Ongoing airport construction in Albania causes concern at Bern Convention

Joint press release by EuroNatur, EcoAlbania and PPNEA

++ Bern Convention urges Albanian government to stop construction works in protected Vjosa/Narta area – again ++ Planned Vlora airport near Narta lagoon threatens biodiversity in the Vjosa delta, especially for migratory birds. ++ Vjosa ecosystem endangered despite national park status ++

Strasbourg/Tirana, 4 December 2023. The Standing Committee of the Bern Convention urged the Albanian government once again to suspend construction works for Vlora airport within the protected area of Narta lagoon and Vjosa delta as it has been found to violate international conventions. In their meeting in Strasbourg, the parties of the convention expressed their extreme concern that the construction of the airport was continuing and encouraged the Albanian authorities to work together with civil society and all relevant stakeholders. Special emphasis was given to the fact that the construction works for the airport in the delicate ecosystem continued even though the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention requested a construction stop three months ago.

Construction works at the Vlora Airport (c) Xhemal Xherri/PPNEA

The NGOs, EcoAlbania, PPNEA, and EuroNatur, appreciate the clear statement of the Standing Committee and welcome the comprehensive recommendations adopted during the meeting of the parties. The recommendations support the Albanian authorities in setting up a planning and permitting process in line with the provisions of the Bern Convention, one of Europe’s most important nature conservation agreements.

Besjana Guri, project manager at EcoAlbania, highlighted in her presentation in front of the Standing Committee the importance of the wild Vjosa River: “The designation of Vjosa River and three free flowing tributaries as Vjosa Wild River National Park is a great achievement and we congratulate the Albanian government on this important decision. However, we are concerned that the Vjosa ecosystem is still under threat as shown by the construction of the Vlora airport in the Vjosa delta in the vicinity of the national park and the water diversion project at Shushica within the national park.”

Zydjon Vorpsi, project manager at PPNEA, urges the Albanian authorities to follow the adopted recommendations: “The Albanian government claims that it is a top priority to speed up the accession process to the European Union. Following the recommendations of the Bern Convention will support this objective. Non-compliance with the provisions of an international treaty is not helpful, but the contrary.”

The representatives of the Albanian government stated in the meeting of the Standing Committee – and within their official report – that it was a mistake to designate the Vjosa/Narta ecosystem as a protected area. They claim that the area was used as a military airport and declaring it a protected area happened by error.

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director at EuroNatur, says: “These statements are twisting reality. The airfield was used only until the 1990s and had no massive infrastructure, not even an asphalted runway. The protected area was designated as such in 2004 based on a scientific proposal. A few years later, the Albania authorities proposed the Vjosa-Narta Ecosystem as an Emerald site, which means it is of European importance. Claiming now that the area has no ecological value is a nasty trick to justify the unlawful change of the boundaries of the protected area. The Vlora airport is not only a case of nature destruction without par but also a violation of the rule of law.”

Background information:

• The Vjosa-Narta Protected Area is one of the most important ecosystems in Albania, the second most important wetland in Albania and home to rare animal and plant species. The area is a habitat for more than 220 bird species throughout the year and has a supra-regional importance for the Adriatic migration route. The Vjosa was proclaimed the first Wild River National Park in Europe in March 2023 and was placed under protection by the Albanian government.

  • • In September, the Bern Convention has already asked the Albanian government to suspend the construction of the Vlora airport. It referred to the Vjosa Narta Protected Area and its surroundings as “a refuge for migratory species, waterfowl and other rare species that breed on land (…) and [that the members of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention are] aware of the foreseeable ecological impact of the airport project on this unique temple of nature”. The European Parliament and the European Commission have also sharply criticised the construction of the airport in the past and called on the Albanian government to stop this project, which is harmful to nature.


Anika Konsek, EuroNatur; email: [email protected]g, phone: +49 7732 9272 26

Zydjon Vorpsi, PPNEA; email: [email protected], phone: +35 5698 6949 05

EcoAlbania, Besjana Guri; email: [email protected], phone: +355692954214 & Olsi Nika, e-mail: [email protected], phone: +355692944757