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Faroe Islands - Enviornment

Faroe Islands Environment

Slightly smaller than greater London, the 18 islands of the Faroes lie in the north-eastern Atlantic about 400km (248mi) south-east of Iceland and 280km (174mi) north of Scotland. In the north are a group of rugged, rib-like islands that offer spectacular scenery, but most of the Faroes' population lives on Streymoy and Eysturoy in the heart of the island group.

The islands are the eroded remnants of a volcanic mid-Atlantic continent that rose after North America, Greenland and Europe went their separate ways. Other parts of this long-disappeared continent include the Westfjords of Iceland, County Antrim of Northern Ireland, parts of southern Greenland and bits of Scotland. During the Great Ice Age, all of the Faroes were blanketed with ice, and when the icecap finally melted its remnants gouged out the cirques, valleys, sounds and fjords so typical of the islands today.

The only place you'll see trees is in Tórshavn, and despite proud claims that the Viðarlund Park, with its stands of birch, beech and spruce, has the islands' only forest, the trees grow taller in town where the buildings shelter them. The main vegetation growing on the islands is grasses, sedges, mosses, fungi and lichens. More complex plants, such as wildflowers and ferns, tend to grow in people's gardens or in sheltered ravines where the ubiquitous sheep can't reach them.

Although the Faroes are home to several introduced pest species such as rats, mice and rabbits, the bird life is what leaves you gobsmacked. The bird population is probably the densest in the world, thanks to the profusion of plankton and fish. Forty-nine species of bird breed regularly on the islands, and another 30 do so from time to time. Among them are puffins, which are netted and eaten in large numbers, guillemots, fulmars, great skuas, razorbills, gannets, cormorants and kittiwakes. Inland, there are great colonies of eider ducks, golden plovers, rock doves and oystercatchers. Two hundred more species visit the islands occasionally. Other land dwellers include sheep (of which there are nearly twice as many as people) and cattle.

Large pods of pilot whales swim around Faroe waters, as do bottlenose whales, fin whales, killer whales, blue whales, dolphins and porpoises. The pilot whales are the controversial subjects of the grindadráp, a traditional form of hunting, where pods of the whales are rounded up and forced into shore, where they are beached and then killed. While many foreigners consider the practice horrific, whale is part of the traditional diet and most islanders regard it as much a part of local culture as Christmas. Grey seals live in caves on the east coast and, possibly having seen the grindadráp once too often, are rarely seen.

Climate-wise, it's as cold and stormy as you'd expect any small islands in the middle of the North Atlantic to be. You can expect precipitation in the form of snow, hail, sleet, drizzle or just plain rain on about 280 days of the year. There are 10 different words to describe the fog that is part of everyday life, however, thanks to the tropical current of the Gulf Stream, the water is a tolerable year-round 10°C (50°F). This helps moderate the climate and provides ideal conditions for fish and plankton that feed the bird population.

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