Organized soil conservation in Iceland began in 1907, as a response to severe land degradation and desertification that was threatening the existence of several communities. During the first 75 years, many of the most threatening areas of accelerated soil erosion were fenced and seeded with sand stabilizers. These projects had a high success rate, halting the advancement of sand dunes and other forms of highly accelerated erosion. However, they were limited in scope, and often concentrated on the symptoms of the problems rather than the underlying causes, such as improper grazing management. On a national scale, not enough was being achieved in mitigating the extensive ecosystem degradation. This period of soil conservation in Iceland was characterized by single-issue, top-down approaches, a lack of appropriate incentives for soil conservation and weak laws for protection of the rangelands. During the last two decades there has been a gradual shift to more participatory strategies, community involvement, and ecosystem management for multiple benefits. These changes have greatly increased community involvement in projects, stimulated conservation awareness and improved land use. The ties between agricultural policy and soil-conservation issues are also being strengthened, especially by linking part of governmental subsidies for sheep production to land-use factors. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.