Vjosa National Park

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.

ENDS

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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Vjosa Campaign – an inspiration for activism in Albania

Since its creation in December 2014, EcoAlbania has been the local partner for Albania at the MAWA funded project “Save the Blue Heart of Europe Campaign” that aims to protect the most valuable rivers in South East Europe from destruction by uncontrolled hydropower projects.

As well as partner at the project “Saving Europe’s last free flowing wild river – Vjosa/ Aoos that aims at raising the public awareness about Vjosa River, its ecological values and vulnerability and its protection of the river from HPP plans.

Due to the experience of this last 8 years EcoAlbania has implemented the “Give voice to river protection” project aimed to mobilize the local communities and the public pressure, promoting engagement with sustainable management of the rivers and to demonstrate the benefits from the protection of rivers.

In the same field EcoAlbania comes with follow up project the “Vjosa Campaign – an inspiration for activism in Albania” to share this experience with national and regional NGOs as a key role player on undertaking and running the campaigns for nature protection.

The project will aim to develop 2 booklets and 2 short videos for: Legal tools, and Media awareness raising tools for nature conservation, to be used by the NGOs while campaigning for the nature conservation. The development of such tools will be based on EcoAlbania’s experience with the campaign to protect the Vjosa River.

As the best visual tool to be used in order to attract and impress the targeted audience will be the development and sharing of the short documentary “Vjosa campaign story” as a reconstruction of the campaign actions up to the current state.

A series of forums in the Balkan neighbouring countries will be held to share this experience through the materials that will be produced. After the events they will be available for the NGOs at any time on EcoAlbania web page and social pages.

Objectives:

  1. To further contribute and promote the “M1M2 – Ensuring integrated management of river basins related to Mediterranean Basin” OAP.
  2. Mobilization of national and regional NGOs and adopt these tools to their work and actions for nature protection campaigns.

Project duration:  June 2021-June 2022

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Vjosa, still not a National Park. The government’s decision provides insufficient protection

Tirana, January 27, 2022. Yesterday, the Albanian government declared the Vjosa River a Nature Park (a category IV protected area) instead of declaring it a National Park, as requested by activists for years. A Nature Park is not the same as a National Park. The category of Nature Park does not protect the Vjosa River and its tributaries from destruction and does not offer the same opportunities for the development of eco-tourism in the area as the category of National Park (a category II protected area).

“This is a truncated response to our request, officially filed a year ago, in February 2021, that the Vjosa River and its tributaries be declared a National Park. Yesterday’s decision does not surprise us and in itself does not constitute a serious commitment by the government to protect the values ​​of biodiversity and natural heritage of the Vjosa valley”, said Olsi Nika, Executive Director of EcoAlbania.

 

94 percent of Albanians are in favour of a Vjosa National Park. © Piotr Bednarek/Wolne Rzeki

“The declaration of the Vjosa River as a protected area or so-called Nature Park is not an appropriate protection status, as it does not provide full protection of the entire ecosystem and its biodiversity. The current protected area does not include its tributaries, such as the Bënça and Shushica Rivers, leaving not only these tributaries but also major parts of the river exposed to threats such as hydropower construction, oil and natural gas exploration and the devastating development of the airport and its complexes and hotels. Furthermore, this category of protection will not develop eco-tourism and will have little or no economic potential for locals”, he added.

Despite the voices of environmental organizations, experts, residents, local government units, celebrities and about 50,000 citizens demanding the declaration of a Vjosa Valley National Park and the creation of Europe’s first wild river National Park, such a decision still remains far away. Through yesterday’s decision the government finalized a completely rushed process, without consultation and not based on scientific knowledge, in reviewing the national network of protected areas. Exactly this process has been opposed and criticized by more than 40 environmental NGOs, by the academic world and by a considerable number of diplomatic missions in Albania, including that of the European Union.

 

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Online petition: Vjosa National Park, the only way to save Vjosa – a better future for local communities

The last wild river in Europe is in danger and National Park status is the only level of protection that can save it. After a decade of efforts to protect Vjosa River, the supporters of the cause are gathering to request the Prime Minister of Albania to proclaim Vjosa a National Park as soon as possible. Sign the petition and share it with your friends, so that more people join this effort to protect what nature took thousands of years to create.

How can we protect Vjosa?

Nature Park status is not enough. In 2020, Vjosa was proclaimed a Nature park, but this is not enough to fully protect Vjosa. Companies can still search for oil next to Vjosa or build dams in its tributaries, the small rivers that feed the main river.

It’s National Park or nothing. National Park status is an internationally recognized standard of protection and the only status that can stop businesses and future governments from destroying the free flowing river and its tributaries.

Which are the benefits of proclaiming Vjosa a National Park?

  • Albania would have the first truly wild river National Park in Europe, estimated to attract around 1.5 million visitors and 10-30 million Euros of income each year.
  • Increase in national and international tourism. National Parks get 20% more visitors than any other kind of park.
  • Increase in employment: Based on data from other National Parks in the Balkans, for every job created in the National Park, 6 additional jobs will be created in the local communities nearby.
  • Further development of eco-tourism, which allows Albanians to enjoy the beauty of the river and nature without damaging them, and conserving this way the cultural heritage and way of life built around Vjosa.
  • Saving the last wild river in Europe (outside of Russia). Vjosa provides a habitat for about 1,100 species, many of which are globally endangered species.

So what is next? We need as many signatures as possible to present this petition to the Prime Minister of Albania. Sign it and share it with friends so we show how many people are in favor of saving Vjosa, forever.

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