Finance fishing boats

How nature becomes a victim of war

But the government may not be able to safely transfer funds or supplies to reserves in occupied areas, leaving animals at risk of starvation, Vasyliuk said. His conservation group raised funds for the reserves, including paying local grain farmers to feed animals in Askania-Nova, he said.

Some of the administrative offices on the occupied reserves were looted, Mr Vasyliuk said, and many staff members were evacuated. His organization has worked to provide food, water and medicine to workers in occupied areas and to help displaced workers find accommodation, he said, adding that some members of his own conservation group had become refugees.

War also has opportunity costs as funds and priorities shift from conservation to human survival. “We tend to focus on the direct kind of things – big fires and smoke plumes, damaged oil infrastructure,” Weir said. “But, in fact, it’s usually the breakdown of environmental governance that leads to this kind of death from a thousand cuts and which obviously has this lasting legacy.”

Despite all the damage that war can cause, in isolated cases human conflict can serve as a shield for nature.

The most famous example is the Korea Demilitarized Zone, a thin strip of land that acts as a buffer between North Korea and South Korea. It is completely forbidden to humans, protected by guards, fences and landmines. But in the absence of people, it serves as a haven for rare flora and fauna, including red-crowned and white-naped cranes, Asiatic black bears and possibly Siberian tigers. (Mines can pose a hazard to larger land animals.)

In some cases, war can also disrupt extractive industries. During World War II, commercial fishing in the North Sea ceased almost entirely due to the requisitioning of fishing boats, restrictions on their movement, and the conscription of fishermen for war. Populations of many commercially exploited fish species bounced back.

But the gains may be temporary. In the early years of Nicaragua’s civil war, forests along the country’s Atlantic coast grew back as people fled, abandoning their farms. But at the end of the war, the inhabitants returned and deforestation resumed; almost twice as much land has been denuded during this period, as it had been reforested at the start of the war, the scientists found.