In the south of Albania, the Vjosa river flows freely for 270km from its source in northern Greece to the Adriatic Sea. Considered to be Europe’s last wild river, the natural, un-dammed state of the Vjosa supports a rich ecosystem, with plant and animal species completely unique to the region. It has also been an important economic and cultural source for communities who have lived along its banks for centuries. The Vjosa has inspired songs, poetry, legends and is even a popular name for newborn girls.
Today however, the river is facing numerous existential threats, from plans for exploratory oil drilling, construction of an international airport in its delta, and proposed large scale hydropower dams. This has alarmed local communities and conservation groups, concerned by the potential for widespread environmental destruction, and resulting loss of cultural heritage that these projects would create. Despite being a candidate for European Union membership, the Albanian government has so far refused to adequately defend the Vjosa from development, though it would qualify as a protected area under EU law.
Now the Vjosa has become the focal point of a wider environmental movement in the Balkans, drawing in an international group of scientists, activists and celebrities with the ultimate goal of creating Europe’s first Wild River National park, and providing a new framework for river conservation around Europe.