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Eider Farming and Predator Management in Iceland

PÁLL HERSTEINSSON

Wildlife Management Unit, Agricultural Society of Iceland, P.0. Box 7080,
127 Reykjavik, Iceland


The eider (Somateria mollissima) is the most common anatid in Iceland, with an estimated population size around half a million birds. It is totally protected in Iceland in all seasons. During the breeding season a large proportion of eiders nest in colonies which can reach densities up to 2,000 nests per hectare. Each eider hen lines its nest with an average of 15-20 g of down. The high nesting density of eiders has been taken advantage of by Icelandic farmers for centuries, who have harvested the down for use as insulation in bed clothes and in recent years in down jackets. The total annual income from export of eider down from Iceland is about 1.5 million dollars (U.S.).

There is little doubt that the formation of nesting colonies by eiders is a response to predation by arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus). Most colonies are on the mainland near farms where fox movements are limited. Although arctic foxes kill adult eiders on the nests, the preventive measures are taken in and near the eider colonies themselves. However, there are some difficulties to be overcome. First, eider farmers have no direct cost of the present strategy of reducing predator population sizes, as hunting is paid for by the government and local authorities, while the farmers themselves have to finance most of the preventive measures available, such as electric fences around eider colonies. Second, policy changes in such a sensitive field must be based on rigorously executed field experiments and these are still missing in Iceland.


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