Balkan River Defence



Join the 2020 Balkan Rivers Tour 5:


BALKAN RIVERS TOUR 5 | Sava: Bohinj to Belgrade
We need your ideas and action!

39 days. 4 countries. 1.000km of kayaking. 1 River. The Sava.
April 24th – June 1st 2020.

The Sava River. It’s an icon of the Balkans, and a river that connects Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The Sava is incredibly rich, wild and important to the cities and towns along its length. But all of this is threatened by up to 14 new dams planned to be built on the Sava and 500 new dams planned on its tributaries. 

Our crazy BRD crew will kayak the entire length of the Sava River. Joined along the way by people that understand the importance of wild rivers, we will spend 39 days and 1.000 km in our kayaks using only paddles to get us from the source in the Julian Alps of Slovenia to the confluence with Danube in the white city of Belgrade, Serbia.

During the 39 days of kayaking (from April 24th till June 1st) we will bring together locals, nature conservation organizations, kayakers, fishermen, scientists, schools, media outlets and decision makers to show how incredible and important the Sava catchment is for wildlife and local residents and how foolish it would be to destroy all that with new dams, destructive gravel extraction and dredging.


To show how diverse the Sava is.
To see the many different animal and plant species that still call it home.
To explore how the flood forests protect cities along its banks.
To get to know the many incredible tributaries that add to the Sava’s waters.
And to understand how it connects different landscapes, nations and traditions while remaining the river which defines the Balkan peninsula.


We are inviting you to paddle the Sava with us for the first and the last stage of the BRT5 program. Become part of the BRT5 team and paddle the smaller stretches of river with simple logistics, and more manageable paddling for recreation paddlers. Full program for those days can be found and downloaded here. The middle stages (2&3) of BRT5 will entail long days of fast paddling, where the team will cover 45+ km of flat water every day, sleeping on the river banks with limited support. When we paddle through towns and cities everyone is welcome to join, but the exhausting long days are for the BRT5 team only. 


Put your ideas into action and become part of the BRT5 Team
It is time to prove the fight for rivers in the Balkans is more than a project, it is a movement!
Got some cool ideas? Want to make a difference? Ready to take action and get involved in the fight for wild rivers? You already fight for rivers and would just like to join forces for this event? Plan your own River Action and become a part of the tour!


River Actions are where your ideas come to life. You have the freedom to come up with your own action on the Sava or a tributary. It could be your home river, on a river you know or a completely unknown river in the Sava catchment. 

It can be a kayaking trip, a bike trip or a hiking trip along a tributary. Or maybe you have a citizen science project with your school. A garbage clean up and a football game! A protest and a picnic! An art installment or day of painting. Any combination works, as long as it’s for a river, on a river of the Sava catchment!

1. Fill out the form to get your idea heard! Form available here: BRT5 River Action Application Form
2. Wait for the BRT5 team to get in touch with you to approve your event.
3. Start making connections, spreading the word, and planning your action. If it involves participation of others, we will give you posters and a social media promo package to get people excited about your event.
4. We will list your action on our interactive River Action Map and on out FB page and in return you will send us a 1-2 page long summary (after your action) with 5-10 photos or short video so we can create a portfolio of all the BRT5 River Actions and deliver it to decision makers and especially investors into destructive hydro power schemes to show that there is a web of connected river defenders in the Balkans!

Our goal is to have more River Actions than proposed dams! 


There are many threats that the Sava faces:
  • With 9 existing (highly destructive) hydro power plants on Sava river in Slovenia, there are plans for as many as 14 new HPPs in Slovenia and Croatia
  • The creation of a channel cutting a corner out of the Sava to connect it to the Danube in Croatia. 
  • Many other industrial activities like dredging for navigation and gravel extraction threaten and damage the river and could ultimately kill one of the last corridors for wildlife in Europe. 
  • More than 500 new HPPs planned throughout the Sava catchment, on tributaries that feed this rich river. 


No new dams on the Sava. Why?
  • The Sava is an integral part of Europe’s greater freshwater ecosystem, home to Natura 2000 and IUCN Red List species.
  • It is an amazing climate change mitigation tool with active flood forests that keep towns and cities safer than they would otherwise be.
  • The Sava needs better biodiversity protection measures as well as support for sustainable ecotourism and local economy which can produce more revenue than destructive industry. 

Instead of mass destruction through HPPs, which would be heavily subsidized by tax payer’s money- your money – enabling rampant corruption and completely unnecessary devastation, we demand from decision makers and investment institutions to back out from hydro and support cheaper and true green alternatives. What this means on the ground? Install solar panels on existing infrastructure, wind turbines on highways and start the transition to sustainable economy with smaller general power consumption. 

Combined into one simple concept…
Give the Sava more space through the creation of new
protected areas and the restoration of degraded stretches of rivers.





DEFEND: the remaining free flowing rivers of Europe. 

EXPOSE: hydropower as unsustainable energy. 

PROVIDE: alternatives through science, education, creativity + adventure sports.

SUPPORT: a network of local river activists.



The Undamaged from Leeway Collective on Vimeo.



As the only kayaker attending a Balkan Rivers Conference in Belgrade, Serbia in 2015, Rok approached river conservation almost by accident. He also approached it from a very different perspective. Standing at the bar one night, he realized it was time to act. He had enough of listening to complaints about funding, organization and bureaucracy needs in order to stop 2.700 proposed dams to be built on the last free flowing rivers of Europe, on his doorstep in the Balkan Peninsula. These conservation organizations were doing great work, but the level of direct action wasn’t there yet. He noticed both individuals and organizations lacked courage to stand up to the attack of rampant hydro power development. He wanted to do something simple and effective in a more down to earth way and give people an option to join in and get involved directly.

Rok first Balkan River Tour drawn with a red line on a map

So the next day he drew a sloppy red line on Google Earth map of the Balkans and told the room of scientists and conservationists that together with his friends they were going to kayak all these rivers in the spring, to show the Balkans–and the world–what is at stake if these rivers get dammed. They would paddle to defend the rivers. The Balkan Rivers Tour was born as a rebellious promise given to both locals and the global river conservation community. River conservation should first be about fun and enjoyment of rivers and second about saving and conserving them. This way you get a Perpetuum mobile, ever intensifying the drive to do the hard work.


Rok and the team started the Balkan Rivers Tour (BRT) flying by the seat of their pants. What started as a crazy idea turned into the biggest (and most fun) direct river conservation action in Europe. After two years and two tours, BRT has evolved past just a ‘tour’ and has turned into a movement. A movement in defence of wild rivers. It’s time to take on a new name, but to carry on the same mission; defending wild rivers of the Balkans and Europe. The name has now changed from Balkan Rivers Tour (BRT) to BALKAN RIVER DEFENCE (BRD).

Balkan Rivers Tour (BRT) will still exist, but it will represent the annual paddling and protesting ‘Tour” we take through the Balkans. BRD is the group; the family, the hand. BRT is the event; the party, the megaphone.


BRD is an experiment. They don’t always know what they are doing. There is no fixed plan for a year, sometimes even for a month ahead. Having no fixed plan at the beginning was the best thing as it enabled the BRT to evolve into what it is now; something that works by bringing people together for a common cause in an interesting way. Life has no fixed plans too, so embrace the wild ride!

After 3 years it has become clear that the job is not to fight HPP at court cases or invest research or focus on only one river; it is about creating a movement– a shift of the perception of dams, making nature conservation cool, accessible to everyone and fun. We are the ambassadors of rivers, the simple people that address society and raise awareness in a way that we get heard, not boring people into reading a 300 page document. We are connecting dots by bringing adventure sports communities and nature conservation organizations together. Where kayakers and fly fishermen become friends. We are helping small, local NGOs get exposure in international media. We are bringing crowds to creative protests. We are addressing the international public and bringing people from around the world together for the cause and fighting for Balkan and Europe's rivers. Often using unconventional approaches, we are trying to make shortcuts to stop dams and save rivers.


Balkan Peninsula is a special place. Ecologically and culturally. Complicated history and politics make this part of Europe very difficult to understand. The intention is to unite Balkan nations against the destruction of their rivers and the attack of neocolonialism in the form of hydropower. In other words, rivers are one of the rare things that connect nations here and we wish to nourish that. Rivers are being attacked by foreign investment that seeks to profit from this ‘less developed part of Europe’ by exploiting the current political situation and rampant corruption to further their greedy goals. The people of the Balkans saw enough of that in the last centuries and rivers are one of the only things they have left.

Some of our team are from the Balkans, some are from all over the world. They want to help locals fight their own fight. Nature conservation is often more about sociology and psychology than it is biology. It is people who sit behind a table and decide that a certain river should be left untouched, not snails or fish unfortunately. We hope that people are encouraged by the BRD story, and that it inspires them to take action a protect their own precious rivers. We are about collaboration, it is only through working together and connecting people and groups can we save Europe's last remaining wild rivers. A small fish can be chased by a big one, but a group of small fish can turn and chase down that big one too.



Prposed dams in the Balkans


Balkan River Defence and Balkan Rivers Tour are run and led by the NGO Leeway Collective, Institute for Promotion and protection of Aquatic Ecosystems.