Faroe Islands Geography and Population

By | January 8, 2023

Faroe Islands – geography

The Faroe Islands consist of 18 islands, which are separated by narrow straits and fjords. The nearest land is the Shetland Islands 300 km to the southeast.

Landscape shapes

The landscape forms reflect both the volcanic rocks of the subsoil and the destructive processes that have been active since the end of volcanism in the Tertiary for 50-60 million. years ago.

The basaltic layer series generally slope to the east, and as the prevailing wind direction has for long periods been westerly, the erosion of the sea has eroded most on the west-facing shores, which in many places appear with high, steep sections. Enniberg on Viðoy (750 m) and Beinisvørð on Suðuroy (469 m) are well-known examples of such steep shores. Along the protected areas in fjords and sound, the mountain sides slope evenly towards the coast and may be formed of soft moraine material from the last ice age. On the whole, the landscape is strongly influenced by the activity of glaciers during the ice ages in the Kvartær. Cracks and depressions were eroded here into wide, U-shaped valleys, and the intermediate mountain sections are characterized by bottoms (circus valleys), narrow ridges, where the bottoms are eroded into each other, as well as high peaks often located between three bottoms. The island Kunoy consists of one continuous mountain range with almost constant top level; over a stretch of 10 km, the mountain peaks vary only between 815 and 831 m, and this level is interpreted as the original basalt surface from the Tertiary. The phenomenon can be found in several places.

The three basalt series of which the islands are built result in differently shaped surface relief. The lower basalt, for example on Suðuroy, gives large forms with stepped mountain sides that alternate between bare ledges, hammers, and vegetation-covered slopes. The middle series with thin lava flows and porous intermediate layers gives convexly sloping mountain sides without marked ledges; they are found on Vágar and large parts of Streymoy and Eysturoy. The upper series is very similar to the lower one, but thinner basalt benches here give more stepped shapes, as they are found on most of Norðoyar.

Resource utilization and regional development

The location in the North Atlantic determines the natural resources that can be exploited by the population. In the old peasant society and up to the 1900’s. it was the agricultural land that was the basis of production. The settlements were agricultural production units, and the population corresponded roughly to agricultural land and quality. This was expressed in the market figure, which is not an area measure, but rather a composite benefit measure, which at the same time indicates the owners’ rights and duties in the settlement.

In the past, fishing was run from small, open rowboats near land. This type of fishing was called útróður ‘to row out’. Útróður was often run in connection with small farms and by day tenants or for the actual farmers as a supplement to agriculture. In the Faroe Islands, this business combination was an important feature that lasted well into the 1900’s.

In 1870, the transition to sloop fishing began. The sloops were two-masted, sailing, British -built fishing cutters, fishing-smacks. With the new equipment, it became the sea’s resources that indicated opportunities and limitations. The slump time changed the building pattern, as a new location factor became important. These were the natural ports where unloading and loading could take place, and where the sloop could be at anchor during the winter months. The settlements, which both had good ports and which could cultivate new areas for the growing group of workers and fishermen, experienced a significant population growth. Thus, Tvøroyri on Suðuroy grew to become the Faroe Islands’ second largest city in the first half of the 1900’s.

The development in the post-war period continued with increased differentiation of the fishing industry, and the simultaneous growth of the trade and service industries helped to create a new location pattern. These urban businesses establish themselves in the largest municipalities and preferably those that have the largest catchment area. Among other things. Klaksvík experienced a rapid development and has been the islands’ second largest city since 1950. At the same time, Tórshavn consolidated its dominant position; in 1950, 19% of the Faroe Islands’ population lived here, and 40 years later the proportion had grown to 34%. On the contrary, the settlements on the small islands have declined in population; in the same 40 years, for example, Mykines ‘ population was reduced from 141 to almost 20.

The well-being of the settlements and especially the survival of the smallest settlements has long had a central place in Faroese politics, referred to under the spacious term settlement culture ‘rural development’. Actual settlement development programs have never been formulated, but in various ways the smaller and remote settlements have received a kind of positive special treatment.

Fishing limits

Originally, the Faroe Islands had a 16-nautical-mile fishing limit. After negotiations between Denmark and Great Britain, in 1901 it was moved to 3 nautical miles. The growing British fishery with steam trawlers benefited from this, but at the same time the traditional Faroese fishery was destroyed, and Faroese fishermen applied to banks off Iceland and Greenland. In 1955, the fishing territory was expanded as the 3-nautical-mile boundary was drawn from more advantageous baselines. In the following years, a number of expansions were carried out until the current limit of 200 nautical miles was established in 1977. This entailed completely new conditions for the fishing industry, as the Faroe Islands now in principle now had full control over the fishery resources at the islands. But at the same time, other countries had expanded their borders accordingly, thus cutting off the Faroese from their fishing off Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, in the Barents Sea and in the North Sea. Since 1977, however, there have been agreements between the countries where quotas have been exchanged so that traditional fishing has been able to continue, albeit to a limited extent. The quota exchange is promoted by the fact that certain fish species migrate over large distances (eg blue whiting and capelin), so that a single country has difficulty in making exclusive claims on the stock.

Production and business development

Fishing and the fishing industry are the main industries, and virtually all other industries in the Faroe Islands can be seen as derived from these. Shipyards and the manufacture of fishing gear are the most important industries, although many attempts have been made to establish other small industries. The small domestic market, the distances to potential export customers and the relationship with the EU have set narrow limits for the possibilities. Seen over a longer period, the most conspicuous feature of business development is the decline of agriculture. In 1845, agriculture employed 68% of the population, but less than 1% in the 1990’s, where the vast majority of Faroese are in the trade and service sector. Employment in the fishing industry itself is declining and in 1996 amounted to approximately 10%. Fishing as a whole has had better times since the decline in the mid-1990’s, both in terms of volume of fishery and sales prices.

Agriculture remains predominantly an outfield-infield system with sheep breeding as the most important element. The infield, bøur, is the fenced, cultivated part around the old settlements. Here, grass is grown for winter feed for sheep and cattle, as well as some potatoes for own consumption. In the past, grain cultivation (six-row barley) played a role. The field, the hagin, is uncultivated, and here the sheep graze all year round. During the winter, some of them are allowed to graze on the infield areas. The sheep population is approximately 70,000, and more than 40,000 lambs are slaughtered annually. In relation to the neighboring countries, this slaughter ratio is approximately 65% quite low. Milk production is concentrated on a few large farms near the cities with newly cultivated land outside the built-up areas. Peasants dairy Mjólkarvirki Búnaðarmanna is located in Tórshavn.

The land is either royal or noble land. Kongsjorden was originally church land; after the Reformation it was expropriated by the king and is now owned by the Faroese Lagting. The royal estates continue as a total use as an inheritance to the eldest son. Odelsjord, on the other hand, can be sold and divided by inheritance division. These rules of inheritance made the royal peasants the stable, powerful factor in society. During the transition period to fishing, it was the settlements with a lot of noble land and thus greater flexibility that could especially absorb the population growth.

Fishing. In close waters, trawling and longline fishing in particular are the norm. The catch is cooled on board with ice and sold at auction or directly to the fillet factories. Purse seine or power block vessels fish for shoal fish such as mackerel, capelin, herring and blue whiting in Icelandic, Norwegian or Faroese waters. The majority is landed at the fishmeal factory Havsbrún in Fuglafjørður. A small number of large factory trawlers fish in the Barents Sea; they process the catch on board and are equipped with freezer cargo. The trips are usually long; two to four months. Shrimp trawlers fish off Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and the Barents Sea. Some process the catch on board, others sell the raw material to the highest bidding buyer, possibly. The Faroe Islands’ lone shrimp factory OC Joensenat Oyri. In the same place is a scallop factory, which is supplied with its own trawler from fields east of the islands.

20-25 fish species are landed in the Faroe Islands; the main species for human consumption are cod, haddock and saithe. Of less importance are species such as goldfish, sprat, halibut and halibut. By far the largest quantities of fish in Faroese waters are fished by local fishermen. Only blue whiting is used most by other countries, namely Russia and Norway. Since the 1970’s, fishing has been over-invested in fishing capacity, and virtually all species have been overfished within the 200-nautical-mile limit. This, together with low world market prices for fish, is a major cause of the economic crisis of the 1990’s. Public subsidies were to a large extent contributing to incorrect investments and depletion of the stocks, but also a number of years with weak vintages and poor supply of fry have been important.

Aquaculture. In the 1980’s, salmon and trout farming in saltwater was undergoing a major expansion. The first legislation in the field sought to promote small, locally owned aquaculture, and for some years the industry expanded sharply and experienced good prices. But at the same time, production in competing countries increased and prices fell. Major problems with fish diseases have ravaged Faroese aquaculture, and in 1996 the number of functioning facilities fell to 20 against 60 in 1990.

Fishing industry. The land-based fishing industry with fillet factories in all major settlements received a huge boost when the British in 1964 in protest against the Faroe Islands’ expansion of the fishing border introduced a landing ban for Faroese fresh fish. Most factories were established by the settlements themselves; the capital contributors were the municipal coffers, the trade unions, individual shipowners and merchants as well as a wide range of the village’s households. The fillet factory often became the largest or only workplace in the village. When fillet production was at its peak in 1989, there were 22 factories spread across the islands. Overcapacity, declining catches and debt problems made operations impossible for local businesses in the early 1990’s. All but two factories were merged into one company, Føroya Fiskavirking, for debt restructuring purposes., which now continues operations at 6-8 production sites. The majority of fish exports go through Føroya Fiskasøla (Faroe Seafood Prime). It seeks to develop and manufacture more processed products, including ready meals, but development is hampered by the trade agreement that the Faroe Islands have with the EU. It sets quotas for duty-free exports and imposes high tariffs on exports in addition.

Other industry. Since 1962, the two shipyards in Skáli and Tórshavn have built steel ships, mostly fishing vessels, but also cargo ships, etc. Some have been built for foreign shipowners. Furthermore, there are fishing-related crafts and industry, which manufactures trawls, nets, liners, automatic reels, ropes and hydraulic trawls. After a long period of preparation, three oil companies carried out the first test wells in the sea SE of the Faroe Islands in the summer of 2001. Two wells were dry, but the last one showed traces of oil and gas.


Previously, all transport and transport took place with open rowing boats as well as on foot or on horseback along the guard paths between the settlements. In the first half of 1900-t. The vast majority of scheduled vessels were operated by private companies. It entailed a demand for financial surplus, and investment in the vessels was modest; most were cheap, lightly rebuilt fishing vessels. The standard improved after World War II, and construction bridges were expanded and improved. During the 1960’s, the road network had been expanded so that there was a need for car transport between the islands. The first car ferry came to the Faroe Islands in 1965. The National Board’s ferry company Strandfaraskip Landsinshad in the mid-1970’s taken over all routes and improved the standard; there are now car ferries between all major islands. From the mid-1950’s, the road network was expanded and modernized, and all settlements on the larger islands were connected by road.

Investments in infrastructure, especially traffic facilities, have been very large. In the context of the economic crisis, they have been criticized as extravagant and unnecessary; but without an up-to-date infrastructure, a modern society cannot function.

In the 1980’s, scheduled scheduled flights to the smaller islands and a few other settlements were established. A bridge connects the two largest islands, Streymoy and Eysturoy, and dams over narrow straits connect Borðoy with Viðoy and Kunoy. A large number of tunnels enable traffic across the high mountains and shorten the road between the settlements.

Population development

Faroe Islands. Map of the exploration concessions SEE for the Faroe Islands. In 2001, oil and gas were found at a depth of 4275 m in area 1.

The population of the Faroe Islands tripled in the 1800’s, and the same thing happened in the 1900’s. The migrations to and from the islands have fluctuated a lot, and for several periods the emigration has been great. The 1990’s became a turbulent period in the Faroe Islands. There was a serious crisis in the country’s finances, and it affected production, the size and composition of the population, and politics. The population had its maximum in 1989 with 47,800, but decreased by 5,500 until 1995 due to large emigration, especially to Denmark. After 1995, it has progressed steadily. There has been an annual net migration of 200-400, so that the population in 2006 is over 48,000. The regional distribution of growth has been uneven; thus, Tórshavn has further strengthened its position and now has over 18,000 residents, corresponding to approximately 40% of the population. The worst has been the southern and western islands.

Faroe Islands – climate

Seen in relation to the northern location, the climate of the Faroe Islands is mild with cool summers (average for July: 11 °C) and very mild winters (average for January: 3 °C). The annual precipitation is on average more than twice as large as in Denmark (approximately 1600 mm) and distributed evenly throughout the year, however with a little more precipitation in winter. The weather is characterized by frequent shifts, but is often windy, humid and foggy.

The precipitation falls as front rain in connection with the numerous cyclones of the polar front, which most often pass the Faroe Islands from western directions. The fact that the temperature difference between summer and winter is small is due to the islands’ oceanic location, which slows down both cooling in winter and warming in summer. The Gulf Stream also contributes to the mildness of winters.

In Martin Vahl’s climate system, the Faroe Islands are located in the temperate coniferous forest belt, but there is no actual forest on the islands. On the other hand, grass has excellent growth conditions, and the large flocks of sheep thus have excellent grazing.

Faroe Islands – geology

The Faroe Islands are located on the northern part of the submarine Faroe Islands-Rockall plateau, a microcontinent completely or partially detached from Europe. The islands are made up of basaltic lava with subordinate layers of volcanic ash, clay and coal. The lava, which extends over most of the Faroe Islands-Rockall plateau, is formed for approximately 60 million years ago in connection with the incipient division between Greenland and Europe and has a cumulative layer thickness above sea level of approximately 3000 m. In addition, according to a borehole in the lower part of the exposed layer series, a further at least 2000 m below sea level.

The lava can be divided into three series. The lower series, which also includes the pierced layers, is made up of relatively uniform lava flows, usually approximately 20 m thick. After the formation of these oldest known lavas, there has been a break in the volcanic activity, where layers of clay and coal were deposited. The middle and upper series are made up of many, often quite thin lava flows with a considerable variation in the chemical composition. They often contain close-knit granules of olivine or plagioclase. During crustal movements after (and possibly already during) the formation of the lavas, these have been tilted and slightly folded, so that they slope a few degrees to the northeast, east or southeast. In Kvartær, the Faroe Islands have been covered by glaciers, and many of the characteristic shapes of the glacial landscape such as bottoms and U-shaped valleys have been developed.

The coals over the lower basalt series have been mined for domestic use, but mining has almost ceased. After large discoveries of hydrocarbons on the continental shelf north of Scotland, there is considerable interest in looking for oil and gas in the sediments that, according to geophysical studies, are below the lava.

Faroe Islands – plant life

The Faroe Islands’ vegetation is species-poor and closely related to that in Iceland and the northern part of the British Isles. Wild-growing tree species do not exist as the summer temperature is too low. Four species of shrubs occur spontaneously: mountain ones, rose hips, blue-gray willow and two-colored willow. Introduced trees and shrubs, especially conifers, are planted on some of the larger islands. The predominant type of vegetation is grassland, often with hints of heather and blueberries; on the ridges there is only a sparse vegetation of mountain plants. The most lush plant growth occurs in ravines and on rock ledges in the lowest areas and in fenced areas that are protected from sheep grazing. The Faroe Islands have approximately 400 species of vascular plants as well as 400 mosses and 250 lichens.

One has a fairly accurate knowledge of the islands’ vegetation history through studies initiated by the Geological Survey of Denmark (now GEUS – The National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) in the mid-1900’s. The Faroese flora has for the most part immigrated after the last ice age. It can be said with certainty that no forest has ever grown on the islands since the ice age. The first settlement, around 600 AD, meant partly that the cultivation of barley was introduced, partly that man introduced a large number of species. Of the approximately 400 plant species, known today from the islands, are about 60 introduced.

In 1904, the Danish Heath Society began the construction of plantations at Tórshavn of various hardy tree species, such as rowan, downy birch, species of spruce, mountain pine and larch. As the result was promising, similar plantations were later planted at other settlements. The vast majority succeeded, even though the trees are growing slowly.

Faroe Islands – wildlife

The land fauna is characterized by the islands’ isolated location: there are no reptiles and amphibians, no native species of land mammals and only a few species of other groups with poor dispersal ability. The species selection is also characterized by the sun-poor climate: heat-loving insect groups such as day butterflies and bees are lacking (although they are found in Greenland further north).

The dominant group of animals in the Faroe Islands are the birds. Although there are only 42 permanently breeding species, several species occur in very large numbers, especially on the bird cliffs along the coast. The most numerous are puffins, guillemots, alk, riding, mallemuk and sole. All of these species feed on fish or plankton.

Originally, as mentioned, land mammals are missing, but the sheep is the all-dominating domestic animal (approximately 70,000) and may even have given the islands a name. The house mouse is an introduced species. Faroese house mice are of particular interest because during the relatively short time (probably since the Viking Age), they have been in the Faroe Islands, have developed special forms, a large, long-legged form on the Mykines.

The insects are represented by almost 1000 species (against approximately 20,000 in Denmark).

The seabed around the Faroe Islands consists predominantly of solid rock and gravel; only in protected fjords and in deep water (over 100 m) is a sandy bottom frequent. The fauna of invertebrates is therefore dominated by so-called epifauna, ie. animals sitting on hard bottoms or on other animals. Dead hand coral and horse mussel are characteristic examples. The invertebrates of the sea around the Faroe Islands have been the subject of intense research since 1987 (in the joint Nordic project BIOFAR). Among the many new discoveries that have been made, the extensive coral banks as well as mass occurrences of large sea fungi are the most prominent. The most common fish are well-known species such as herring, cod, saithe, haddock, halibut, plaice and sole. Salmon are farmed in aquaculture in the fjords.

Of seals, only the gray seal is common. Whales are common around the Faroe Islands, especially the humpback whale, which occurs in larger or smaller flocks and is the subject of the traditional and much debated Faroese humpback whales. approximately 900 humpback whales annually off the Faroe Islands.

Gate killing only takes place in approved fjords, where the gate is driven all the way up the coast. Here the animals are slaughtered with a stab through the vertebrae by specially trained people. This ensures that the animals do not suffer, even though the sight of the slaughter is extremely bloody.

Faroe Islands – language

The official languages ​​are Faroese and Danish; the relationship between them is regulated by section 11 of the Home Rule Act from 1948, which states that Faroese is recognized as the main language, while Danish must be learned well and carefully and can be used on an equal footing with Faroese in public relations. When submitting appeals, a Danish translation of all files in Faroese must be included. Danish is the first foreign language from 3rd grade and mother tongue for a minority group.

Faroe Islands Geography