A shield of protection for the Aoos River

A shield of protection for the Aoos River

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A ministerial decision prohibits the construction of dams and hydropower plants of all categories, including Small Hydropower Plants (SHPs), in the section of the cross-border Aoos River that was designated as Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation.

Joint Press Release
of MedINA, Pindos Perivallontiki, The Green Tank

We welcome the adoption of the long-awaited decision of the Minister of Environment and Energy, which complements the protection status of the Aoos River and recognises its importance as a free-flowing river. The landmark decision (YPEN/FPB/61146/1573) sets out the terms of protection within the section designated as Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation since November 2023. This protected area, which extends from the boundaries of Northern Pindos National Park to the Greek-Albanian border, includes the Aoos River downstream from the bridge of Konitsa, part of the Voidomatis River and the largest part of the Sarantaporos River basin.

The decision prohibits the construction of dams, as well as hydropower plants of all categories, including SHPs, which constitute the greatest threat to the free flow, special ecological value and hydromorphological integrity of the river. At the same time, activities are permitted that safeguard the reinforcement of the economy, the sustainable development of local communities (farming, stockbreeding, tourism, etc.) and their cultural heritage.

This important landmark victory is also the result of the efforts of civil society organisations MedINA, Pindos Perivallontiki, The Green Tank, and the international alliance ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’, that shared their proposals for the institutional protection of the Aoos with the Greek state, taking into account the ecological value of the river and the aspirations of local communities. In this way, a protective shield is created for the free flow of the Aoos, its main tributaries, Voidomatis and Sarantaporos, and all the streams within the protected area, providing a strong foundation for the conservation and effective management of the river basin. A prerequisite for the integrated protection of the river network is the establishment of a unified protection regime for the entire Aoos river basin, with correspondingly strong development conditions and restrictions.

Looking to the future, the next step includes upgrading the protection status of the area to a National Park, through the extension of the boundaries of Northern Pindos National Park towards the Greek-Albanian border. This protected area can subsequently be joined with the neighbouring Vjosa National Park to establish the first Transboundary Wild River National Park in Europe, Vjosa/Aoos, a common vision of our alliance.

“The conservation of the Aoos as a free-flowing river is a triumph for both nature and local communities. This decision is another step to ensure that the unparalleled landscape of the region is not altered, that the ecological integrity of the river is preserved for the benefit of biodiversity and future generations, who will continue to enjoy the services that the river has generously provided for centuries”, stated Alexis Katsaros, Executive Director of MedINA.

The protection puzzle for the Aoos is complete and timing couldn’t be better for this iconic river. Last week the new EU Nature Restoration Law was adopted, which provides for removing barriers and dams from European rivers, aiming to restore 25,000 km by 2030. The Aoos is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe and the new protection regime is an institutional guarantee that it will remain so”, said Ioli Christopoulou, Policy Director and Co-Founder of The Green Tank.

“At a very difficult period for effective environmental protection, keeping the Aoos River flowing freely is an essential and crucial initiative. The Aoos must remain a free-flowing river, preventing developments that will disrupt the ecosystem and negatively affect the low impact human activities that have been developing for years along the river. In Aoos, the environment is wealth, development, but also identity, and all decisions and legal regulations must be directed in this direction, of ‘holistic’ management”, added Yannis Vrazitoulis, President of Pindos Perivallontiki.


Επιπλέον πληροφορίες:

– Decision YPEN/DD FPB/61148/1574 of the Minister of Environment and Energy (Government Gazette 381D/11-6-2024) sets out the development conditions and restrictions for the protection and conservation of the river’s free flow in the area designated as Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation by decision YPEN/DD FPB/115155/3787/8.11.2023 of the Director General of Environmental Policy of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (Government Gazette 6679/27-11-2023). This procedure is foreseen in Article 178 of Law 4685/2020 (as amended by Law 5037/2023), which requires a decision of the Minister of Environment and Energy to establish the specific protection terms within a Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation designated by the competent body of the Ministry of Environment and Energy. https://thegreentank.gr/en/2023/11/28/the-entire-aoos-river-in-greece-and-its-tributaries-are-now-protected/https://med-ina.org/el/prostatevomenos-pleon-olokliros-o-potamos-aoos-kai-oi-parapotamoi-tou/

– The designation of a National Park is a distinct process, which requires the preparation of Special Environmental Studies (SES). Currently, the Ministry of Environment and Energy is preparing the Special Environmental Studies for all Natura 2000 sites in Greece and for the existing National Parks. Organisations of the ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign have participated in the consultation of SES 11a: Natura 2000 sites of the Regional Units of Thesprotia, Ioannina and Grevena – Eastern Section, submitting comments so that the area designated as Protected Landscape can become part of the Northern Pindos National Park: https://ypen.gov.gr/diavouleusi/forums/forum/dimosia-diavoyleysi-toy-ergoy-ekponisi-eidikon-perivallontikon-meleton-syntaxi-proedrikon-diatagmaton-prostasias-kai-schedion-diacheirisis-gia-tis-perioches-toy-diktyoy-natura-2000/epm-11a-perioches-natura-2000-ton-perifereiakon-enotiton-thesprotias-ioanninon-kai-grevenon/ https://ypen.gov.gr/diavouleusi/forums/forum/dimosia-diavoyleysi-toy-ergoy-ekponisi-eidikon-perivallontikon-meleton-syntaxi-proedrikon-diatagmaton-prostasias-kai-schedion-diacheirisis-gia-tis-perioches-toy-diktyoy-natura-2000/epm-11a-perioches-natura-2000-ton-perifereiakon-enotiton-thesprotias-ioanninon-kai-grevenon/

– Vjosa/Aoos: The Vjosa/Aoos is one of the last major free-flowing rivers in Europe outside the Nordic countries. It flows from the Pindos mountains in Greece, where it is called Aoos, to the Adriatic Sea in Albania, where it is called Vjosa, for 270 consecutive km. Together with its tributaries, the Vjosa/Aoos is an ecosystem with a rich biodiversity of national and global importance.

– On 15 March 2023, the Albanian part of the river was declared a ‘Wild River National Park’, taking the title of the first Wild River National Park in Europe – where the free and wild flow of rivers and streams are now placed at the centre of protection policies. More information about Vjosa National Park: https://www.vjosanationalpark.al/ & https://med-ina.org/vjosanationalpark/ & https://www.iucn.org/press-release/202303/vjosa-one-our-last-wild-rivers-becomes-europes-first-wild-river-national-park

– Rivers are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. In Europe alone, rivers are fragmented by 1 million artificial barriers (mainly river channelisations and dams). As a result, since 1970, the populations of migratory freshwater fish species have declined by 93%.

– The campaign ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ aims to protect the high nature value rivers in the Balkans, which are threatened by more than 3,400 hydropower plants. The campaign is coordinated by the international NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and implemented jointly with partner organisations in the Balkan countries. For more information on the international ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign: https://balkanrivers.net/en.

– The need for conservation of the Vjosa/Aoos and the institutional protection of its entire hydrographic network at cross-border level has been documented in scientific studies by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). More on the results of the IUCN studies and the proposals for the institutional protection of the river to the Greek and Albanian authorities: https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/51377 & https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/49471