Like everyone witnessing the distressing scenes filling our screens, I am struggling to find the words to express the sorrow, worry and horror that so many will feel in the face of the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing tragic loss of life and injury. The news feeds are shocking and overwhelming, but how should we react? Individually, we will each be feeling a sense of helplessness but collectively we have to raise our heads and open our hearts to respond as positively as the situation allows. Within FFI we are focusing on what we can do to support friends, colleagues and acquaintances, who may be directly affected by this tragedy, whether in the UK, in Ukraine or elsewhere.

As long-term supporters of FFI will know, it is roughly two decades since we last worked in Ukraine. At that time, we were providing support to the Meotida Regional Landscape Park – a crucial wetland in the south-east of the country – helping to develop its first management plan and to build the park team’s capacity. We keep our Ukrainian friends and all victims of this conflict close to our hearts, and hope we have the chance to revisit that beautiful landscape again at some stage in the future, once peace is restored.

Our first priority has been ensuring that all our staff are safe. We do not have any staff in Ukraine, but we do work in a number of countries in the region, which could be affected by the war or its economic fallout. Fortunately our own staff and those of our partners in the region remain safe and well. We are aware that the majority of our colleagues from other conservation organisations are also safe but that some are still in Ukraine sheltering in basements and underground stations or trying to move towards safer areas. However, the sanctions placed on Russia also affect neighbouring republics whose currencies are pegged to the rouble. This will inevitably have an impact on our staff in those countries.

We are keeping a close eye on developments and are reaching out to our colleagues across the region to ask how we might help and collectively respond. We are actively working to reduce risks and impacts to our teams wherever they are located, and aim to ensure we can support all our staff as yet another ‘global’ challenge throws us all off balance. Many of our colleagues have family and friends in neighbouring nations, and we are each looking for ways to support those we know in Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, countries on the front line of the support chain, now coping with the flood of people forced to flee.

The humanitarian consequences of this war are there for all to see, but as conservationists we are also asking ourselves what the environmental impacts might be, given that we are in the teeth of a global biodiversity and climate crisis.

Leaving aside the obvious recklessness of firing missiles in the vicinity of any nuclear power plant, the long-term ecological consequences of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine are, of course, potentially devastating. Other war zones have seen significant impacts to the natural habitats and wildlife of the country, either directly as unseen casualties of the destructive power of modern warfare, or indirectly as people are forced to find alternative survival strategies in the aftermath of losing their homes. It is too soon to speculate what the outcome will be for Ukraine, and its natural wonders including rich biodiversity stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west and eastwards across vast lowlands, slow meandering rivers and dense forests. Furthermore, this conflict has environmental implications far beyond the borders of Ukraine.

The climate change agenda has always been underpinned by geopolitical decisions linked to energy security. The sudden shift away from Russian oil and gas has resulted in kneejerk policy shifts that favour further North Sea extraction, and could even pave the way for fracking in the UK (overturning the long-term campaigns that have prevented this to date). However, the latest IPCC report – which was overshadowed by the enormity of the situation in Ukraine – makes clear that we cannot hope to keep global warming below 1.5C if we invest in the extraction of additional fossil fuels. Clearly this is a delicate situation, with risks of sudden shocks for energy supply, but surely this is the time to fast-track a move to greener options and towards better energy conservation and reduced energy demand, to ensure that this terrible war does not accelerate our trajectory towards irreversible climate change?

The ongoing struggle to combat climate change and biodiversity loss is hard at the best of times. In times of conflict, those difficulties increase exponentially. We know from past experience that conservation in a conflict zone is, at best, hazardous and, at worst, impossible. For nature conservation to succeed, the world needs peace and cooperation.

The shining light in these dark days has been the heartfelt response to Ukraine’s plight:  the protest marches (including within Russia itself); the collections of food, clothes and other provisions; the widespread easing of immigration restrictions and welcoming of refugees; the outpouring of messages; the flowers outside embassies, the wearing of Ukrainian colours; the bravery of Ukrainian pensioners facing down tanks and of Russian children risking arrest by laying flowers outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow.

The millions of tiny actions in support of Ukraine and the great many voices shouting for peace collectively add up to a clamour that gives us hope for humanity. For all those directly affected by the growing humanitarian crisis, we desperately need to see a peaceful resolution to this tragedy. For the sake of the planet and people, we hope to see peace emerge.