Activists and scientists demand political support for Europe's first wild river national park

written by Oceanographic Staff

The Vjosa River in Albania is one of Europe’s last and largest wild rivers, stretching more than 270km. Threatened by industrial interest and political uncertainty, local activists, international groups, scientists and artists have fought against an onslaught of planning for hydropower projects in the Balkans.

Ahead of the national elections on April 25, 2021, citizens, activists and conservationists are demanding political support for the establishment of Europe’s first wild river national park, ensuring it’s ongoing protection.

Vjosa River, Albania

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, there have since been signs to indicate that compromises are being made behind closed doors, and that the river is in imminent danger.

“The Vjosa miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe; it’s a gift to all of us,” said Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch. “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.

Albanian and international conservation groups such as EcoAlbania, RiverWatch and EuroNatur are calling on the public and political leaders to protect the future of the Vjosa and ensure that the proposed wild river national park remains a priority for the winning political party.

“Grassroots activism, supported by legal action, have worked to get this historic decision on the table,” said Ryan Gellert, CEO of Patagonia Works. “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.”

Recent research shows that 94% of Albanian people are in favour of establishing a wild river national park. In recent years, activists have fought against 3,400 proposed hydropower projects in the wild Balkan rivers, which would destroy the culture and ecology of the entire region.

Vjosa River, Albania

Patagonia has create a film, Vjosa Forever, asking 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. It follows the 2018 Blue Heart film and campaign, which highlighted an urgent need to protect the wild rivers of the Balkans from industry.

If the campaign is successful, it 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, home to more than 1,100 species, many of which are threatened.

“This is a moment for all Albanian citizens to feel real pride,” said Besjana Guri, communication officer at EcoAlbania. “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.”  

To take action, click here.

Photography by Andrew Burr.

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