The Vjosa becomes Europe’s first Wild River National Park

The meandering Vjosa with its wilding hinterland

The Vjosa in Albania, one of Europe’s last free-flowing natural rivers, was declared a national park by the government on 22nd March 2022.

Its tributaries and a variety of ecosystems harbouring some 1,100 species including 15 under global threat, will be included in a second phase alongside creation of a trans-boundary park with Greece where it is known as the river Aoos.

This epic event brings protection to the 400 km long watercourse, which originates in the Pindus Mountains of Greece, flowing to the Adriatic coast. Pollution, waste management and deforestation will be more closely addressed, while valuable tourism benefits can be delivered to local communities in one of Europe’s poorer areas.

Basin of the Vjosa and Aoos (yellow)

The initiative is the product of collaboration between the Albanian government, Save the Blue Heart of Europe, the Patagonia clothing company and IUCN whose study formed the basis for its implementation.

“IUCN applauds the Government of Albania for its leadership”, declared Boris Erg, Director of IUCN Europe. “We invite other governments to show similar ambition”.

With 75,000 klms of free-flowing river creation forming a key target of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, there is a particular urgency to protection of watercourses in the Balkan region generally – hitherto relatively undisturbed. The move from dependency on fossil fuels, notably coal, has seen hundreds of hydro schemes installed since the 1990’s with up to 3,000 more in the offing.