By Dan Coles
An entire country has been forced to close its doors to visitors – after thousands of tourists desperate for Instagram-worthy photos wore away miles of pathways.
The Faroe Islands made a desperate appeal for international assistance after an influx of tourists left parts of the tiny islands in desperate need of repair.
The islands – located in the North Atlantic Ocean, and technically a part of the Kingdom of Denmark – temporarily declared themselves closed at the end of April 2019.
During the closure, a 100-strong team of international volunteers were drafted in and offered free accommodation in return for creating new paths, and building signs.
Their main brief was improving access to tourist spots made famous on Instagram.
Content and Communications manager for the national tourism board ‘Visit Faroe Islands’, Levvy Hanssen said: “We have seen an increase by 10% of tourism, which has had an impact on popular areas of the Faroe islands, with some areas experience deterioration.
“We wanted to do something about this and maintain the area for locals and visitors alike, but we needed to be proactive and not wait for further problems to occur.
“Because of this, we decided to recruit 100 volunteers who would be happy to help us run vital maintenance on the islands, which allows visitors to see the beauty of the many tourist attractions that we all see on Instagram.
Bristol-born dad-of-one, Robert Longstaff, 37, was part of the volunteer team.
Robert said: “We didn’t know what to expect but we knew it was going to be physical work, we had a team of 10 and we were all working on different trails – our trail was from the capital to the village of Kirkjubour.”
“The locals were great, they donated weather worthy clothes to keep us warm whilst out helping.
“One of the locals opened up their home where we could stay and indulged us in the local foods.
“We were rebuilding cairns, which are markers to let people know where they are going when visiting the islands, we also did some light work in trenches releasing water.
“The first day was quite slow because we were still learning how to help, there wasn’t any training, but everyone was happy to pitch in.”
The closure took place from April 26 to April 28, in a move that would see the area made more friendly to the 60,000 tourists that choose to visit the islands every year.
Thousands of applicants applied for the voluntary positions and 100 people were selected between the ages of 18 and 75 to fly to the region, including Irish, English, Danish and Norwegian selfless helpers.
Robert said: “We had a hugely diverse group of people, and from all different backgrounds, we had a father and daughter duo, mountaineers, and we all had the same end goal.”
Once arriving, volunteers were split into groups and assigned areas to work on throughout the day, covering as much ground into the Tolkienesque mountains and weathered patches of land as they could.
One of the teams was immediately assigned to the village of Kirkjubour, at one of the more important historical sites on the island of Streymoy.
Robert said: “We covered the 7km stretch between these two places, we were worried we wouldn’t finish it in time but by the second day we were well on track and managed to get it all finished.”
Other volunteers remained focused on a range of projects including constructing viewpoints to help preserve nature and protect birdlife sanctuaries.
The island now plans to close again in 2020 for the team to repair any further damage.
Robert said: “The locals were quite sceptical at first, they’re fully behind tourism but they want the right type of tourism.
“Ultimately, they want more tourism, but the location makes it difficult, so this drive was a great way to increase tourism in a way that helped the area prepare for more visitors to travel there.”