Albania creates first river park in Europe

Wild River National Park Albania
The Wild River National Park protects the entire network of the Vjosa from the Greek border to the Adriatic Sea, including the free-flowing tributaries. Photo/Anika Konsek

The Vjosa River in Albania, one of the last wild rivers in Europe, has been declared a National Park by the Albanian Government, becoming the first National Park Wild River in Europe.

The entire River Vjosa in Albania from its border with Greece to the Adriatic Sea and its free-flowing tributaries – a river system totalling more than 400 kilometres in length – are now protected.

The park is the result of a collaboration between the Albanian Government, local and international experts, environmental NGOs from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the clothing company Patagonia.

The Vjosa and its main branches flow from the Pindis mountain range in Greece, where it is called Aoös, to the Adriatic coast in Albania. The river and its surrounding areas are ecosystems of considerable biodiversity and are home to more than 1,100 animal species, including 13 animal species and two plant species assessed as globally threatened by the IUCN.

The declaration of the Vjosa River National Park will facilitate solutions to the challenges the river faces such as water and soil pollution, waste management and deforestation. Also, the declaration of the National Park will create economic opportunities for local communities through responsible tourism and will help address problems related to internal migration.

“We have fought long and hard with our partners for this day, with court hearings, petitions and discussions with those responsible in government and with local communities. Today we can celebrate,” said Annette Spangenberg, EuroNatur’s head of conservation.

“Now we will continue campaigning for the other free-flowing tributaries and the river delta to be given protection so that the entirety of the Vjosa’s unique river eco-system can be preserved forever.”

“This Wild River National Park is not just an important milestone for the Vjosa and Albania but for river conservation across the whole of Europe. It establishes, for the first time, a conservation concept where an entire river system is protected and not just individual sections of a river,” added Ulrich Eichelmann, head of Riverwatch.

“The concept of a Wild River National Park should act as a model for other rivers in Europe, such as along the Moraca in Montenegro and the Rivers Neretva and Una in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The River Vjosa is Europe’s first Wild River National Park, but it should not be the only one. Today sees an important message going out from Albania to the whole of Europe.”

“The declaration of Vjosa Wild River National Park is the culmination of 10 years of efforts by a wide group of actors. Today, with the declaration of a national park, not only the civil society but also Albania sets a new standard in nature conservation, as for the first time around 400 km of natural river flow are protected, which is a unique initiative for Europe and the world,” said Olsi Nika, executive director of EcoAlbania.

The park will be created in two phases. In the first, the active river channel will be given National Park status, including some land and riverine vegetation within the active channel, or land at risk of flooding or erosion. The area will be managed as a National Park and is expected to be fully operational in early 2024.

Phase II, in the following years, will add other tributaries and areas integral to the river’s ecosystem, including some private land, after consultation with stakeholders.

The Albanian government is starting a joint process with the Greek government for the creation of the Aoös-Vjosa transboundary park, aiming at the highest level of protection for the entire river, from source to sea, in both countries.