How Europe’s first wild river national park saw off the dams

How Europe’s first wild river national park saw off the dams

The Guardian reports:

The fast-moving Vjosa River in Albania curves and braids, sweeping our raft away from the floodplain towards the opposite bank, and back again. The islands that split the waterway in two are temporary, forming, growing, then dissipating so that this truly wild river, one of the last in Europe, never looks the same.

“There’s a saying, ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’,” says Ulrich Eichelmann, the head of Riverwatch, a Vienna-based NGO for river protection, who is paraphrasing the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. “A river is a living, dynamic thing, an architect of its surroundings. It changes all the time. That’s its beauty.”

We are heading down a stretch of the Vjosa, a biodiversity hotspot, near Queserat, southern Albania, against the snow-capped Maja e Këndrevicës mountain, to get a sense of the magnitude of the announcement last week of it becoming the first wild river park in Europe. It was a victory that could so easily have been lost.

Eichelmann points out the gravel islands where stone curlews lay their eggs, and gorges where peregrine falcons nest. Complex underwater habitats support critically endangered European eels, whose numbers have dropped 95% since the 1980s, as they migrate the 270km (168 miles) upstream to the river’s source in the Pindus mountains in Greece.

For almost a decade, Eichelmann and his allies from the Save the Blue Heart of Europe (STBHE) coalition, including EcoAlbania and EuroNatur, have campaigned relentlessly against what they call the “hydropower goldrush” in the Balkans, where its most pristine and biodiverse rivers are threatened by more than 3,000 proposed dams.

On Wednesday, they celebrated their part in what Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, called a “truly historic moment” for nature. [Continue reading…]

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