Press Release

Major milestone is reached in work towards Vjosa Wild River National Park as the team of experts delivers Feasibility Study

The Vjosa River in Albania, one of the last wild rivers of Europe, is one major step closer to protection today as the team of Albanian and international experts working to create Vjosa Wild River National Park presented their vision, roadmap, and feasibility study to the Albanian Government.

This document provides the technical proposal for the permanent protection of the Vjosa River and its free-flowing tributaries, under IUCN Category II level standards. Following its presentation, there will be one month of public consultation with the declaration of phase I of the Vjosa Wild River National Park expected in Spring 2023.

The feasibility study is the result of six months of extensive fieldwork and in-depth analysis by a team of over 30 experts in areas such as eco-tourism, geomorphology, ecology, planning and management of protected areas, sustainable financing of national parks, legislation, and social and environmental impact assessment. Consultation with interest groups, as well as public communication, is also incorporated into the study. The team of experts involved includes local and international coordinators, plus representatives of IUCN, Patagonia and EcoAlbania.

The document focuses on the long-term protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Vjosa Basin through analysis, recommendations, and proposals of models to enable environmental management, as well as the development of ‘green tourism’ and forms of sustainable agricultural development in the territories along the Vjosa and its tributaries.

Vjosa river, Tepelena (c) Besjana Guri

The experts have documented a technical proposal for the declaration of the Vjosa Wild River National Park, which will be implemented in two phases. Phase I will include the active channel of the river, plus some lands and river vegetation within the active channel, or at risk of flooding or erosion – over 400km in total length. Phase II will add areas that are flooded every 30 to 50 years and some private land, following consultation with stakeholders.

The proposal includes the development of a concept for the management structure of the park, with the aim of serving as a model for other national parks in Albania and creating a new model of river protection globally. Included is the definition of the boundary for the first phase of the National Park declaration, and the vision for its expansion in the second phase.

As a next step, the National Agency for Protected Areas (NAPA), under the auspices of the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment, will conduct a series of public consultations, throughout the 12 municipalities where Vjosa and its free-flowing rivers lie, including Vlora, Tepelena and Gjirokastër. In parallel, the supporting study and the proposal for phase I of the Vjosa Wild River National Park declaration will be consulted with ministries and agencies with activities related to this area. Following these official consultations, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment will provide a detailed proposal for Phase I to the Council of Ministers, for final approval. Declaration of Phase I of Vjosa Wild River National Park, to IUCN Category II level standard, is expected in Spring 2023.


Link to the feasibility study in English and Albanian here.

 About the Vjosa River in Albania

The Vjosa River in Albania is one of the last big, wild rivers in Europe, outside of Russia. The river and its tributaries flow freely from the mountains in Greece to the Adriatic coast in Albania. This wilderness area is made up of an enormous mosaic of different habitat types, from the narrow gorges in the upper part, to the wide braided river sections in the middle part, to the near-natural delta at the Adriatic Sea. The middle stretch alone is made up of at least eight habitat types that have the highest conservation importance, at EU level.

The surrounding watershed provides the villages with fertile land for agricultural activities such as crop production and livestock farming. The abundance and diversity of fish is vital for the well-being of local fishermen, mostly in the lower part of the Vjosa. Eco-tourism on the Vjosa and its tributaries is ever-increasing, particularly in recent years as enthusiasts have started to enjoy activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.


About Vjosa Wild River National Park

In June 2022, Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister for Tourism and Environment Mirela Kumbaro, and Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert signed a memorandum of understanding which states that the Albanian Government and Patagonia will work together to upgrade the protection level of the basin and the river ecosystem of the Vjosa River and its free-flowing tributaries to the IUCN Category II Level National Park.

Involved in this work are Albanian and international NGOs from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, including EcoAlbania, RiverWatch and EuroNatur.

This is a major step closer to establishing Europe’s first-ever Wild River National Park and safeguarding one of the last undisturbed rivers of Europe, forever.




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Actus for Vjosa: From Albania to Greece, a tribute to one of the last wild rivers in Europe

Close to its establishment as National Park, the Vjosa river cause continues to inspire worldwide organizations, environmentalists, artists, youngsters, and many people – bringing closely to our conscience the message of love, responsibility and care to nature and its masterpieces.

“ACTUS, for Vjosa”, a wonderful choreographic tribute to the wild beauty of the Vjosa river performed its premiere at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Tirana, Albania. 

The performance transmitted strong emotions to the Albanian audience, and continued its journey to Ioannina, Greece bringing special attention also the preservation of Aoos, the Greek part of the water network of Vjosa. 

Created by the world-renowned choreographer Gentian Doda, with a musical composition by Çezar Aliaj,  “Actus, for Vjosa” brought together an extraordinary artistic performance of ten international performers – inspired by natural movements and sounds from the Europe’s untouched wonder: the Vjosa River.

The project is a production by was bleibt kollektiv | Gentian Doda, commissioned and co-produced by Heinrich Böll Foundation, Tirana Office and supported by Riverwatch, EuroNatur, European Union Delegation to Albania, EcoAlbania and the Embassy of Germany in Albania.  

Through this creation, “ACTUS, for Vjosa” aims to convey the message about our belonging to nature. Inspired by Bach’s Cantata 106 and based on some unique polyphonic concepts, the creation reflects as starting point motives from Albanian` cultural heritage, transposing them in the contemporary world. The mission of this artistic piece is to raise awareness on the importance of natural resources, in the specific case on the protection of the Vjosa River.

“With every inch of nature, we destroy for our short-term interest, we lose countless worlds of inspiration” quotes the choreographer, Gentian Doda.

The cast of performers, by symbolizing Vjosa, recreated through the body language a miniature of the world and society – as humans transform nature and are transformed by it, the paysage becomes a reflection of our internal world, and vice versa.

“Contemporary dance is about translating ideas into movement. And for this work we were able to experience what we are translating – we went inside Vjosa, we felt the texture of it. This is what we’re trying to give back on stage” quotes one of the performers, Lilla Jenei.

“Vjosa is like a dancer, a muse for this project. Vjosa has become an analogy for the society we live in – the chaos and the flow, the rush and the changes, its roughness and the life it creates” quotes Fjorald Doçi, another performer of the cast.

The contemporary dance, first of its kind dedicated to Vjosa, comes at a special moment -after the Memorandum of Understanding by the Albanian Government and American outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia on July 2022, a group of international experts is working intensively toward establishing Vjosa a National Park, saving one of the last wild rivers in Europe but also setting a new global practice on protecting wild rivers around the world. With Vjosa becoming the First National Park of Wild Rivers in Europe, Albania enters a new phase of setting best practices for eco-tourism and sustainable development.

‘ACTUS, for Vjosa’ is a project that aims to continue its journey in different important cities of Europe, not only to tell about the magic of Vjosa river, but also to bring to attention the importance of preserving and restoring rivers all over the continent.

Close to its designation as a National Park, the Vjosa river cause – inspires worldwide, organizations, environmentalists, artists, youngsters, and many people to act – bringing closely to our conscience the message of love and care to nature and its masterpieces.


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Albanian Government signs commitment to establish a Vjosa Wild River National Park

++ Albania takes an important step towards protecting the Vjosa River as government signs commitment to collaborate on Europe’s first Wild River National Park ++

Tirana, Albania, 13 June, 2022 – After ten years of dedicated action by local communities, environmentalists, scientists and artists to permanently protect the Vjosa River and its tributaries, today, the Albanian government took the historic step of signing a commitment to establish a Vjosa Wild River National Park. The Wild River National Park will protect the entire network of the Vjosa from the Greek border to the Adriatic Sea, including the free-flowing tributaries. This is something that has never been done before in Europe.  

This morning at the National Theater of Opera and Ballet in Tirana, Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister for Tourism and Environment Mirela Kumbaro and Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert joined Albanian and international NGOs from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe coalition in a ceremony to mark the public signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Patagonia and The Ministry of Tourism and Environment. This is a significant step closer to safeguarding the last big, wild river of Europe.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties includes the agreements:

  • Parties will work to increase the protection of Vjosa River to the level of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category II: National Park.
  • The National Park shall include the Vjosa River and its free-flowing tributaries.

According to the Memorandum, the signing parties will establish a working group within 30 days to start planning for the establishment of the national park. The park is set to include visitor centers, rangers, and scientific and educational programmes and will yield new economic opportunities for the local communities. This novel action taken by the Albanian government will also serve as a role model for many other rivers in the region; including the Aoos River in Greece which is the source of the Vjosa across the Greek border.

Besjana Guri, Communications Manager, EcoAlbania states: “While there is much work to do before we can guarantee the future of the Vjosa, this is a major milestone for Albania and for river defenders everywhere. The ambition of creating Europe’s first Wild River National Park is one step closer to becoming a reality.”

Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO, Riverwatch adds: “The message that comes from Tirana today has the potential to extend far beyond the Vjosa – the concept of a Wild River National Park which protects not only the main waterway, but also its tributaries, is unique. At the Vjosa, we are witnessing a new model of protection for other rivers in Europe, which are threatened by dam projects and other forms of pressure. We need to think bigger to protect our nature.”

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director, EuroNatur comments: “The European Union has set itself the goal of protecting all free-flowing rivers in the EU within the framework of the European Green Deal. Albania is setting a good example by deciding to protect the Vjosa and its tributaries as a national park. We call on EU member states to protect their free-flowing river stretches and to increase the connectivity of river ecosystems through restoration.“

Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia says: “Albania’s leaders have shown vision and commitment today, signaling to the world their intention to do something unprecedented in nature protection. Through our long-standing partnership with the NGOs behind the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, we have learned first-hand just how exceptional the Vjosa is, and are therefore humbled to work alongside the government and groups, devoting our skills and expertise to the establishment of Vjosa Wild River National Park.”

With Patagonia’s long history of protecting wild places, and the Albanian Government’s commitment to do something truly impactful, the Save the Blue Heart campaign members, such as EcoAlbania, Riverwatch and EuroNatur, are going to be actively involved in the journey ahead, to make Europe’s first Wild River National Park a reality. With official, actionable steps, this unparalleled biodiversity hotspot will set a precedent for future nature protection in Europe.

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The Vjosa Forever concert in Tepelena brings together well-known artists for the declaration of Vjosa National Park

Tepelënë, June 4, 2022. Well-known Albanian artists held the “Vjosa Forever” concert in Tepelënë in support of the Vjosa national park now campaign for the declaration of the Vjosa river and its tributaries as a National Park. Many supporters of Vjosa campaign joined the artists at the “Lord Byron” square in Tepelena and enjoyed the electrifying performances during the magnificent concert, with: Eugent Bushpepa, Elina Duni, Shpat Deda, Eda Zari, Vlashent Sata, Asgje Sikur Dielli, Florjan Binaj , Linda Rukaj, Isopolyphonic Group of Tepelena and Dj Cool.

The artists have been engaged for 5 years in the protection of the Vjosa River, supporting the Vjosa campaign alongside other international personalities such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Edward Norton, have helped the activists to raise their voice for the importance of protecting the last wild river of Europe. This was the second awareness concert that was realized during 1 decade of continuous work to declare Vjosa a National Park, after the one held in Tirana in 2017 under the slogan “Don’t touch Vjosa”, which was followed by the protest song “Blessed be the free river”. Today, after 5 years, artists and activists gathered together again to celebrate the achievements of the campaign so far and ask for a Vjosa National Park.

“The current achievements in the Vjosa campaign have been numerous and now we are closer than ever to declaring Vjosa a National Park. We hope that the call of the artists and all interested groups will be heard and soon we will announce the first National Park of a wild river in Europe”, said Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania.

EcoAlbania and its partners RiverWatch and EuroNatur with Patagonia’s support continue their battle for the protection of the Vjosa River and its tributaries, to achieve the final goal, the declaration of the Vjosa River National Park for a sustainable development of the entire valley.

Additional information:

 The list of artists who participated: Eugent Bushpepa, Elina Duni, Shpat Deda, Eda Zari, Vlashent Sata, Asgje Sikur Dielli, Florjan Binaj, Linda Rukaj, Isopolifonik Group of Tepelena and Dj Cool. Tulla Culture Center helped to organize the concert with artistic director Alban Nimani.

The Vjosa is the last large untouched river in Europe, outside of Russia. Along its 270km stretch, from the Pindos Mountains to the Adriatic Sea, it flows untouched through wonderful canyons.

The protection of Vjosa is one of the main goals of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, which aims to protect the most precious rivers in the Balkans. The campaign is coordinated by the organizations Riverwatch and Euronatur, in cooperation with EcoAlbania in Albania and partner organizations in the Balkans.

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