Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment was one of the UK’s bestselling books of 2021. It was the Sunday Times Science and Environment book of the year and won her the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.
In March 2022 Fly came to Intelligence Squared to talk about the forsaken places that feature in her book – the ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and explain what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place.
In conversation with physicist and broadcaster Helen Czerski, Flyn tok us on a tour of the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in only tiny numbers – and explained what happens when humanity’s impact on nature is forced to stop. She described Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster, where only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes; an uninhabited Scottish island where feral cattle live entirely wild; and Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, where entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves and looters slip through otherwise silent neighbourhoods.
Flyn also explained why all this matters. Because, contrary to what we might suppose, ever more land in the developed world is being abandoned to the wild as humans concentrate their activities in smaller areas. And while acknowledging the huge damage humans have wrought on the landscape, she will share her optimism about the environment’s extraordinary power of recovery.
‘Just when you thought there was nowhere left to explore, along comes an author with a new category of terrain – not scenes where man has never trod, but places where he has been and gone … Dazzling’ – The Spectator
‘Fascinating, eerie and strange … There is some thrilling writing here, a fine way with the telling detail, and a plea for radical revisioning of what we mean by “nature” and “wild”’ – The New Statesman
‘Written with a beautiful attention to detail and a generous and imaginative frame of mind. The wonderful and surprising thing is how much reassurance and sense of possibility comes out of it at every turn’ – Adam Nicolson