Vjosa: Environmental groups submit proposal for Europe’s first Wild River National Park

++ Because of the Albanian government's inaction, nature conservation organisations are now taking action ++ Vjosa National Park could become a reality in 2023 ++

Albanian people demonstrate for the protection of Vjosa River

According to an opinion poll, 94% of Albanians are in favour of a Vjosa National Park.

© Adrian Guri
Sandbank at the Vjosa in Albania

Pronounced sandbanks characterise the Vjosa, especially in its middle reaches. According to the plans of the Albanian government, this particularly valuable section of the river is not to be protected.

© Gernot Kunz

Tirana, Radolfzell, Vienna. Today, February 10th, 20 Albanian environmental organisations under the direction of EcoAlbania submitted a detailed proposal for the creation of the Vjosa National Park to the Minister of Tourism and Environment Blendi Klosi. Their cause is supported by the international organizations Riverwatch, EuroNatur, WWF Adria, Wetlands International Europe, International Rivers and The Nature Conservancy.

The group of NGOs feel compelled to take this step since Albanian government representatives have been announcing the national park for months, but have not taken any steps towards its implementation. On the contrary: "According to our information, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment is not planning to establish a national park, but only a landscape protected area and only for the upper reaches of the Vjosa. The ecologically most valuable section of the river – which is also the area where the hydropower plants are planned – is to remain completely unprotected. Therefore, we decided to act and submit a complete proposal. Now we will see what our government really wants: power plants or a national park", says Olsi Nika from the NGO EcoAlbania.

According to the 16-page proposal, the national park should meet IUCN standards and encompass the entire Vjosa River in Albania as well as the free-flowing tributaries such as the Bënçe or the Shushica. In total, the proposed Vjosa National Park will cover about 45,000 hectares and protect about 300 kilometers of flowing waters. This would be unique in Europe and the Vjosa could become Europe's first Wild River National Park. 

So far, 1,175 animal and plant species have been recorded along the Vjosa, including 119 species protected under Albanian law and 39 species that are listed in the IUCN International Red List of Threatened Species. In fact, the number of rare species is probably much higher, as large areas of the Vjosa and its tributaries have hardly been explored.

A National Park according to IUCN criteria is the most suitable protection category for the Vjosa, because it not only best guarantees the protection of this unique landscape, but also because it is aimed at developing nature-compatible ecotourism as well as environmental education.

"Everyone would benefit from the Vjosa National Park: the Vjosa itself, its animals and plants, as well as the people of the region. A national park would also give them an economic perspective that neither a landscape protected area nor any other category of protection can guarantee," says Ulrich Eichelmann from the nature conservation organization Riverwatch.

According to an analysis by the environmental groups, it would take two years to plan the national park. During this time, the population should be included in the process and details such as the exact zoning must be clarified. In 2023, Europe's first wild river National Park could be officially opened.

“We support the Albanian conservationists in their demand for a national park. This river deserves the highest protection category and no dams! Anything less than a national park would be inappropriate for the Vjosa. This last big wild river in Europe is of international importance. Now it's the turn of the Minister of Tourism and Environment," says Annette Spangenberg, head of projects at EuroNatur.

The Ministry of Tourism and Environment now needs to examine our proposal and ultimately, it could officially initiate the protection procedure.


Backgound information:

  • Download the proposal for the creation of a Vjosa National Park HERE
  • The Vjosa is the last wild river in Europe. The Albanian government plans to build several dams, two of which are planned in its middle course. The alternative vision is the creation of the first Wild River National Park in Europe, which was previously introduced by organizations, part of the campaign to protect the Vjosa.
  • 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 organisations in the Balkan countries. The local partner in Albania is EcoAlbania. For more information: https://balkanrivers.net/
  • This campaign is supported by, among others: The foundation Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung

For Additional Information contact:

  • Anja Arning, EuroNatur | anja.arning(at)euronatur.org | +49 7732 – 927213
  • Cornelia Wieser, Riverwatch | cornelia.wieser(at)riverwatch.eu | +43 650 4544784
  • Besjana Guri, EcoAlbania | b.guri(at)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 protect rivers in Europe.

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

The Albanian village of Kutë goes solar

After a fund-raising campaign, solar panels are being fitted on the roofs of public buildings in the village of Kutë on the Vjosa river. They have…

Bern Convention targets crimes against nature

Dams, power plants, airports: numerous complaints from nature conservation organizations against destructive projects in the Balkans

Award for Slovenian river conservationist

The biologist Andreja Slameršek was awarded the Wolfgang Staab Nature Conservation Prize on 11th November, a recognition of her tireless campaigning…

Still a long way to go for Western Balkan states

EU Commission presents country reports on accession candidates

Demand: EIB has to improve environmental and social standards

The European Investment Bank has financed a series of damaging hydropower projects since 2010 which underline the need to tighten its environmental…

Two studies for the restoration of the Sava River and its floodplain published

Two brand-new studies for the revitalization of the Sava River and its floodplain have been published presented to key stakeholders from 19 to 22…

Goldman Environmental Prize for the “Brave Women of Kruščica”

++ River defenders from Bosnia and Herzegovina win the Goldman Environmental Prize ++ For the second time in the past three years an activist has has…

Science week at the Vjosa tributaries

++ 35 scientists from Austria, Albania, Italy and Germany assess the two major Vjosa tributaries for a week ++ Data will be used to fight planned…

Plans for Kalivaç dam finally shelved

Great news for the Albanian Vjosa: The Kalivaç dam, which for many years hovered like a sword of Damocles over Europe's last great wild river, will…

EU funds for the destruction of nature?

For years, EuroNatur and its partner organisations have been fighting against the controversial Mokrice hydropower plant on the Sava River. The…

Bird paradise in Albania threatened by construction of an airport

++ An airport is to be built in the Narta Lagoon on the Adriatic ++ A stopover site of major international importance for migratory water birds ++ 8th…

Pressure continues for a Vjosa National Park as new government forms in Albania

The election may be over, but the fight for the Vjosa is not.

Webinar on legal instruments for river protection

In order to accelerate the development of hydropower in Europe, mandatory legal procedures and environmental impact assessment requirements are often…

Even one dam can destroy the river

A recently published study summarises the value of the Vjosa River system as one of the few remaining reference sites for dynamic floodplains in…

Activists demand European political support for a Vjosa National Park in Albania

++ The new slogan, Vjosa National Park Now, is a plea to protect Europe’s last big wild river ++