of a fox. That is just the way it goes, some days we saw very little, but stuck it out till then evening when you would be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse. Wildlife cameramen/woman have a ridiculous amount of patience, or like our mate Charlie Hamilton-James said “we are just very good at being bored”

983A8661 983A8097 983A8774

We filmed some lovely stuff at the den over the coming weeks but its was really hard work to get footage. We filmed some very tender moments of life at the den, and watched as the male and female struggled at times to keep it all going. I must say at this point that I do admire the Icelandic arctic fox so very much, it is hard to put into words just how tough, adaptable and durable these fascinating little animals really are. A remarkable animal which is able to survive and prosper in the wildest of places in Iceland. Hornstrandir is one of those wild places, wild in spirit, but what I really mean is wild in the sense of it’s unpredictability, unable to be tamed, the elements are in control and not people.

After a “groundhog day” lifestyle two and a half weeks went past and it was time for another change. Andy and Neil had finished filming with the Atlantic salmon, Andy returned to the U.K to edit a film on Asiatic lions and Neil arrived with much needed refreshments and support for the tired and weary fox crew. A few days later Ben looking more like a Viking than a Viking did left on the boat to head back to the U.K after a real adventure in the wilds of Iceland. The sea had started to pick up and white horses had arrived pounding the huge stone beaches, we waved Ben off as he sailed into the distance and Neil and I carried on filming the fox family.

L1018742-Edit-2

The weather had been continuing to build and became steadily worse towards the last week of the shoot, huge sea fogs began rolling in and high winds started to pick up making filming the fox more difficult and more dangerous. The sea cliffs around Hornstrandir are huge well over 300m and the landscape is not to be taken lightly, it is a beautiful place, but also volatile and the weather can snap in an instant. The Fog can be so thick it is not possible to see the ground or the small pathways to navigate back to the campsite. Many travellers head to Hornstrandir to enjoy the landscape and hike the mountains and most of the time they are rewarded with clear skies and spectacular views of this remote nature reserve. Most of the adventurous tourists are prepared and experienced hikers and usually led by highly knowledgable Icelandic guides, some tourists arrive woefully underprepared wearing jeans and t-shirts which is not advisable.

983A8258

We had carried on filming the foxes until the wind, rain and fog prevented us from hiking to the den site, we heard news from a small house on the reserve and from the park ranger that some very bad weather was heading towards Hornstrandir. There is no phone signal or internet at the nature reserve and most information comes from radio or from the park ranger so we sat out the first few day of the worsening wether huddled in tents mopping up the drips and battening down the hatches.

L1018855-Edit

I am not sure any of us expected the weather to be quite so bad, but with warnings from the Icelanders not to venture into the mountains we stayed put and trusted their judgement, they know best, it is their home and they know it better than anyone. Gradually the wind and rain increased and started to batter the coast and our campsite, one by one, the tents started to blow away! The now one-man Icelandic film crew which had also been filming foxes were having a bad run of luck and struggled to film any material at another den site on the nature reserve. Then things got worse, Buppy the Icelandic cameraman’s tent blew down, when I say blew down, it literally snapped the carbon fibre poles all the way down the tent. It was lashing with rain and the wind was gusting at gale force speeds. It was chaos, Neil and I rushed out of our own battered tents to help him secure his film kit and possessions. The tent was a right off.

Buppy trekked to one of two houses at the nature reserve to ask for help whilst Neil and I made do sheltering in our leaking and damaged tents and securing our tents with what ever we could find. Every time the wind picked up from the sea and forced a gust into the valley the tents shook with a thundering crack and bent sideways under the strain, water was now pouring in and everything was getting soaked including our dry clothes. Sleeping was impossible. Buppy returned late, to inform us he could stay with a family at the house for the night. Neil and I sat it out in some mildly faint hope it would die down and and we would wake up to a beautiful summers day….

L1019017

That did not happen, one by one, our tents blew away and broke down until we had nothing left. The generator was soaked and stopped working and we could not charge any equipment.

The weather was getting worse and we had no choice but to ask for help from the family staying the their holiday home on the reserve. We arrived completely wet, cold and very tired. We met up with Buppy who introduced us to Stigur one of the owners from the house. Stigur is a top man, very kind, welcoming and genuinle decent guy and more than happy to help out. His house was full, eleven adults and children all of which had come to holiday as they do every year, however they had arrived the day before the storm hit and had been stuck inside ever since. Stigur only had one place we could sleep – an old but sturdy boat shed down on the beach. He made us a fire and allowed us to get our clothes dry and let us use the shower, first shower in almost four weeks for Ian.

983A9097

Over the course of the day and night we took down what was remaining of the camp and moved all our kit to the boat shed under gale force conditions.

Film crews never travel light! and moving a whole camp with filming kit, kitchen, expedition kit was no easy feet. Finally we were holed up in a boat shed in the most remote part of Iceland in a storm Neil, Buppy and Ian. Just enough room for three sleeping bags and a mountain of kit. Looking back now it was quite funny, apart from Buppy snoring! I am not sure we had more than a few hours sleep that week, the wind was shaking and battering the boat shed to the point where we all though it was going to take the roof off. But Icelanders know how to build a boat shed! Super shed took all the wind and rain and shrugged it off. We spent four days and nights all going slightly mad and sheltering in the boat shed waiting for the storm to drop. Search and rescue helicopters had been flying looking for stranded tourists in terrible conditions, again we tip our hats to the men and women out doing this work it is truly incredible and very brave.

Neil and I took a bottle of whisky to the house to say thank you to Stigur and his family for helping us out. At first he said “no you don’t need to give me anything, this is what we do, Icelanders always help people, it is just what we do” Then he gave a wry smile and said ok come in. We met all the family and sat in a warm house surrounded by lovely people and drank whisky and ate some very tasty dried fisk with butter. The guitar came out, songs were sung, voices were raised and whilst the weather raged outside Neil and I felt very happy and safe. Until the morning when we woke up with a massive headaches.

We heard news the next day from the captain of the boat they were going to attempt to sail out to pick up the family depending on how bad the sea was looking. We waited all day and into the evening without word. Around midnight we heard from Stigur the boat was coming. We lugged all our kit to beach in the pouring rain and wind and waited with the family to be picked up. The guys who sail the boat are amazing, trying to get people and kit into a zodiac in crashing waves is very difficult, Neil did a great job helping the boat guys standing in crashing waves pushing the zodiac out from the shore full of kit and people. We did maybe ten runs in the zodiac before all were safely on board.

The journey back was rough to say the least. Nearly everyone on board was sea sick apart from the old hardened Icelanders and Neil and Ian! we must have the old celtic sea fairing genes!

arctic fox - canon

Well, thats all I have to say about that right now, apart from a big thank you again to all the Icelanders for looking after us, Stigur, Ester, Thor, all the guys and girls in the office back at H.Q

Left to right: Ian, Ester, Ben and Neil.

983A8076

next time, we catch up with the horse at their annual roundup…quite a spectacle I can assure you!

A Man May Fish – Orri Vigfússon and the Atlantic Salmon

 

NWIC_20140621_GPH3_salmon.Still005

We’ve all been a bit tied up over the past few weeks, so its been a bit quiet on the blog front I’m afraid!  Ian and Neil got stuck in a massive storm out in Hornstrandir, leaving them with wrecked tents, nowhere dry to sleep, and weather so bad that the storm sequence we’ve been trying to film (and failing to! Honestly the weather has been amazing most of this year) was impossible to get safely.

IMG_6979

More on their exploits in another post, in the meantime, a catchup on the salmon we (Neil and myself actually, Ian was up with the foxes in a tent in the rain) went to film on the Laxa and Sela rivers in North and North East Iceland.

983A6238

IMG_3495

983A6381

I’m a self confessed fly fishing nut, Ive always loved the peace and tranquility of flyfishing in wild places. The idea of making a film about Iceland and not including salmon was unthinkable (Iceland has some of the best salmon fishing in the world), we really wanted to find out how Iceland has managed to maintain and improve its salmon stocks whilst the rest of the Atlantic Salmon world is seeing a disturbing decline.

Many years ago I read a book called “A Man May fish” by the late and colourful Irish Judge TC Kingsmill Moore. A wonderful book crammed with stories and techniques of salmon, trout and sea trout fishing in Ireland during the years when fish farming, pollution and high seas netting had not yet annihilated that countries rich river stocks. Amongst his tales of fishing are little cameos about Irish folk whisked away by fairies, houses half built and then abandoned because they were built across fairy passes (parallels with the Icelandic Hidden People or Huldufólk here!) and the opening line that…

“It may have been fortunate that fishing was not made too easy”

Having spent many years tying flies to match hatching insects, selecting the right fly to lure that occasional salmon, I can certainly vouch that there are many, many ways of attempting to catch a fish, probably the least efficient of which is fly fishing! But you don’t go fishing to catch fish, its far, far more than that!

Technique (or lack of) aside, an absolute pre requisite for a days fishing is the knowledge that there are indeed fish in the river to be caught in the first place, and for the past 50 years or so, this is where the trouble has been.

Global stocks of Atlantic Salmon (and sea trout) have crashed over a very short space of time – Since the early 1970’s there has been a steady decline in the numbers of Salmon and Sea trout returning to the rivers of the UK, northern Europe, Russia and indeed Iceland. Today some rivers in North America are down to literally a handful of returning fish, and even our famous Scottish rivers are declining steadily (no thanks to the current government there http://www.salmon-trout.org/news_item.asp?news_id=315 )

(Biology bit – Atlantic Salmon and Sea trout are born in wild oxygen rich rivers, go to the high seas of the North Atlantic to feed for a couple of years, and then return to their precise river of birth to spawn, )

Now, exactly where to point the finger of blame for this disaster is a complex issue, but there is no doubt that fishing on the high seas (not with rod and line in the rivers), interceptory coastal netting (where the river mouths are netted to catch the returning fish), pollution from salmon farms (infestations of sea lice included) and a total lack of cohesive strategy from governments to address these issues, all play their part in the downfall of the King of Fish.

Something needed to be done.

At this point you may be wondering why a blog on Iceland is spending some considerable time talking about the demise of a species of fish which inhabits a large section of the entire North Atlantic, not just Iceland. Well I’ll tell you…

Organisations like the Salmon and Trout Association and NASCO amongst others have played important roles in stopping the decline of salmon and continue this much needed work to this day. One man however stands out a mile in his tireless work to save the Atlantic Salmon over the past 50 years ,Orri Vigfússon and his organisation the NASF.

OrriVigfusson

A businessman, environmentalist and one of a new breed of so called “green capitalists”, he started up the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) during the 1970’s to halt the decline of salmon.

His method was simple, pay the netsman NOT to catch wild salmon and seek other more sustainable fishing. To this end, he has since raised over $35million and tirelessly campaigns and lobbies the relevant Atlantic Governments and industries.

Theres a more complete bio at the end of this blog detailing Orri’s impressive acheievements, but in short his efforts have earned him a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for “preventing the seemingly inevitable decimation of the wild North Atlantic salmon populations.” A Prince of Wales Conservation Award, and conservation awards from several organizations including the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Atlantic Salmon Federation USA, VISA, and the U.K. Salmon and Trout Association. He is Fellow with Ashoka Innovators for the Public, which recognizes progressive entrepreneurs who have solutions to social problems and in 2004, Time magazine named Vigfusson a “European hero.”

So when Orri kindly volunteered to help us film a salmon fishing sequence, we knew we were in the very best hands!

983A5265

We wanted to film fly fishing for salmon in particular because of the unique relationship between anglers (the vast majority of which are commited conservationists) and their prey, and of course it’s a very beautiful thing to see some skillfully cast a fly. (anyone remember watching Brad Pitt casting a fly in the film “A River Runs Through It” ?)

Our journey first took us to one of Orri’s favourite rivers, the Laxa in Adaldal or Big Laxa, near Husavik in Northern Icealnd. It’s a beautiful, strong storming river draining Lake Myvatn out to sea in stunning surroundings, the wildlife is superb, and there are great numbers of Harlequin and Eider Duck here.

983A5315

Our stay at the Laxamyri lodge near Husavik was wonderful. Food and accommodation were extremely comfortable and the staff were brilliant.

We were there when the Lupins were in full bloom, and despite their controversial nature, no one can doubt the fact that seeing fields of pretty blue flower heads gently swaying in the breeze is a lovely sight.

983A6377

Its one of those places where you just instantly relax and feel at home, looking out at the river above the falls in the morning with a coffee you knew you were in the right place to fish!

983A5238

We were there for opening day – the season is quite short (June to September) and tradition holds that the landowners cast the first flies over the water.

983A5166

Within half an hour of the 7am start a fish was on! Fishing at the bottom of the waterfall that plunge into the sea pool, one of the landowners, Jón Helgi Björnsson, was into a lively fish fresh in from the sea.

983A5169

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still005

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still004

983A5174

983A5176

A spirited fight was soon brought under control and a beautiful silver springer of about 15lbs was carefully netted, measured (and scale sample taken) then gently released back to resume its journey upstream to spawn.

983A5181

Catch and release is most certainly the order of play on this and the majority of Icelandic rivers. Its vital that Anglers start playing their part in the long term survival of salmon and start looking seriously at releasing the majority if not all of their fish. This is even more important with the uncertain future that salmon face. It makes sense from an economic point of view too, It took Orri a while to convince the landowners and fellow anglers of the benefits of catch and release, but when you realize that “If a salmon is worth say $1000 when you catch it and kill it, released alive and caught again its worth another $1000, catch the same fish a third time and you’ve got $3000”

Makes sense to put it back really!

NWIC_20140621_GPH3_salmon.Still003

(And yes a salmon really can be worth $1000 when you consider how much anglers are willing to spend on a days fishing, rods, accommodation etc, its big business)

So our time at Laxa sped by. We got some great footage of salmon under water, and some lovely casting sequences.

NWIC_20140621_GPH3_salmon.Still006

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still002

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still006

Needless to say, the GoPro came in for some hard work, getting attached to rods, heads, poles and nets, Whilst Neil had a lot of fun and got some great stuff topside. (Of course in the great tradition of Producers/Directors everywhere, I managed to get away with doing some fishing!)

983A6369

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still007

One thing that really stood out was the skill of our guide Ármann Kristjánsson

IMG_3467

On a 25km long river, finding the salmon, even though they are prolific here, is not straightforward. It requires a supreme amount of knowledge and skill to find their holding spots. Especially when you understand that they do not feed in freshwater, so you cant rely on them appearing at feeding time or taking flies off the surface. …..was brilliant, he grew up on the river and knows it like the back of his hand. In the few days we were there, we covered all the likely lies and the best pools, raised a few fish, and caught, filmed and released a few too.

We also had to check out the Sela River over in North East Iceland for a few days. This place is truly spectacular, wild water plunging down over dramatic waterfalls and a brand new luxury lodge to rest weary bones at the end of a long days fishing.

983A6428

Our guides Gísli Ásgeirsson and Sveinn Björnsson (Dennni) were again superb, catching fish to order for us and enabling us to get some wonderful shots. We were certainly impressed by Gisli’s ability to cast a double handed fly rod with a GoPro attached!

NWIC_20140623_GPH3_salmon2.Still001

983A6510

983A6444

 Seeing them work together (1 spotting, 1 casting to the fish) on a pool where the only place to reach the salmon lie was from a 30ft cliff top was certainly very, very different from the more sedate runs and riffles of the River Wye and the like in the UK.

983A6531

983A6541

Thats the key with Icelandic fishing really, its a definite adventure from start to finish, stunning scenery, the excitement of scrambling down canyons to film little known pools and always the the guarantee there are plenty of fish in the river, great stuff…

983A6547

if you get the chance to fish here in Iceland, do so! I cant think of two better rivers to try than The Big Laxa or Sela, so if a space appears on their long waiting list, grab it!

983A5321

Even if you have limited salmon fishing experience, you’ll be in safe hands and your guide will do all he can to get you into a fish. I’m mainly a trout fisherman with little salmon experience (I don’t have a double handed rod and cant Spey cast – though Ive now been firmly bitten by the bug and will learn how to!) but ….was patient enough to coach me into what lies to cover, speed of retrieve, choice of fly (small ones are popular here, Sunray Shadow the most successful by far).

983A5218

983A6429

the food was amazing (they have a  superb team of chefs here!),

983A6389

and the accommodation and atmosphere of the lodges was fantastic, its a very warm, big thank you from us for making our stay so wonderful!

983A6543

Of course the main subject of filming interest here was the salmon and its struggle to overcome the stupidity and shortsightedness of men, insistent on plundering them in vast numbers from the high seas and river mouth netting stations, more on that in the film when it comes out of course (ETA next spring btw).

Even though angling has never had a major impact on salmon numbers (as I said its not an especially efficient way of catching fish!). Most rod anglers are beginning to see the light about the benefits of catch and release. A lot of the UK rivers have brought this in as a rule, certainly until stocks show signs of more solid recovery. As much as I enjoy eating salmon, and have no problem with taking fish for the table from sustainable stocks, the Atlantic Salmon needs all the help it can get right now, so catch and release must continue to be adopted by all.

983A5186

I can only say that thankfully there are a few good men like Orri Vigfusson to educate and convince the big companies and governments of a better way. Pretty much anywhere in the world where salmon run rivers, you can be sure that Orri is somewhere nearby, offering advice, incentives and waving the conservation flag in a creative, positive way that has been attractive to business and landowner alike.

That he tirelessly does it in such a constructive way is extraordinary, and as a man approaching his later years, albeit with amazing fitness and vigour, he can’t carry on doing this forever, he needs practical support. Ordinary anglers and individuals can play their part, supporting the salmon’ cause through donations, lobbying governments (Scotland and Norway are arguably the biggest threats at present) being careful about what farmed salmon they eat, practicing catch and release and raising awareness overall.

A man may fish indeed, but only whilst there are fish left in the rivers….

NWIC_20140621_GPH3_salmon.Still007

 983A6320

983A5196

If you are at all interested in saving this iconic species, Id urge you to join forces with Orri and the NASF, or indeed find out more from the following organisations

NASF

The Salmon and Trout Association – http://www.salmon-trout.org

http://www.environmentmaine.org/programs/mee/save-atlantic-salmon

http://www.asf.ca/main.html

here’s the details of the rivers Orri took us to, theres over 90 in Iceland to choose from!

Big Laxa

http://www.anglingiceland.is/rivers/salmon-rivers-full-service/laxa-in-adaldal/

Sela

http://www.sela.is/sela/about-sela–general-information-about-sela

More about Orri Vigfússon

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orri_Vigfússon

This from the Goldman prize nominantion

Orri Vigfússon brokered huge international fishing rights buyouts with governments and corporations in the North Atlantic, effectively stopping destructive commercial salmon fishing in the region.

Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the once-plentiful wild salmon populations in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic dwindled to dangerously low levels, affecting not only the sensitive ocean and river ecosystems of the region, but also the rural communities for whom salmon fishing is a long-held local tradition and source of income. In the early 1990s, Orri Vigfússon started an innovative, multinational initiative to buy out the fishing rights of commercial salmon fishers whose over-fishing was causing the decline. He represents a new breed of environmental leader who utilizes business skills and negotiating to effectively protect precious natural resources. Through his work, Vigfússon succeeded in preventing the seemingly inevitable decimation of wild North Atlantic salmon populations.

An entrepreneur and life-long outdoorsman, Vigfússon first became aware of declining salmon stocks in the 1970s while fishing along the rivers of his native northern Iceland. Speaking with others who lived or fished along local rivers, he learned the extent of Iceland’s shrinking river salmon populations. In response, Vigfússon founded the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF).

Since 1989, the organization has raised more than US$35 million to buy the netting rights from commercial fishers across the North Atlantic, essentially paying commercial fishermen not to fish salmon in the North Atlantic. NASF has also brokered moratorium agreements with several national governments. These efforts have dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries. According to NASF estimates, commercial open-sea fishing in the Atlantic has dropped by more than 75 percent in the last 15 years, and river anglers in several countries in areas where nets have been closed have reported substantial increases in salmon catches. In 2007, NASF estimated that more than five million North Atlantic salmon had been saved to date.

In order for the buyout system to be successful, Vigfússon had to succeed on a number of fronts. He had to raise millions of dollars to compensate the commercial fishermen for the loss of income they suffer in giving up salmon fishing. The agreements are designed to cover a fixed period of years but the hope is that by the time the agreements expire many of the fishermen will not wish to return to salmon fishing. A large percentage of NASF’s funds, therefore, is spent on assisting the fishers to find alternative employment. He also had to negotiate with individual governments in order to persuade them to provide matched funding and to change the policies and economic decisions that have previously influenced their fishing industry practices. To ensure the sustainability of these efforts, Vigfússon began promoting viable economic alternatives for salmon fishers including snow crab and lumpfish caviar harvesting.

In the beginning, Vigfússon reached out to a variety of stakeholders across Iceland, Europe and North America to convince them of the need to address the over-fishing problem. He met with residents of river communities and local anglers, who were all experiencing declining numbers of river salmon. He began discussions with commercial salmon fishers, talking openly with them about the extent of the problem from both an environmental and economic point of view, including how their own livelihoods were being affected. After raising significant grassroots support, Vigfússon approached governments, introducing his idea of the buyout agreements.

With a mind for business and a passion for his cause, Vigfússon brokered multi-million dollar buyouts or moratorium agreements with commercial salmon fishers in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Wales, England, Greenland, France and Norway. Vigfússon and NASF´s branches in the UK and Northern Ireland brokered agreements to buy out the remaining drift nets in partnership with the authorities. In November 2006, after years of campaigning and negotiating by NASF, Ireland finally announced that it would buy out all of the country’s salmon drift-netting licenses. As part of the buyout, the Irish government will establish a hardship fund of more than US$39 million to address the financial losses that Irish salmon fishers will face, as well as providing an additional US$7 million fund to help rural communities deal with the loss of income.

This development represents one of the final steps in Vigfússon’s vision of securing a complete halt to salmon fishing at sea in the North Atlantic. Vigfússon is focused on the remaining interceptory coastal nets in Scotland and Norway, the last countries to operate major mixed-stock fisheries that prevent many returning salmon from reaching their native rivers. The governments in both countries have been slow to act and are reluctant to work with civil society groups such as NASF. As a result, both countries face significant negative impacts to the salmon stocks on their local rivers.

And have a look at this from the “Green Interview”

http://www.thegreeninterview.com/blog/orri-vigfusson-how-icelandic-green-capitalist-saved-north-atlantic-salmon

 

 983A5197

 

 

 

 

 


 

Independence Day

983A4875Been a bit quiet on the blog front of late, no big surprise really as Ian and Neil have been up in the wilds of Northwest Iceland, out of contact, filming Arctic foxes around Hornstrandir. Andy meanwhile has returned to sunny England, and is doing a bit of moonlighting on a Lion film for Martin Dohrn down at Ammonite films.
Going through the thousands of stills taken so far on our little journey, came across these taken on Independence day (june 17th) out on the Island with families and ducklings that made our stay so special.

 983A4890

983A4889

The kids all made flags, gathered the ducklings together and set off on a parade around the island, ducks in tow. It was quite a spectacle, but trying to keep up with 10 kids and over a hundred ducklings on the march was tricky from a camera point of view!

983A4593

983A4611

983A4803

We’ll see how the sequence comes out, but the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, ending up with building a proper bonfire outside a small cave on the beach and toasting marshmallows, proper Swallows and Amazons stuff, a wonderful day with wonderful people!

L1003719

L1003722

983A4952

983A4910

983A4965

983A5001

IMG_0573

983A5020

A bit about Icelandic Independence (the History bit from wikipedia)
“Icelandic National Day (Icelandic: Þjóðhátíðardagurinn, the day of the nation’s celebration) is an annual holiday in Iceland which commemorates the foundation of The Republic of Iceland on 17 June 1944 and its independence from Danish rule.[1] The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, a major figure of Icelandic culture and the leader of the 20th century Icelandic independence movement.[2]
Abolishing the monarchy resulted in little change to the Icelandic constitution, “The King” was merely substituted for “The President”. However the people of Iceland celebrated the end of the long struggle for total independence and praised Jón Sigurðsson for his early independence movement and Sveinn Björnsson, who became the first president of Iceland.
Today, Icelanders celebrate this holiday on a national scale. The celebration traditionally takes the form of a parade through each urban area with a brass band at the fore. Riders on Icelandic horses often precede the brass band and flagbearers from the Icelandic scout movement traditionally follow the brass band”

983A4865

983A4703

Next up, as promised before, a spot of Salmon fishing…..

The Egg Collectors of Grimsey

 

Image

The warmth and hospitality of Icelanders has constantly impressed us on our journey through this extraordinary land. Grimsey is no exception to this, we were met off the ferry (Andy was having a hard time negotiating the narrow exit ramp, but we got off without becoming an addition to the boats in the harbour) by Gagga, our lovely landlady from Basar guesthouse, and welcomed with hot coffee to our home for the week.

Our main targets to film for the week are the huge numbers of seabirds nesting on the cliffs here (over a million on the 300ft cliffs that ring this tiny island). But its not just the birds, we wanted to film the age old method of egg collecting that has been practised here for centuries. For a community that existed on a diet of fish and the few sheep that were kept here, seabird eggs played an important part in days of old and today.

In the same way that chicken eggs bought from the supermarket are not viable (i.e. they haven’t developed a foetus inside until growth has been triggered by the warmth of incubation). The Seabird eggs are collected just after they have been laid and before incubation, so timing of this event is critical. The collectors keep a watchful eye on their stretch of cliff (they are divided up in the same way as any land, each collector has his own patch) waiting for the first signs of laying. Once started, a sector is only harvested 3 times over 9 days or so, then left alone, so the guillemots and razorbills simply lay a new egg after the collecting and raise that to the hatching stage undisturbed. Its typical of Icelanders to work out a way to exist in harmony with the landscape and wildlife, and this totally sustainable way of working with sea birds is no exception.

Image

Image

Image

Image

So it was with great interest and anticipation that we met up with Maggi and Siggi on the high cliffs. These brothers have lived their lives to the full here on the island, spending happy childhood days learning the ways of sea and land, it shows too. Their knowledge of bird behaviour and the ways of the sea is extraordinary, there is a depth behind their words that cannot be learnt by reading books or taking a degree in biology, it can only come by living side by side with nature.

Our cameras set safely at the top of the cliff , we were wondering exactly how the eggs were collected?, how many ropes, harnesses and all the normal paraphernalia of rock climbing on 300ft sheer cliffs were to be employed? Soon all became clear, as an old tractor came trundling towards us across the moorland…

The tractor reversed to the edge of the cliff, Siggi put on a sturdy harness (made by himself, the same patterns used by his father before him) long rope slung over the back of the roller winch on the back of the tractor and Siggi backed over the cliff edge carrying the all important tools of the trade – pole net, canvas bag for the eggs and the all important helmet (some protection against any rocks dislodged by birds).

Seeing Siggi nimbly make his way down the cliff face from the safety of our viewpoint was an impressive sight, constantly in touch with his brother Maggi, holding the other end of the rope at the top, literally with Siggi’s life in his hands, telling him when to give more rope, when to stop etc. It was very clear the huge level of trust they place in each other. To them its a normal day at the office, they’ve been doing it for years, but it took our breath away. The sequence will hopefully do some justice to this when its been through the cutting room later this year, and with the combination of our main camera (Sony F55) 2nd unit (Canon C300) and the ever useful GoPro, we’ve certainly got it covered. here’s some stills that will hopefully give some idea.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

ImageImage

Image

Image

Image

Image

With the collecting done, we chatted away with the brothers for ages, happily munching away on fermented shark and eggs, listening to stories of their youth and life on the island. You couldn’t wish to meet nicer people, funny, charismatic and tough in the way that only a life in a harsh environment can make a man.

We all felt privileged to spend time with them and gladly accepted the kind invitation of dinner at Maggi’s house (a wonderful meal of lamb cooked by his wife Anna) More chatting and stories of the island kept us thoroughly entertained for the evening but more excitement was still to come, Maggi had a surprise in store for us.

He and Siggi had to take their boat round to the cliff bottom to pick up some eggs left from a previous days collecting and invited us to go with them. It was too late (9pm) for decent filming light, but never being ones to turn down the opportunity for a spin on the ocean, and to see the island from a different perspective, we piled in and set off through calm seas in Siggi’s powerful RIB.

What welcomed us on the shore at the bottom of the cliffs was the most extraordinary spectacle, thousands upon thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills flew off from and returned to the cliffs as they headed to their feeding grounds out on the Arctic Ocean. Ive never seen anything quite like it, the sheer numbers were amazing and there is no way a camera can do it justice (even our prized Leica!) its one of those things that just has to go on your top ten things to see before you die, you have to see it with your own eyes and experience the smells and sounds alongside.

L1002641

L1002646

L1002715

L1002694

L1002771

L1002749

L1002705

end of a perfect few days, I think its fair to say that we’ve fallen in love with Grimsey!L1002564

Grimsey

L1002031

40km off the north coast of Iceland lies the island of Grimsey, our home for the next week whilst we film the extraordinary seabird colonies here.

A small fishing community has scraped a living from the rich fishing grounds here for centuries, so filming the people is as always high on our priority list.

The journey over here was spectacular, we had left the comfort of our beds (and seaweed baths) in Reykholar at the unearthly hour of 2.30am to get to the ferry by 8.00am, boarded and set sail into flat calm waters and bright sunshine

_MG_7839

_MG_7860

leaving behind the snow covered mountains around Dalvik, our three hour crossing was a pleasure, whales abound around these waters, surprisingly close to shore, and we had 2 full breaches, 6 full tail dives from Humpbacks, numerous Minke surfacing, and lots of white beaked
dolphin. As per usual with whales, Continue reading