After years of campaigning, the Vjosa River(Opens in a new tab) in Albania has become the first wild river national park in the continent.
Often deemed ‘Europe’s last wild river’, Vjosa and its ecosystem faced environmental damage in the past, as the Albanian government planned to build dams and hydropower stations in the region. Conservation groups such as EcoAlbania(Opens in a new tab), RiverWatch(Opens in a new tab), and EuroNatur(Opens in a new tab), and companies including Patagonia Works(Opens in a new tab) have long campaigned to protect the Vjosa from such destruction, through the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign(Opens in a new tab) and supported by studies by the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)(Opens in a new tab).
The government’s decision to preserve 12,727 hectares(Opens in a new tab) in the region, announced by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister of Tourism and Environment Mirela Kumbaro, and Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert in March, means that Vjosa’s unique ecosystem will not be damaged by development and artificial barriers such as dams and fords.
Vjosa’s designation as a wild park sets a precedent for Europe, whose rivers are spoiled by an estimate of more than a million man-made barriers. It also serves as a hopeful reminder that activism can change the course of history.