Assignment of protected status for the Vjosa River valley according to international (IUCN) protected area standards

The IUCN Guidelines for the Application of Protected Area Management Categories are the recognized international standard for the designation of protected areas. They form the basis for legislation and regulating activities surrounding protection and aid in the planning, creation and management of national parks and all other categories of protected area. This report was submitted in support of EcoAlbania’s application in 2021 for the creation of a National Park (IUCN category-II protected area) along the entire course of the Vjosa river.

In line with the Albanian government’s designation of the Vjosa river in January 2022 as a IUCN category-IV Nature Park, and not the National Park demanded by environmental organizations and almost 50,000 signatories to EcoAlbania’s “Make the Vjosa a National Park Now” petition, this report is useful in clarifying the threats currently faced by the river and explains the IUCN protected area category models still considered most appropriate for the creation of Europe’s first “Wild River National Park”.

The floodplains of the Vjosa provide some of the most magnificent riparian ecosystems in the Balkan region and the entire course of the river is home to countless endangered and endemic species. This unique natural state would be irreversibly destroyed by the construction of planned hydropower projects. This report confirms that the Vjosa River valley meets the IUCN definition of a protected area, currently faces the threat of destruction, and that the upper and middle sections would most appropriately be protected by a IUCN category-II designation. Current government plans to build an airport in the Narta protected area near the Vjosa delta would irreparably damage the lower section of the river, reinforcing the importance of the demand to designate the entire length of the river a National Park.