The banks of the Soča River in Slovenia became the playground (and classroom) of the first ever Students for Rivers Camp during the fourth annual Balkan Rivers Tour. Twenty-eight students and more than 20 speakers from 20 different nations gathered with one common motivation; to use their brains to protect the last remaining wild rivers of Europe.

“I basically came here to learn how I can help my friend Aoos and its tributaries?”

– Dimitris Papageorgiou, student from the Aoos River | Greece

Students and presenters from many different disciplines were invited to look at the threat of hydropower development from a wide range of perspectives. Only by understanding the whole picture, can these rivers be saved. 


During the week, mornings were filled with a range of lectures that brought in expertise from the field.
The following topics were covered:

The clean river system

From mountains to the ocean, an endless amount of processes contribute to sustaining healthy river systems. Our expert shed light on the vital interaction between hydrology, morphology, biochemistry and the habitats created by them.

Impacts of hydropower development and alternatives

How the development of hydropower influences the natural processes occurring on a river, with special attention to the rivers in the Balkans. Which alternatives can be considered?

Drivers of hydropower development

Currently, roughly 1.000 hydropower dams exist in the Balkans. The construction of 3.000 more small and big dams are planned. This is not simply driven by the need for renewable energy – there is a whole lot more behind it. We touched base on the complex collision between politics, economics and law. 

Examples from the Balkans

We were delighted to have some of our heroes, the ones that fight for rivers on a daily basis, join us to share their stories. Some are experts in legislative processes, some aim to raise awareness while others focus on sustainable tourism. These examples gave a boost of motivation to all participants. 

With a.o. Steven Weiss, Gabriel Singer, Markus Noack, Andrej Gubina, Pippa Gallop, Dušan Jesenšek


“This was one-of-a-kind. I really liked the diversity of students and presenters. Bringing young people together who can combine a scientific approach with activism to actually use science to ensure that countries improve their practices.”

Pippa Gallop, Bankwatch | Croatia


The afternoons were reserved for more interaction. By participating in serious gamedeveloped by Kasper, one of the first River Intellectualsstudents got a first-hand feeling of how corruption plays a major role in hydro development. The River Cafe hosted several discussion rounds which brought in a wide range of perspectives on how the River Intellectuals Network can be most beneficial. 


Throughout the week, the students developed their own ideas and pitched seven inspiring projects to each other, the Soca valley locals and the whole Balkan Rivers Tour crew. 

Thanks to the Free Rivers Fund, the two most promising projects received a small grant to kickstart their projects. Stritih Sustainable Development, a local environmental consulting business, was so impressed by the projects, they donated 250 euros on the spot to award the third place project as well. Judging from their motivation (or the amount of schnapps drunk to celebrate), we can expect some cool activities happening next year, which bring science to the people and vice versa. 





For most students, the highlight of the week was the River Experience. Finally getting the hands wet let the purpose of the camp really sink in. We celebrated the free Soča, trying out every thinkable watercraft. 


The Students for Rivers Camp ran parallel to Balkan Rivers Tour 4. This appeared to be a golden recipe. While the students got inspired by the rock’n roll way of drawing (media) attention to the rivers, the kayakers got inspired to learn more about the rivers they love and what other ways there are to protect them. Discussions continued around the campfire and through jam sessions with  kayakers getting stoked on science and students getting into kayaking.

Maybe even more important, some academics were awakened that activism can be a catalyser for research and knowledge exchange. 

On Saturday, many students and presenters joined BRT’s Free Soca Flotilla, the beer mile and the party. Some danced ‘til sunrise! 

“It was fun, inspiring and energizing to have students and experts from 20 countries working together, exploring the problems and the solutions faced by rivers of the Balkans. We are excited by the amount of cool people who have incredible project ideas; SRC is clearly not just a one-week project, but the beginning of something big!”

– Vera Knook, River Intellectuals Manager |The Netherlands

PHOTOS | Katja Pokorn