Press Release

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 ++

Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Tirana – March 22, 2021 – On the occasion of this year’s World Water Day, today, several NGO’s released a series of photos capturing the words Vjosa National Park Now cloaking the foreground of globally recognised monuments in Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and Tirana. The activists behind the visual action are targeting the attention of European and Albanian politicians, urging them to declare the Vjosa in Albania Europe’s first Wild River National Park. The historical designation is of international significance as it would safeguard 300km of rivers and streams, host to over 1,100 species, many of which are threatened. 

In September 2020, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced his intent to make the Vjosa a national park. However, the government has not taken any clear steps towards this designation. Plans submitted by the Albanian National Agency of Protected Areas include only minimal protection for the Vjosa, risking future hydropower construction, and falls far short of the protections inherent in a national park designation.

Olsi Nika, director of EcoAlbania, states: “We purposefully chose these cultural heritage sites for this action as they are comparable to how we value the Vjosa in Albania. It is unimaginable to destroy these monuments in Europe’s capital cities, so why would we think differently about our pristine river that has been a part of our cultural history for thousands of years? Just ahead of the elections in Albania, we are demanding that our national government protect the Vjosa and that leading EU politicians support this initiative.”

A recent opinion poll indicated that 94 per cent of Albanian people favour establishing the Vjosa as a national park. The Vjosa National Park Now campaign has also received international support from the Awardees of the Right Livelihood Award who recently wrote an open letter to political leaders in Albania and the EU to protect the Vjosa and from celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio.

On 4 March, the EU Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to include the Vjosa in the Albanian Progress Report 2021. According to the draft report, the EU institution urges the Albanian government to stop hydropower development along the Vjosa River and “…to establish as soon as possible the Vjosa National Park, covering the whole length of the river.”

Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of RiverWatch, says: “There are three major reasons why we need a Vjosa National Park. First off, a national park designation offers the best protection for the river and its biodiversity. Anything other than this designation would keep the Vjosa vulnerable to future developments. Secondly, it would create a substantial income for locals from eco-tourism. And lastly, it would attract international funding to plan and operate the park. No other protection category offers those benefits.” 

Across Europe, freshwater habitats are deteriorating faster than any other habitat type and are the world’s most threatened ecosystems. In Europe, there is a 93% average decline in freshwater migratory fish species, in part due to habitat destruction. This is a unique chance to place a high value on this biodiversity hotspot by preserving this intact river to benefit people, the climate, and the planet. 

Annette Spangenberg, Head of Conservation at EuroNatur, adds: “This is an unparalleled opportunity to set an example within Europe and the world. Preserving this river, in its entirety, sets a new standard for what is possible in nature protection.”

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Protected Areas in Albania are threatened in order to pave the way for infrastructure projects

++ NTC’s decision for the Network of Protected Areas in Albania deletes from the map areas of international and national importance ++

Tirana, March 20th. The group comprised of environmental organizations and the academic community of Albania, supported by foreign partner organizations, strongly opposes the process and results of the Review of the National Network of Protected Areas in Albania. The reason for the resumption of the debate was the publication of NTC’s draft decision No. 10, dated 28 December 2020, which has decided on the delimitation and internal zoning of the National Network of Protected Areas. The decision was taken following the initiative previously announced in August 2019 by the Ministry of Tourism and Environment.

The draft decision excludes from the protected areas of Divjaka-Karavasta, Butrint, Vjosa-Narta, Buna-Velipoja, etc. entire traditional agricultural landscapes, as well as urban areas. Furthermore, this draft decision deletes from the map about 15,000 ha of Protected Areas such as Luzni-Bulac, Piskal-Shqerri, Dardhë-Xhurrë, etc. The most flagrant case is the exclusion from the protected area of the airport in Akërni (Vlora) and the removal of the olive groves on the hills of Panaja. Referring to the map, this draft decision “perforates” the Park of Dajti, Divjaka, Buna-Velipoja, Tomorri, etc.

“The decision fragments the protected areas, leaving the urban and agricultural spaces completely out of the control of the Protected Areas and the latter at the mercy of future activities that may violate the function of the protected areas themselves. In the history of protected areas, this moment will be remembered as the most serious attack on the integrity and ecological functionality of Protected Areas in Albania,” says Taulant Bino, President of the Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS).

The process, initiated in August 2019 and led by NAPA, was finalized in February 2020 and was presented to a wide group of institutions, NGOs, donors, etc. as one of the achievements of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment that would specify and identify in a final and mapped way the entire network of Protected Areas. Between figures and articles, NAPA took care to emphasize that the process has undertaken about 44 public hearings with stakeholders across the country.

“In fact, public meetings may have taken place during the process, but not public hearings,” explains Av. Dorjan Matlija, Director of the Respublica Center. “The law clearly defines what is considered a public hearing and how it is organized; starting from the early stages that consist is the announcement of the hearing to the organization and sharing of information for the public. We have followed the process closely and we can say that the hearings were not conducted in accordance with the provisions of the law,” concludes Av. Matlija.


The gruop of NGOs and professors of the Faculty of Natural Sciences during the press conferene. (c) Kristi Bashmili/ AOS

NGO groups and academia representatives have previously voiced their concerns about the transparency of the process as well as the methodology followed by deleting from existing PAs and disregarding any ecological requirements of the function of a protected area. Such ‘zoning’ maps violate any nature preservation criteria and defy many international standards. Such practices legitimize many abusive interventions made throughout the years, and leaves space for other interventions in the future.

“From the very beginning, we have deemed this process as necessary, but its development has been very urgent and impossible to be completed in such a short time. We have emphasized before that the announcement, the review or the removal from the network of a certain area must go through a standardized process of scientific research, extensive consultation with stakeholders and inter-institutional approval. Unfortunately, even though we insisted for it during 2019, this did not happen.” – says Prof. Dr. Aleko Miho, Head of the Botany Group at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Apparently, NAPA, in the final phase, has ignored all the arguments and opposition expressed by NGOs regarding the review of Protected Areas, sending to NTCT the study on which the draft decision of December 28, 2020 is based. “We consider this decision of NTC as harmful, non-transparent, and unfounded in the principles of nature preservation. It will most likely precede the damage of the most valuable part of the Network of Protected Areas in Albania. For this reason, we call on the Prime Minister Edi Rama, in the capacity of the head of NTC, to annul this decision,” said Olsi Nika, Director of EcoAlbania. “We as a group of organizations are determined to follow every path and use every democratic means to have a decision-making that guarantees the preservation of Protected Areas in the long run,” he concluded.

This is a joint press release from Professors of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Tirana, and environmental organizations:

Prof. Aleko Miho | Prof. Ferdinand Bego| Prof. As. Mihallaq Qirjo

Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS)

Birds of Albania Center (BOA)


EDEN Center



ILIRIA – Protection and Social & Environmental Development Association, Albania

Institute for Environmental Policy (IEP)

Milieukontakt Albania

Regional Environmental Center (REC Albania)

Res Publica

Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA)

WWF Adria


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

Tirana, Vienna, February 10th, 2021. Today, 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 NGO-s 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 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.

We call on the Albanian government to act on their promise and create the Vjosa Wild River National Park © Gregor Subic

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 opinion poll, 94% of Albanians are in favour of a Vjosa National Park © Adrian Guri

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 environment minister,”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.

Background information:

  • Download the proposal for the creation of a Vjosa National Park HERE
  • List of Albanian NGOs :
EcoAlbania – The center for Protection of the Natural Ecosystems in Albania
AOS – Albanian Ornithologist Society
EDEN – Environmental Center for Development Education and Networking
Milieukontakt Albania

ACEG – Albanian Center for Environmenal Governance 

PPNEA  – Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA)
ILIRIA Association for Environmental and Social Protection and Development
IEP – Institute for Environmental Policy
REC Albania – The Resource Environmental Center Albania 
Eco movement Group
URI – Urban Research Institute
EPER Center
Cesvi Association
Pro Permet Association
Vjosa Explorer center
All Green Centre – Center for Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development
PPNE – Vlorë– Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment Vlora
Res Publica
Seep – AL
Green Vision
  • 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 organizations in the Balkan countries. The local partner in Albania is EcoAlbania. For more information
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Hydropower Manifesto

NGOs call on the EU to end support for new hydropower

Following World Fish Migration Day, 150 NGOs have banded together to call on the EU institutions to end public financing for new hydropower projects in Europe. Building more hydropower flies in the face of the European Green Deal’s biodiversity goals, given the small contribution new plants would bring to the energy transition weighted against the environmental damage they cause [1]. WWF, along with signatories such as Climate Action Network Europe and BirdLife ask for public investments to be redirected towards upgrades of existing plants, energy efficiency measures, and lower impact renewable energy alternatives like wind and solar power.  

The mobilisation by NGOs comes a few months after new analysis found that 93% of European freshwater migratory fish had been lost since 1970, partly due to hydropower [2]. While 91% of existing and planned plants in Europe are considered ‘small’ – meaning they have, a capacity below 10MW – and contribute little to the energy mix, their environmental impacts are dramatic.  If these plants go ahead, they will destroy Europe’s last free-flowing rivers and further degrade increasingly vulnerable freshwater ecosystems.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources, European Policy Office said: “The European Commission and the European financial institutions’ continued financing of new hydropower projects completely contradicts the ambitions of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and its goal of restoring 25,000km of free-flowing rivers. Removing financing tools and incentives to new hydropower projects is an increasingly urgent step towards reversing biodiversity loss in the EU, meeting the targets set by the Water Framework Directive, and supporting the European Green Deal.”

Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer, Climate & Energy added : “We urgently need to move to a 100% renewable energy system. But the contribution new hydropower could make is trivial compared to the massive ecological damage it would cause. We should be investing in wind and solar instead, combined with demand flexibility and storage.” 

The manifesto calls for:

  • An end to EU subsidising new hydropower plants of all sizes, including via regional policy and Projects of Common Interest funds.
  • An end to European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development financing for all new hydropower plants in Europe.
  • All new hydropower to be excluded from the list of renewable energies eligible for State Aid.
  • Public finance for new hydropower plants to be reallocated to ecological refurbishments, dam removal projects especially where the dams are now obsolete, and towards other renewable energies like wind and solar power.

    See here for the full manifesto and list of signatories 

[1] If all the 5,500+ planned hydropower plants in the EU were built, the share of the EU electricity generation provided by hydropower would go from 10% to 11.2-13.9%. Eurostat, 2017; EuroNatur, GEOTA, RiverWatch, WWF, Hydropower pressure on European rivers: The story in numbers, 2019.

[2] IUCN, WFMF, WWF, TNC, ZSL, The Living Planet Index (LPI) for migratory freshwater fish, 2020

[3] Mapping a faster route to zero emissions Europe

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