Vatnsfjörður was legally declared a nature reserve in 1975 and is part of the land owned by the head estate Brjánslækur. In accordance with nature reserve regulations, conventional utilization of the land is permitted and there is considerable sheep farming in the area which covers approximately 20 hectares of mostly rough vegetation .
At the western boundary of the nature reserve is the river Þverá; from there the boundary runs north to the ancient glacier Gláma, roughly following the watershed past Hornatær mountain and the Dynjandisheið moor. From Gláma it falls south to Þingmannaheiði moor and southwest to the Hörgsnes tip, which marks the mouth of the fjord in the east.
Lakes and ponds are numerous on the reserve with Lake Vatnsdalsvatn being the largest, with an area of two square kilometers.
The bedrock in this territory is a part of the Tertiary Basalt Formation and probably dates back 10-13 million years. The landscape has been shaped and molded by ice age glaciers; it contains U-shaped valleys and glacial striae. The rocky pinnacles of Hornatær tower over the fjord from the west and stand at more than 700 meters above sea level. Glacial dikes are common in the area and geothermal heat extracted from the area has been used to heat swimming pools.
Climate and tourism
In Vatnsfjörður, the climate is mild for Iceland and summers are pleasantly warm an important spot for excursions around Vestfirðir, the West Fjords. It is a 90-minute drive from Vatnsfjörður to the Látrabjarg birdcliffs, the valley of Selárdalur and the town of Ísafjörður, while Vatnsfjörður to the Dynjandi waterfall takes 30 minutes by car. A boat trip to the island of Flatey on the ferry Baldur takes an hour.
Vatnsfjörður has quite a diverse number of species, though the number of individuals of each species is particularly low although wasps are known to be abundant in the area.
Approximately 20 species of birds inhabit the nature reserve. The Eider duck is a common sight on the fjord and the Harlequin duck is common in April and May, but by midsummer the Red-throated loon is the most widespread. Sea eagles and gerfalcons are frequently spotted but they rarely nest on the nature reserve. Wood mice, Arctic foxes and mink roam the area. Seals inhabit the reefs, by the Hörgsnes peninsula. Salmon are found in the river Vatnsdalsá, and trout in the lake Vatnsdalsvatn.
Birch is the most dominant plant in the region, and in places is quite tall. Rowan and willow trees grow in the area. Wood Cranesbill is plentiful. Juniper and ferns are more common here than in most other areas of Barðaströnd. Plants typical of heath communities abound, especially Bilberry. On the rocky moors the various lichens and mosses complement each other in colorful picturesque scenery. Like elsewhere in Breiðafjörður, the ebb tide is considerable and a variety of algae and small aquatic creatures can be found on the rocky beach.
In Flókalundur a hotel is operated during the summer, along with a petrol station and a camping site with sanitary facilities. There are also summerhouses and a swimming pool, with hot water deriving from the geothermal borehole to a pool by the seashore. Fish farming is practiced adjacent to the river Þverá and, at times, tourists can occasionally buy fishing permits for the ponds. Fishing licenses for Vatnsdalsá and Vatnsdalsvatn are sold in Flókalundur and Brjánslækur.
A ranger from the Nature Conservation Agency lives in the park during the summer providing information on the region, in addition to organizing walks and hikes.