International Women’s Day: 6 badass female activists protecting nature in the Balkans
International Women's Day female environmental activists in the Balkans

International Women’s Day is HUGE in the Balkans. It’s traditional for children to give roses to their female teachers as a token of their appreciation, while women swap messages of love and appreciation for each other. And so, we want to take this opportunity to spread the love too.

You’ll know if you’ve travelled with us that the Balkans boasts some truly breathtaking wild spaces. It’s also home to vulnerable and endangered species – like our friend the Dalmatian Pelican at Lake Skadar – and some of Europe’s few remaining free-flowing, wild rivers. One of the biggest threats to these ecosystems are hydropower projects which have devastating impacts on both people and nature, from blocking fish migration to destroying natural flood defences.

There are some brilliant individuals and organisations out there defending these precious places and today we’re showing our appreciation for some of the fierce females standing up for nature in the Balkans.

‘The fight is on for these last truly wild spaces in Europe,’ says co-founder Emma, who herself has gotten behind some of the environmental campaigning in the Balkans. ‘These women are doing some incredible, brave work to protect the nature and communities around them. They deserve our thanks, recognition and support.’

Jelena Popović: Montenegro

Jelena Popović is an environmental activist in Montenegro
Credit: Jelena Popović

If you joined us on our super active adventure in Montenegro, you may have experienced the beauty of Nevidio Canyon (aka the ‘Unseen Canyon’) for yourself. What you won’t know is that the river running through it, the sky-coloured Komarnica, is threatened by a hydropower development that, if built, would devastate its entire ecosystem – one tipped by UNESCO for the heritage list due to its outstanding value.

Ecologist Jelena Popović is one Montenegrin taking a giant stand to stop this, working tirelessly with other activists to protect the river. She’s one of the power-houses behind the #SaveKomarnica protest camp held the last two years, and another planned for May this year (see you there!).

Jelena is the secretary general of the NGO Montenegrin Ecologist’s Society, one of our nominated charities for 2024. We had the pleasure of spending time with her at last year’s camp, as well as when she joined us for a kayaking expedition from Montenegro to Albania.

Jovana Janjusević: Montenegro

Jovana Janjusević is an environmental activist in Montenegro
Credit: Jovana Janjusević

Jovana is another wildlife champion from Montenegro. She is the Executive Director of The Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP), another one of our nominated charities this year. She has dedicated her life to protecting birds, other species and wild spaces across Montenegro, like the Ulcinj Saltpans, where we take our birdwatching guests to spot wild flamingos.

Jovana is often seen on Montenegrin TV and in the newspapers speaking up for nature. Her support of the Save Skadar Lake campaign we co-founded in 2017 to block plans for mass tourism development there was invaluable.

Maida Bilal: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Maida Bilal is an environmental activist in Bosnia

For 500 days and nights, Maida Bilal led a group of women who camped at the sites of two planned hydropower plants on the Kruščica River, a source of natural drinking water to many communities living on its banks in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Their protesting successfully stopped construction and for this Maida won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2017. Read more about Maida’s story here.

Shpresa Loshaj: Kosovo

Shpresa Loshaj is an environmental activist in Kosovo
Credit: Facebook/Shpresa Loshaj

Shpresa Loshaj has been fighting against hydropower in her hometown of Deçan in the west of Kosovo, which is home to precious glacial lakes and wild rivers. A few years ago, she was visiting from Canada, where she now resides, and felt compelled to act.

She established Pishtarët in 2019, a movement which is fighting against hydropower projects and accusing Kosovo institutions of issuing permits to hydropower companies which haven’t fulfilled the relevant conditions and procedures.

Pishtarët came under fire from Austrian company Kelag (Kelkos in Kosovan), which has several hydropower projects on the go along the Lumbardhi river. The company tried to silence Shpresa and other activists by threatening them with lawsuits, but they didn’t succeed.

Nataša Milivojević: Serbia

Nataša Milivojević is an environmental activist in Serbia
Credit: Nataša Milivojević

Nataša Milivojević, CEO and project co-ordinator of the Rzav Ecological Association has worked to protect Serbia’s cleanest river, the Veliki Rzav, from hydroelectric power plant developments. In 2020, in partnership with WWF Adria, their campaigning brought a decision to prohibit issuing permits for the construction of small hydroelectric power plants in the Arilje territory, which covers 18 locations along the River Veliki Rzav.

The NGO’s campaigning spans the country as they work to balance environmental protection with economic development. Nataša and her organisation are also in charge of the International Rafting Regatta down the Veliki Rzav and for the last two years, they have hosted the International Environmental Film Festival there.

Besjana Guri: Albania

Besjana Guri is an environmental activist in Albania

Besjana (Besi) Guri is the voice of EcoAlbania and coordinator of the ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign in Albania.

Since 2014, Besi has been engaged in the protection of last wild flowing river in Europe – the Vjosa – and with success. Vjosa was declared Europe’s first ever Wild River National Park, in March last year. Before we celebrate too fast, threats remain, and Besi, along with EcoAlbania, locals and partners like Riverwatch are currently focused on stopping a worrying hydropower development on one of Vjosa’s main tributaries, the Shushica river.

If you’ve been on our Super Active Albania Adventure you will be familiar with the majestic Vjosa river, it’s our plan B for when the Osumi is running too low to raft. Have no doubt though, that this river so big and wild will be centre stage when we launch our South Albania adventure later this year.

Protecting the environment through responsible travel

We do our best to support the amazing work these women, and others, are doing by treading lightly in the areas of outstanding natural beauty we visit and donating 1% of our turnover to important environmental and community projects through our Book to Give Back scheme.

Read more about our commitment to responsible travel practices and our top tips for travelling with a lighter footprint in the Balkans with us.


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