It may or may not surprise you – it is unlikely to be something you’ve even given a moment’s thought – but there is just one free-flowing river in Europe, untouched by human construction or influence.

For five years, the campaign for the protection of the Vjosa river and other Balkan rivers from the irreversible damages of hydropower plants has been ongoing. The outdoor clothing company Patagonia, is pursuing its campaign to protect the “Blue Heart of Europe” by initiating an international petition. Tell international banks to stop investing in the destruction of Europe’s last wild rivers.

Sign the petition by following the link:

Albania, like many of the Balkan states, is experiencing a boom period in visitor numbers, with travellers drawn to raw beauty of its mountains, valleys, forests, rivers and lakes. Since 2000, tourism arrivals to the former socialist republic has multiplied by nearly 13 times to 4.1 million. Many regard the country as the Mediterranean’s last “secret”.

“We were already working with a rafting company in Albania, and they contacted us and said the river is under threat,” says Alex Narracott, founder of Much Better Adventures, which runs several trips to Albania, as well as Kosovo, Croatia and Slovenia.

The Vjosa begins life as the Aoos in Greece’s Pindus mountains, where it crosses into Albania, winding through the Balkan mountains for 169 miles, before dispersing into the Adriatic. It is at the centre of what is known as the Blue Heart of Europe, where the river’s 2,500 square miles of basin paint the landscape with tributaries.

On the Aoos, named variously after the Greek goddess Aphrodite’s mortal lover and the first king of Cyprus, alone, some 36 hydropower dams are planned, many within the boundaries of national parks. Across the Balkan region as a whole, from Slovenia, south down to Greece, 1,003 already exist, 188 and being built, and 2,798 have been proposed.

Campaigners warn the schemes, financed by global banks, will cause irreparable damage to the rivers, the wildlife and local communities, as well as stifling a blossoming tourist trade.