Patagonia Join Battle to Save the Blue Heart of Europe

STORY BY Megan Hughes 22nd February 2018

With abundant wildlife and immense natural beauty, the Blue Heart of Europe is a hidden treasure for those who love, fly fishing, kayaking and rock climbing. A powerful few, however, seek to destroy its vulnerable communities, threatened wildlife and rare vegetation in exchange for a few kilowatts of hydropower.

The Story

On the Balkan Peninsula, a pristine system of wild rivers runs between Slovenia and Albania, home to spectacular waterfalls, crystal clear streams, vast biodiversity, deep canyons and large alluvial forests where eagles nest. The area consists of more than 20,000 river kilometres – the largest wild area still left in Europe. Amazingly, the natural beauty of this region, known as the Blue Heart of Europe, has gone largely unnoticed, even in the middle of 21st century Europe.

The Threat

Right now, this spectacular region faces a grave threat from developers who plan to build 3,000 dam projects scattered across more than 20,000 river kilometres. Billed as “green power initiatives,” these dams would choke the rivers to death and devastate a thriving world-class ecosystem in exchange for a few kilowatts of hydropower.

Zoe Hart, Alpine Climbing Ambassador said: “The damming of these rivers would steal forever the possibilities of unknown adventures yet to be had: developing climbing areas, floating down river rapids, swinging fly rods along riverbanks, linking up days on quiet trails. Yes, it would bring more money and more power, but to who, and at the cost of what?”

Local activists working to prevent the construction of these dams face an enormous challenge.

Ulrich Eichelmann, Save the Blue Heart of Europe Campaigner said: ‘’To me and many others, saving the Balkan rivers is the single most important nature conservation issue in Europe. We are aware that the challenge is huge and even a bit crazy. But how often do you get the chance to save a continental heritage? One day, people from all over the world will come to the Balkans to see Europe’s Blue Heart still beating. And we will fight for it.’’

The Fight

For the past two years, popular outdoor clothing brand Patagonia have supported a group called Save the Blue Heart of Europe in their efforts to protect the rivers of the Balkan Peninsula from dam construction and other devastating development proposals. These activists face an enormous challenge. By providing grant funding and communications assistance, Patagonia are helping these courageous activists tell the story of this incredible place, raise awareness about the threats posed by dams, and get more people involved in protecting these wild rivers.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s Founder, said: “Wild places only survive when people come together and confront greedy developers with a deafening voice. The unknown wilderness is most appetising to those who exploit nature for profit. It has nobody to speak up for it. That’s why a secret paradise like the Blue Heart of Europe requires our most urgent attention.”

A feature length 40-minute documentary on the topic has also been made and will be available later this year along with more information about how the campaign will unfold across Europe. Keep your eyes peeled for updates here.

Image Credits – A Burr @Patagonia

Featured Image Credit – © A. Vorauer

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