On the Icelandic mainland, escaped mink (once reared for their fur) now living wild are a major problem for many ground-nesting birds, not just eiders. The Icelandic Government supports mink trapping and shooting. Arctic foxes – common and natural predators on Iceland – take eggs and, sometimes, the adult birds; more controversially, landowners often shoot them too, especially if the eiderdown cash crop is threatened.
So eiderdown collecting is not quite as benign as its proponents claim; its impact on the eiders is either neutral or even beneficial but other native animals on Iceland such as ravens and Arctic Foxes (the only land mammal native here) get short shrift. Fuglavernd has its concerns about predator control when I ask them about it. Most of the control of predators benefits the huge numbers of breeding birds we have in Iceland – all of which nest on the ground and are vulnerable – but we need to make sure that rare predators, such as the White-tailed Eagle, remain fully protected and no one starts to kill them. In any case, the eagles sometimes take mink so they are working with the eider farmers,’ Thorleifsdottir told me.
Thankfully the islands out here off the west coast are free of mink. There are no foxes here either. And that’s the way Thorvaldur Bjornsson and his fellow down collectors want it to stay. Mink are under control in the northeast part of Iceland but not elsewhere,’ Helga Johannesdottir of the Icelandic Farmers Association tells me. Eider farmers can shoot foxes at any time if they threaten breeding birds or livestock. Some use electric fences to protect colonies on the mainland and others use sticks fixed in the ground to protect the nests from predatory birds [this apparently makes it harder for them to land at a nest]. Incredibly, other eiderdown collectors broadcast radio music 24/7 because the foxes don’t like the noise but the eiders don’t seem to mind.’
Iceland Guide for Tourist Photo Gallery
‘A farmer tries to attract eiders to his area, makes comfortable places for nesting and protects the area 24 hours a day. The eiders are clever and even though they come to the same nesting area every year, they move to the next area if the farmer there offers them better protection,’ Johannesdottir claims. Whatever else, Iceland’s eiders seem to be doing very well out of this deal.
Back in Reykjavik a few days later, I called at Dun & Fidur, a shop specialising in making and selling eiderdown duvets and pillows on the Icelandic capital’s oldest shopping street, Laugavegur. I had arranged to meet its owner, Oli Ben, who has been running his business here since 1959. The eider duck down is the top of his extensive duvet range; eiderdown duvets and pillows are made to order only. I hesitate to ask about prices. A single size duvet filled with eiderdown costs 2,690 and a double, 4,036,’ Oli tells me as I take a rather obvious sharp intake of breath. I know it is expensive, but they are the top quality of course. We mostly sell to Japanese, German or American tourists, but some Icelanders buy them too. They are incredibly lightweight and warm. They really are the best that money can buy,’ he tells me.
I didn’t need any convincing about how warm they are, but you have to be able to afford one. Especially when a top quality goose down duvet costs a fraction of these prices. I brought a few eiderdown feathers home with me from Tresey but no duvet.