Our success stories

We stand up for Europe's nature!

There is still a lot of work for us to do but, together with our partner organisations across Europe and with the support of many EuroNatur donors, we have achieved a great deal for the preservation of Europe's natural treasures over the years. On this page you will find highlights of some of our achievements from over 35 years of conservation work.

Vjosa Wild River National Park in Albania

wild river with gravels

The Vjosa, Queen of the Balkan Rivers, is finally protected as a National Park.

© Gregor Subic

EuroNatur and its partners fought for over ten years for this moment: in court, with petitions as well as in talks with government officials and the local population.  And, on 15 March 2023, the Vjosa became Europe’s first Wild River National Park. As a result, the entire Vjosa River in Albania, from the Greek border to the Adriatic Sea including its main tributaries - a river system totalling more than 400 kilometres in length - was awarded the highest category of protection. This is something unique in Europe.

This Wild River National Park is not only a milestone for the Vjosa and Albania, but for river conservation in Europe as a whole. On 15 March, Albania sent an important signal to the world: We must and we can protect our remaining wild rivers on a large scale.

Ulrich Eichelmann Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of our partner organisation, Riverwatch

A long road

Before we started out on our campaign to protect the Vjosa, there was hardly any talk of how valuable this unspoilt river is - or how endangered. Ten hydropower plants were to be built on the Vjosa. By rallying civil society, undertaking numerous scientific studies, and engaging in intensive media and lobbying work at national and European level, we were able to attract the attention the river needed. This enabled us to stop several dams from being built in the first years of the campaign, and later, we laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Vjosa National Park.

Vjosa National Park - Never given up!

Screenshot Vjosa NP EcoAlbania
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This incredibly joyful development for the Vjosa gives local people the opportunity to build a secure and sustainable livelihood, for example through nature-based tourism. It also shows that nature conservation must be thought of in the long term in order to achieve ambitious goals.

Tara Sukic Tara Sukic, Project Manager EuroNatur

Press review

Edi Rama, Ryan Gellert, Mirela Kumbaro

A celebratory moment: (From left to right) Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert and Albanian Environment Minister Mirela Kumbaro after the declaration of the Vjosa Wild River National Park in Tepelena, Albania.

© Anika Konsek/EuroNatur

The national and international press also reported on this huge achievement. Here is a small selection:

Ulcinj Salina: a nature reserve instead of a luxury resort

Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro

Ulcinj Salina is one oft the most important wetlands on the Adriatic. Its long-term protection is a great success for us and our partners.

Thanks to the tireless work of EuroNatur and our partners, Ulcinj Salina is protected both at a national and international level. The development plans are off the table and the salina has been preserved as one of the most important wetlands on the Adriatic. In late summer 2023, our partners also began revitalising the Ulcinj salt pans.

Salt pans on the Adriatic

Ulcinj Salina covers an area of almost 1,500 hectares near the town of Ulcinj in southern Montenegro. It is particularly valuable and unique in the eastern Adriatic region due to its size and high biodiversity. The salt pans are a breeding ground for around 60 bird species and the most important wintering and resting area along the Adriatic Flyway for countless migratory birds. Among them are flamingos, black-winged stilts and the very rare Dalmatian pelicans, which forage in the shallow waters. The Ulcinj Salina is also home to many endangered species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and plants.

Opaque machinations

Dilapidated dikes lead to flooding

Since the abandonment of salt mining in the Ulcinj salt works, dilapidated dams and dykes have repeatedly caused flooding. As a result, the former salt basins have become sweetened.

Plants spread in the salt works

Due to the low salt content, new plant species have spread in the saltworks and are causing unwanted growth in the pools.

© Janinka Lutze

From the start of salt extraction in 1935, Ulcinj Salina provided work for up to 400 people. After privatisation in 2005, however, the salt works were systematically run down. This led to the salt works being closed eight years later and all the salt workers being made redundant. As the disused infrastructure (including dykes, pumps and canals) was barely maintained, the ecological condition of the salt works deteriorated dramatically. The finely adjusted water balance no longer pertained: in summer, large areas dried out, while in winter the salt concentration in the water in the salt ponds became too low due to dilution by rainfall - a catastrophe for saltwater-loving species.

At the beginning of our campaign work in Ulcinj Salina in 2017, this area on the Adriatic was neither legally protected nor was it clear exactly which areas had been privatised by the dubious Eurofond consortium in 2005. However, the plans of the consortium, which had close ties to Montenegro's long-time Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, were well-known: the salt pans were to be developed into a gigantic luxury resort with mass tourism hotels and marinas.

Together with our Montenegrin and international project partners, we campaigned against these plans. In 2019, we were able to celebrate our first major success: Ulcinj Salina was declared a nature park. This national protection paved the way for the saltworks also to be designated at an international level as a Ramsar site. A milestone for EuroNatur and its international and Montenegrin partners, who have been campaigning for the protection of this bird paradise for 15 years.

We know that EuroNatur has been constantly at our side supporting us for over 20 years in our great endeavours for Ulcinj Salina! This has been a very important contribution to our organisation, the saltworks and also the people of Ulcinj.

Marija Soskic by the water Marija Šoškić, CZIP

For salt. For birds. For people.

However, until the ownership issue was resolved, it was difficult to find an investor to restore and operate the salt works. In July 2022, we finally achieved certainty when the entire site of the Ulcinj salt works was entered into the land register of the city of Ulcinj as state land.

In the late summer of 2023, after a few more obstacles were placed in the way of our partners and EuroNatur, actual restoration measures could finally be undertaken. Excavators removed soil from the salt basins over a length of 6.6 kilometres and piled it up to form new dams. Parallel to the excavation work, the most important sluices and pumps were also repaired so that the pumping out of fresh water in winter and the pumping in of salt water in spring could operate again and restore the flow of water between the individual basins of the salt pans.

Restoration measures in Ulcinj Salina

Two excavators and a wheel loader are restoring a dam at Ulcinj Salina.
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When I look back over the last two years, all the stress and problems seem small compared to the results achieved. All is still not well at Ulcinj Salina, but the feeling of having made a contribution to the preservation of this important ecosystem gives my colleagues and me the strength to persevere and continue our mission.

Ksenija Medenica, CZIP Programme Director
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