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Paddling for the “blue heart” of Europe

Apr 12, 2017
The end of March saw the start of the Balkan Rivers Tour in Slovenia, the largest water protection action in Europe. The aim is to protect its last unspoilt rivers.
Image caption:
Paddlers on their way from the Alps to the sea. © Jan Pirnat

The river landscapes of the Balkans are important habitats and represent some of Europe's largest natural resources. Around 80% of the 35,000 kilometres of river are still in very good or good condition. The corresponding figure for the rest of Europe is the exact opposite, a mere 20% of all rivers. This “blue heart of Europe” in the Balkans is threatened by the building of some 2,700 dams and power stations. Not even national parks or other protected areas will be spared.

In 2016 the Balkan Rivers Tour came into being. The purpose of the campaign is to draw attention to the negative effects of dams on river ecosystems. On 30 March 2017 around 500 canoeists began paddling on a trip from the source of the River Soča in Slovenia. Some days later, having crossed six frontiers, they reached the sea in Greece. The action is continuing with numerous other accompanying events in the Dinaric Alps as well as on and along the River Morača in Montenegro. As a result, local people become involved in the protest action and are made aware of the issue.

Director of the Balkan Rivers Tour, Rok Rozman, explains: “The rivers are under great pressure from the hydropower lobby”. Despite this pressure, some have so far been spared such expansion. They serve as examples and show that there is another way, as Rok Rozman underscores using the Soča as a case in point: it is a magnet for visitors from Slovenia and tourists from all over the world who find something here that they miss at home.

A further campaign aimed at saving the threatened rivers of the Balkans is RiverWatch's “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, with director Ulrich Eichelmann awarded the 2014 Grosser Binding Prize for his efforts.


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