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.
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.