Balkan Rivers

Western Balkans: Scientists and NGO representatives call for more rivers to be protected as part of the Emerald Network

In 2011, Western Balkan countries proposed a small number of sites as part of the Europe-wide Emerald Network of protected natural areas. But too many of the region’s stunning rivers have been left unprotected – and a new proposal aims to rectify this.

Today, a group of scientists and non-governmental organisations from 11 countries have published a list of 88 rivers they consider high priority for protection, urging Western Balkan Bern Convention signatory countries to expand the Emerald Network in the region.

Established by the Council of Europe in 1989 under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), the Emerald Network is made up of areas of special conservation interest to conserve wild flora and fauna in their natural habitats.

As signatories of the Bern Convention, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia started the establishment of the Emerald Network in 2011, when they proposed a small number of sites. However, since then none of the countries have expanded their original list of sites, most sites lack legal protection under national law, management, consistent data collection, and resources, leaving most rivers and fish populations unprotected.

The list of rivers published today results from the Emerald Green seminar organised by CEE Bankwatch Network in December 2022, where participants provided scientific data on fish species and habitats.

As a global biodiversity hotspot, the Western Balkans boasts exceptional freshwater diversity. The region’s extensive mountains, rivers, lakes, and coastlines are home to numerous endangered species and important habitats with numerous endemic species that can be found nowhere else. Compared to the rest of Europe, most of the region’s rivers are in good or pristine condition, and many are ideal candidates for protection, as recognized by the priority list published today.

“Rivers in the Balkans are amongst the most threatened ecosystems, and at the same time they represent a biodiversity hotspot. In this regard, it is worth including them in a legally protected network”, Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania


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Music for living rivers and against dams – Hundreds at Concert for Balkan Rivers

++ Rambo Amadeus, Eda Zari, Damir Imamovic and Tamara Obrovac sing in Sarajevo to stop the hydropower tsunami on the Balkans ++


Sarajevo, Vienna, Radolfzell, September 30, 2018.  Hundreds of people raised their voices at the open-air Concert for Balkan Rivers at Sarajevo’s BBI centre on Saturday, September 29th. They were singing along with the popular musicians Rambo Amadeus (Montenegro), Eda Zari (Albania), Tamara Obrovac (Croatia), Damir Imamovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and thus raising awareness for the massive destruction of rivers which is going on all over the Balkan peninsula. The rivers in Southeast Europe face a severe threat, disguised as a green and sustainable source of energy: about 3,000 hydropower projects are planned or under construction between Slovenia and Greece, threatening to destroy Europe´s most beautiful and intact rivers.

1. Grand Finale (c) Nick St.Oegger

All singers joined their voices in the grand finale of the Concert for Balkan Rivers. © Nick St. Oegger

The musicians, representing different countries in the Balkan region, presented a united front against the dam craze. As singer Tamara Obrovac pointed out:“One of the most important resources and sources of life on earth is water – let us preserve the source of life together before it is too late.”

“Tonight, we are bringing to Sarajevo the voices that represent all Albanian artists and all Albanian people and activists that for years have been protesting and fighting the destruction of rivers like Vjosa and Valbona”, said singer Eda Zari.

Eda Zari (c) Nick St. Oegger

Amazing Eda Zari and her band, including world-renowned percussionist Rhani Krija © Nick St. Oegger

During his powerful performance and under the applause of the audience, Rambo Amadeus, one of the most popular musicians in the Balkans, destroyed a symbolic dam on the stage with a drill- a strong message towards investors and the banks financing the gold rush in the Balkans. “I have seen in several places in the Balkans that entire river streams are cut off and the water is redirected into pipes, leaving the river itself and the environment without life”, said Rambo Amadeus.

Audienca (c) Nick St. Oegger

Hundreds of people attended the Concert for Balkan Rivers in Sarajevo on September 30th. © Nick St. Oegger

Damir Imamovic added: “It will be probably strange for the people born after us that artists were gathering to draw public attention to the importance of natural resources. But they will probably be struggling, as we are struggling, to draw attention to the things that should be a universal human right. We have to!”

The Concert for Balkan rivers was organized with in the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” and was also the big finish of the first European Rivers Summit in Sarajevo (27. – 29. September), during which more than 200 activists, scientists and river lovers from all around the world shared their inspiring stories about their fights for clean and free-flowing rivers.

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The fight to save ‘the last wild river of Europe’

The Article “The fight to save ‘the last wild river of Europe’” which is published in by Finlay Greig is about the impact of planned hydropower plants on the environment in Albania. The Vjosa, a 270 kilometers long river flows from its source in the Greek Pindus Mountains to its wide mouth into the Adriatic Sea. The river is uninterrupted, allowing it to serve the wildlife which depends on it. It is the only uninterrupted river of its kind in Europe, the continent’s last wild river. But the river is at risk because the Albanian government has approved the construction of eight dams along its course. This would course a lot of damage for the species, which are living in the river and locals, who would be displaced. Environmentalist plan to establish the first wild river national park to protect the river and encourage adventurous travelers to visit ‘the last wild river of Europe’.

To read the full article click here.

the fight to save the last wild river of europe

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Yale: A Balkan Dam Boom Imperils Europe’s Wildest Rivers

The Article of the online magazine Yale Environment 360 “A Balkan Dam Boom Imperils Europe’s Wildest Rivers” by Paul Hockenus is about the impact of the planned hydropower plants in the Balkan peninsula for the environment and the local residents. Nearly 2700 dam projects are planned or under construction from Slovenia to Greece according to a study by RiverWatch and EuroNature. A detailed assessment of 22000 miles of Balkan rivers commissioned by WWF and other conservation groups has classified 30 % of the region’s rivers as pristine or “near-natural” and another 50 % as in good condition. That is a sharp contrast to the situation in Western Europe, where most rivers have been dammed or subjected to intensive development. Scientists and conservationists say that if the proposed scale of Balkan dam building proceeds, thousands of miles of waterways, home to scores of endemic or endangered species, will be irreversibly degraded and polluted. The Balkan rivers are home to 69 endangered species and contain more than 40 % of all the endangered freshwater mollusk species in Europe. In addition to the environmental impacts there are a lot of villages which will be flooded so the locals have to to move.

The European Union, which had originally supported hydropower projects in the name of zero-carbon energy, is now urging governments in southeastern Europe to back out of them.

To read the full article click here.

A Balkan Dam boom imperils europes wildest rivers

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