A few years ago, English oil magnate and billionaire Jim Ratcliffe bought land in Iceland with the apparent intent of conserving salmon. Presently, he has plans to build large-scale fish ladders for salmon roe release operations. Ratcliffe is also working with the Marine Research Institute (MRI) to gain a better understanding of North Atlantic Salmon. These plans will apparently not impact Atlantic salmon as a whole, according to the National Association of Fishing Companies. Even so, this sudden burst of environmentalism is a far cry from Ratcliffe’s fracking and drilling in The UK. Some might even say that a billionaire using his wealth to help the environment is a good thing.
Not everyone is thrilled about Ratcliffe’s acquisition of land in Iceland though. Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Transport and Local Government, has been vocal about restricting foreign land ownership. Such restrictions were in place more than fifteen years ago, but amendments made in 2003 and 2004 removed those restrictions. In the past few years, several entities have purchased land that was once used for farming, with no intent of using the land or even living on it. As a result, plots of land that were once thriving farms have fallen into disuse. Since September 2018, Sigurður has been working with a group trying to pass legislation that will reinstate some of those restrictions. This would be in line with provisions in Norway and Denmark restricting foreign entities from buying land.
If passed, the group suggests that certain conditions be imposed on prospective land-buyers, such as a requirement to maintain a legal residence in Iceland, or a restriction on how much land or how many estates an entity could own. The group has the support of prime minister Katrín Jakóbsdóttir. “I believe there is a significant and broad political will to put in place a stricter framework around this issue in Iceland, just as we’ve seen throughout our neighbouring countries,” she said in an interview on the radio.
When a billionaire purchases land in a bid to conserve a threatened species, it is only natural to question their motives. However, on the other side of that argument is the question of who else has the resources to do this. A progressive individual might even say that an individual using their wealth for the greater good of the ecosystem is one of their deeply held ideals.
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