The Blue Heart of Europe is threatened with collapse

River delta of the Morača with floodplain forests

A part of the Mora?a river delta (that flows into the Skutari lake) is massively threatened by the envisaged hydropower plant. Equally under threat are its extensive and unique soft-wood water meadows. In the background are the Albanian Alps.

© Ulrich Schwarz, Fluvius

Two recent studies attest to the natural treasures of the Balkan rivers for the first time

Massive enlargement of hydro-electric power plants planned


Press information from 16 May 2012

Radolfzell.   “There is acute danger that the “Blue Heart“ of Europe, a unique European natural heritage that has evolved over a million years, may be destroyed in one blow “, warns Gabriel Schwaderer, general manager of the Conservation Trust EuroNatur, active all over Europe. Nowhere in Europe except here in the Balkans can such a number of natural, still untouched riverscapes be found. Until now these natural treasures were unknown even in expert circles. Two studies commissioned by EuroNatur and the Austrian Conservation Association ECA Watch have now for the first time provided evidence of the ecological significance of these rivers covering all countries of the former Yugoslavia, Albania and the areas in the triangle between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey where rivers cross borders. Nearly one third of these life lines are still in their pristine state, almost unchanged by man. Two thirds of the rivers are in unmarred state in Albania and Macedonia. By comparison: in Germany only 10 per cent of the rivers are considered close to a natural state as against 60 per cent highly regulated.

A hotspot of biodiversity in Europe

The “Blue Heart of Europe” can still be seen as a hotspot of diversity.
It is home to more than half of Europe`s endangered sweet water molluscs and 28 per cent of all Europe`s endangered sweet water fish species, among them the Adriatic oyster and Adriatic trout. In addition, this region is remarkable for the particularly high density of endemic fish species: 69 fish species alone can only be found here in the Balkans (south of the Danube and north of Greece). Some of them are only to be found in a few of the rivers here. Even minor acts of interference in their habitats can trigger the rapid extinction of these highly sensitive species, pearls in the precious natural heritage of Europe. But precisely this sensitive and unique diversity is facing a radical attack from the hydroelectric power lobby.

Radical attack by the hydroelectric power lobby

Almost all the Balkan rivers are marked out for reconstruction to produce hydroelectric power. Research carried out by EuroNatur and ECA Watch shows that more than 573 major hydroelectric plants (with over one megawatt output) are planned. A complete network of innumerable smaller sites will be linked with these. Even highly ranked protected areas will not get away unscathed. For instance the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development EBRD is supporting the construction of a major dam for the purposes of producing hydroelectric power within the second oldest and largest national park in Macedonia, the Mavrovo national park. The river Sava, one of Central Europe`s last untouched river systems, is one of the more well-known victims-to-be of these plans. Over 100 hydroelectric power plants with dams are planned – both on the main river and on its tributaries. “Once these intact river systems are destroyed the accompanying loss of biodiversity for Europe can never be reversed, nor compensated for with counterbalancing measures!” states Ulrich Eichelmann, coordinator at ECA Watch.

Background information:

  • The studies „Balkan Rivers – The Blue Heart of Europe. Hydro-morphological Status and Dam Projects“ and „Threatened freshwater fishes and molluscs of the Balkan – Potential impacts of hydropower projects) were financially sponsored by the Swiss Mava Trust. 


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