Ulrich Eichelmann, the founder of the Vienna-based NGO RiverWatch, at the Kalivaç Dam on the Vjosa River in Albania. Photo: Andrew Burr/Blue Heart

Ulrich Eichelmann, the founder of the Vienna-based NGO RiverWatch, at the Kalivaç Dam on the Vjosa River in Albania. Photo: Andrew Burr/Blue Heart

A California-based outdoors company has launched a multimedia campaign to try to save what it says are Europe’s last wild rivers.

Patagonia, renowned for its ethical stance on environmental matters, has produced a documentary film and website and is urging outdoor enthusiasts to sign its petition.

It aims to discourage international banks from investing in the building of dams in the Balkans.

The Blue Heart campaign is dedicated to protecting the rivers on the Balkan peninsula, where numerous hydro schemes are planned which, it says, threaten a potential environmental disaster.

More than 3,000 projects are planned, Patagonia said.

The company, founded by climber Yvon Chouinard in 1973, said: “In the Balkan peninsula between Slovenia and Albania, hydropower projects threaten to destroy the richly diverse culture, history and ecology of the region known as the Blue Heart of Europe.

“Local activists living along these rivers are fighting to save their homes and the rivers and lands that define them. Vigilant and steadfast women from the village of Kruščica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, sat night and day for almost a year in peaceful protest to protect their communities’ rivers and their only source of drinking water, enduring physical violence from authorities to do so.

“European and local NGOs led by RiverWatch and Euronatur are opposing government corruption and foreign investment that fuels this hydropower gold rush.”

A flotilla protest on the banks of the Vjosa River in Albania, the largest of the last untamed rivers in Europe. Photo: Andrew Burr/Blue Heart

A flotilla protest on the banks of the Vjosa River in Albania, the largest of the last untamed rivers in Europe. Photo: Andrew Burr/Blue Heart

Patagonia is joining with local communities and NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia to put pressure on foreign developers and banks that are pouring over €700 million to fund the dam-building projects, according to a Bankwatch report.

The California company says one-third of the dams and diversions are planned within sensitive protected areas including 118 in national parks. “If this fierce local opposition fails, communities will be displaced and the last undammed watersheds on the continent will be irreversibly damaged.”

Patagonia’s Blue Heart website features what it describes as an endangered and forgotten region and details why hydropower dams are dirty technology that don’t belong in the green energy mix.

Patagonia, along with NGO partners, is asking concerned citizens around the world to sign the petition to stop the funding of these dams and protect the last wild rivers of Europe.

Mr Chouinard said: “I believe this wild place requires and deserves protection.

“It’s a waste of money and a moral travesty that some of the world’s largest financial institutions have embraced this outdated and exploitative technology and are financing new dams in some of the last wild places in Europe. This is a fight too important to ignore.”

Patagonia said, while the movement to decommission dams and shift to clean energy is growing worldwide, the number of proposed projects in the Balkan region has doubled since 2015. “Ninety-one percent of the proposed dams and diversions will provide very little energy and are extremely expensive to build and maintain,” it said. “Because of their size, they require no environmental impact assessment.”

The UK public premiere of the Blue Heart film will take place on 2 May. Details are on the Blue Heart website.  Supporters of the campaign can also sign an online petition.

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