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Albania protects Europe's last wild river

Words by Smiley Team

Albania has pledged to protect Europe’s last truly wild river: the Vjosa.

The Vjosa River begins in the Pindo Mountains in Greece and runs through Albania out into the Adriatic Coast. Despite numerous attempts to place dams at various locations in the river – which is 270km long – until now, it has remained completely wild and free from intervention.

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The Albanian government have now signed a commitment to collaborate with Patagonia to create a Vjosa Wild River National Park. This means no dams, no hydropower projects, and a safer, more authentic environment for these species to thrive in.

So what does ‘wild’ really mean?

A ‘wild’ river is a natural river that hasn’t been changed by people – that means no dams and no hydropower projects. Many rivers across Europe and the rest of the world were dammed, particularly in the 60s and 70s. In the past, dams have been used for a myriad of purposes – creating electricity, irrigating farmland, and controlling and changing the flow of the river, to name a few.

The problem with this is that it has a knock-on effect for the plants and wildlife for whom the rivers are a huge part of their lives. You can’t use or change the river without having an effect on its ecosystem – something that has become increasingly evident over the last few years.

As many as 1,100 different species call the Vjosa River their home, including 69 species of fish which only exist in that area, and 13 that are globally threatened. 

“If you build one dam, you block the sediment and you block the fish,” said Ulrich Eichelmann, the CEO of RiverWatch, in an interview with Much Better Adventures. “One dam can destroy it all.”

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Help save other rivers in Europe by supporting Save the Blue Heart of Europe - a campaign to protect the Balkan Rivers.

VOLUNTEER: Assist ZSL by volunteering to conserve wildlife in London rivers.

SUPPORT: Work with the Rivers Trust to learn what most affects your local rivers, and what can be done to help.

GET INVOLVED: Using Patagonia’s website you can find local charities who need your help to make the world a better place.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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