It was just our house and countryside. I felt very lonely and depressed, wondering what I’d done to deserve such punishment! But lots of time by myself in nature, chasing snakes, picking flowers and climbing trees awakened something in me. I became a country girl.

Incredible world

With freshwater ecosystems under pressure as never before, for the last 14 years, Francesca has lead WWF’s Mediterranean freshwater programme – nurturing civil society, campaigning against inappropriate hydropower, and promoting protected areas and integrated management with government and the private sector.

F Antonelli (c) WWF

I began as a mammologist but discovered the incredible world of Mediterranean freshwater ecosystems. Their creatures and plants have astonishing survival strategies. It was a steep learning curve but the best thing I’ve done in my career.

Moraca River (c) iStock

Basin futures

The Sebou river basin in Morocco has been a particular focus for Francesca. A major olive, rice, wheat and fruit-growing region, pressure on its resources is profound. Yet long technical work with the basin agency has delivered sound ecological monitoring and strategic cost-benefit-based management – critical for the river’s unique wetlands.

The first time we met the Sebou agency, the room was full of pictures of dams. I didn’t know if we’d find common ground. But now the basin’s been chosen for trial application of the EU Water Framework Directive beyond the EU. Shifting government mindsets is extremely important.


Francesca puts success down to working with others and being humble; not giving up even when things look dire; and putting heart and soul into everything. Applying these lessons in a recent campaign against a cascade of dams on the Morača river in Montenegro, Francesca and her team have succeeded in dispelling the myth that hydropower is de facto a green energy source. No investors bid for the project and government and business alike now recognise the need to involve civil society in decision-making.

Ensuring integrated management of river basins

Reducing threats from abstraction and poor management are critical to integrated river basin management. Francesca and WWF have long been central to MAVA’s mission – from tackling large dams and promoting no-go areas to improving impact assessment and changing government and investor mindsets. Read more about MAVA’s action plan on this subject.

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