Save the blue heart of Europe

One of the last wild beauties of Europe: the River Vjosa.

© Goran Safarek

Macedonia’s Mavrovo National Park threatened by hydropower projects

More than a hundred scientists protest against the funding by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

Press release from 13 January 2014

 

Radolfzell, Vienna.   One of Europe’s oldest national parks is in danger: two large hydropower plants are to be built in Macedonia’s Mavrovo National Park with the help of international funding. Both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) plan to fund these projects. But now objections are being raised. 119 environmental scientists from around the world, including such well-known names as Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Michael Succow, Georg Grabherr (Austria’s scientist of the year) and a large number of experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are protesting about the plans.  The scientists’ protests are in support of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, started by the nature conservation NGOs EuroNatur und Riverwatch.
 
Last Friday the presidents of the World Bank and the EBRD received an open letter from internationally renowned environmental scientists objecting to their planned funding of the two hydropower projects in Macedonia’s Mavrovo National Park. “National parks are areas set aside to protect large-scale ecosystems from human interference. As such, they are absolute no-go areas for large-scale dams or any other destructive forms of land use,” the scientists say in their letter.

Wolves, bears and otters live in the mountain landscape of the Mavrovo National Park and more than 1000 plant species grow there. But its most interesting resident is the Balkan lynx, a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx. Today there are only around 50 of these rare cats in existence, and until now only the Mavrovo National Park population has shown evidence of reproduction. Building these dams could mean the end for the Balkan lynx.

But this is not just about protecting the Mavrovo National Park; these projects undermine the protection provided by National Park everywhere. “These projects are an attack on the Europe´s most relevant protected area category, an attack on the National Park trademark as such. And this is another reason why we have to stop these projects…”, says Gabriel Schwaderer, executive director of EuroNatur.

EuroNatur and Riverwatch have analysed the conservation value of 36,000 kilometres of rivers in southern Europe and have undertaken to protect at least the most valuable rivers and stretches of water, in particular from the construction of new hydropower plants. The core areas, where the two organisations are concentrating their efforts, are the Vjosa River in Albania, the Sava River in Slovenia and Croatia and the Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia.

Background:

  • The Balkans in south eastern Europe is the last large European region where watercourses are still predominantly intact. In the countries bordering the eastern Adriatic and in Serbia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and some parts of Greece, to this day one can still find pristine streams, untouched gorges, extensive alluvial forests and rivers with huge gravel bars and spectacular waterfalls. This is where the blue heart of Europe beats. A study produced by Riverwatch and EuroNatur  showed that more than 80% of these watercourses have good or very good ecological status. Yet this blue heart is threatened with a coronary: 570 medium-sized and large hydropower plants are planned, funded mostly by international banks and companies, most of them from Europe. These are being planned with no consideration for the value of the rivers or the flora and fauna.  To prevent this happening, Riverwatch and EuroNatur have started a campaign to “Save the blue heart of Europe”. Together with local partner organisations they hope to protect the most ecologically valuable rivers and stretches of water in the region from being built on and from the most environmentally damaging hydropower projects.

Further information:

Romy Durst (EuroNatur): romy.durst@euonatur.org, www.euronatur.org/Blue-Heart-of-Europe.1329.0.html

Ulrich Eichelmann (Riverwatch): ulrich.eichelmann@riverwatch.eu

Web: riverwatch.eu/balkan-rivers






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