Albania Faced with a Choice: National Park or Destruction of the Vjosa River

The future of Europe’s largest unspoilt river hangs in the balance

River bend on the natural Vjosa

Vjosa is the largest wild river in Europe outside of Russia, if protected, it would be Europe’s first Wild River National Park.

© Andrew Burr
People are protesting against dam projects at the Vjosa

Local activists and international groups stand up for a wild Vjosa and demand a Vjosa National Park Now.

© Oblak Aljaz

Tirana, Radolfzell, Vienna. The Vjosa, Europe’s largest wild river outside of Russia, faces its greatest danger yet, due to political uncertainty and opportunistic greed. Ahead of upcoming Albanian parliamentary elections, citizens, activists and conservationists are demanding political support for the establishment of Europe’s first wild river national park, thus protecting it forever.

As part of this action, today sees the launch of Vjosa Forever, a new documentary short film asking people everywhere to join the fight to preserve the future of the Vjosa.

For more than 10 years, local activists, international groups, scientists and artists have fought against a ‘tsunami’ of planned hydropower projects in the Balkans. In September 2020, Albanian politicians publicly announced the establishment of a Vjosa wild river national park, which would protect the entire network of tributaries. However, since then, local citizens and activists have become increasingly alarmed that, behind closed doors, compromises are being made, and, in fact, the river is in imminent danger.

With national elections on 25 April 2021, Albanian and international nature conservation groups such as EcoAlbania, Riverwatch and EuroNatur are calling on the public and political leaders to enshrine the future of the Vjosa and make this wild river national park a major priority for any winning party. Recent research shows that 94 percent of Albanian people are in favour of establishing this wild river national park.

If successful, this will be Europe’s first wild river national park and unparalleled in Europe in terms of ecological importance and scale. The designation would protect over 300km of rivers and streams, host to over 1,100 species, many of which are considered threatened.

The launch of Vjosa Forever follows the 2018 Blue Heart film and campaign which depicted the fight to protect the wild rivers of the Balkans – the ‘Blue Heart’ of Europe – from 3,400 proposed hydropower projects which would destroy the culture and ecology of this entire region. Within the Blue Heart, the Vjosa is the largest and most untamed river system.

The six-minute film, created by Patagonia, asks concerned citizens everywhere to show their support for a Vjosa wild river national park and bring international attention to the environmental disaster that could ensue if it remains unprotected.

Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia Works, says: “Grassroots activism, supported by legal action, have worked to get this historic decision on the table. Now is the time for Albanian politicians to step up. They will be doing something that’s never been done before and protecting this last, pristine river system, forever.”

Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO, Riverwatch, says: “The Vjosa miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe; it´s a gift to all of us. And it is, therefore, not only an Albanian responsibility to protect it, but also a European responsibility. This wild river national park would be an immense achievement for conservation efforts in Europe, and, at an EU level, it will make a real and significant contribution to the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU Green Deal.”

Besjana Guri, Communications Officer, EcoAlbania says: “This is a moment for all Albanian citizens to feel real pride. Not only are we protecting our country, our culture and our future, but, in the Vjosa, we have something of precious beauty that is unparalleled in Europe.”

Annette Spangenberg, Head of Project Unit, EuroNatur, says: “You will hardly find another river in Europe that deserves to be a national park more than the Vjosa. No other protection category will do this river justice. A weaker category that keeps the backdoor open for further hydropower projects cannot be the solution.”


Background information:
• The full film “Vjosa Forever” is available on youtube and can be embedded/ shared externally.
• The "Save the Blue Heart of Europe" campaign aims to protect rivers of high natural value in the Balkans, which are threatened by over 3,400 hydropower projects. The campaign is coordinated by the international NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and is implemented jointly with partner organizations in the Balkan countries. The local partner in Albania is EcoAlbania. For more information https://balkanrivers.net/
• The “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign is supported amongst others by the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung
• About Patagonia: Patagonia is in business to save our home planet. Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia is an outdoor apparel company based in Ventura, California. A certified B-Corporation, the company is recognized internationally for its commitment to product quality and environmental activism—and its contributions of more than $110 million in grants and in-kind donations to date.

For further information, images and to request interviews, please contact:
• Anja Arning, EuroNatur | anja.arning(at)euronatur.org | +49 7732 927213
• Ulrich Eichelmann, Riverwatch | ulrich.eichelmann@riverwatch.eu | +43 676 6621512
• Besjana Guri, EcoAlbania | b.guri@ecoalbania.org | +355 69 2954214

How you can help

Donation

Future needs nature. EuroNatur cares for it. Please use your possibilities to help. With your donation you will make an effective contribution to a more livable environment.

Sustaining membership

EuroNatur focuses on long-term nature conservation projects instead of quick fixes. With your regular donations, you give us the planning security we need.

News

New Brown bear project just started

An important step for the protection of the Dinaric-Pindos bear population: In close cooperation with our partners in the Balkans and the Italian…

Putin's war of aggression and the EU’s Energy Crisis

Russia invaded Ukraine. Our blog-author Bruna Campos is still shocked by what is happening. War is sickening and there is never an excuse to start…

Bird conservationists campaign for a safe Adriatic Flyway

++ Bird migration is in full swing ++ Every year, thousands of migratory birds are killed illegally in the Balkans ++ 4th Adriatic Flyway Conference…

World Water Day 2022 - Groundwater: The Liver of our Rivers

The theme of this year’s World Water Day is “making the invisible visible” with a special emphasis on the importance of groundwater.

Hydropower as a climate saviour? A myth long outdated

River valleys are fertile habitats for humans and animals. Destroying them – to generate supposedly climate-friendly hydropower – has nothing to do…

Four Cinereous Vultures poisoned in Bulgaria

Tragedy for nature conservation in Bulgaria: Several released Cinereous Vultures were poisoned near the village of Ticha. A bitter setback for the…

Bird Flu at Lake Prespa, Greece

The H5N1 avian influenza, or ‘bird flu’, virus has been particularly rampant this winter. The death of thousands of cranes in the Hula Valley in…

Can forests really be all things to all people?

We have high expectations of our forests. They should provide diverse habitats, fulfil our wildly-romantic desires, act as carbon sinks and, at the…

Illegal logging of Romania’s natural forests increases despite court threat

New data reveal that the destruction of the EU’s last large remaining primary and old-growth forests in Romania is continuing unabated.

BESTbelt - More power for the European Green Belt

++ EU-funded project „BESTbelt“ starts with calls to proposals ++ Initiative aims to make it easier for local nature conservation organisations…

Last Webinar on White Storks

The four-part webinar series on "Human impacts on the ecology of the white stork" is coming to an end. The last event will take place on Saturday, 19 …

EuroNatur starts new energy transition blog

Are nuclear and gas really sustainable energy sources? The proposals announced by the EU Commission on New Year’s Eve have now come into effect:…

Airport construction in Albania threatens to destroy important wetland area

++ Albanian government planning to build airport in Narta Lagoon ++ Possible revision to boundary of Vjosa-Narta protected area ++ 2nd February is…

Major blow to Bosnia hydropower project as Germany’s KfW drops financing plans

German development bank KfW has today confirmed that it has dropped plans to finance the controversial Janjići hydropower plant on the river Bosna in…

Increase in bat numbers in the winter roost

Bat conservationists have been taking advantage of the cold weather to count the winter roosts of greater mouse-eared bats and other species. It was…