The Vjosa River is one of the last wild free-flowing rivers in Europe, spanning from Greece to Albania and hosting a rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. However, this natural treasure is threatened by numerous hydroelectric and infrastructure projects that could alter its unique ecosystem and affect the livelihoods of local communities. To prevent this from happening, the Albanian government has committed to protect the Vjosa Valley as a national park, with the support of various partners, including IUCN-US.
IUCN-US is the US-based office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. IUCN-US works to advance IUCN’s global mission of conserving nature and accelerating the transition to sustainable development in the US and beyond. One of the key areas of work for IUCN-US is supporting effective and equitable protected area management, which is essential for safeguarding biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being.
In this context, IUCN-US has been involved in the protection of the Vjosa River since 2021, when it joined forces with Patagonia, a leading outdoor clothing company with a strong environmental commitment, and local civil society and environmental groups, such as EcoAlbania and Riverwatch. Together, these partners have been advocating for the establishment of a national park for the Vjosa Valley that would ensure its long-term conservation and sustainable use.
To achieve this goal, IUCN-US has provided technical assistance to the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment, based on IUCN’s global standards and guidelines for protected areas. Specifically, IUCN-US has contributed to:
- Conducting a protection study of the Vjosa River Valley based on IUCN protected area standards, which provides insight into the rationale and feasibility of declaring a protected area for the Vjosa Valley, along with the management objectives and associated protected area categories that would ensure the conservation of its key values .
- Developing a management plan for the Vjosa National Park, which defines the vision, goals, objectives, actions and indicators for managing the park in accordance with IUCN’s Green List Standard for equitable and effective protected areas.
- Supporting stakeholder engagement and consultation processes, which involve local communities, authorities, experts and other relevant actors in the planning and implementation of the Vjosa National Park.
- Raising awareness and communication about the importance and benefits of protecting the Vjosa River as a national park, both nationally and internationally.
Thanks to these efforts, in March 2023, the Albanian government officially declared the Vjosa National Park as Europe’s first Wild River National Park. This historic decision marks a milestone for river conservation in Europe and beyond, as it sets an example of how to balance development and nature protection in harmony with local communities.
IUCN-US is proud to be part of this success story and will continue to support the Albanian government and partners in ensuring effective management and monitoring of the Vjosa National Park. We believe that this initiative will not only safeguard one of our last wild rivers, but also inspire other countries and regions to follow suit and protect their precious freshwater resources for present and future generations.