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This event was held on Tuesday 8 November. You can watch the recording below.

A transcript will be available shortly.

In this Nesta talks to… author and journalist Cal Flynn was joined by our sustainable future Mission Manager Oliver Zanetti to talk about how we can find hope in the face of environmental catastrophe.

As a nature writer, Cal explained that the motivations for her latest book, Islands of Abandonment, stemmed from her interest in the overlap between the human and non-human and the ethical questions raised by environmentalism and conservation. The abandoned landscapes referred to are ecological sites that sit at this crossroad between the human and non-human as areas once inhabited by people but overtaken by nature. However, during her research, Cal’s understanding of abandonment was challenged by the existence of small populations within exclusion zones and the human stories that are completely sown into the past, present and future of these sites.

Oliver and Cal discussed the idea that human-caused destruction of the natural environment is often thought of as terminal, but is not always the case. Cal pointed out some specific examples of this phenomenon in Canvey Wick (dubbed Britain’s brownfield rainforest) and Chernobyl. They both serve as an example of how natural processes and human interference can interact to produce important sites of ecological richness.

The current biodiversity of areas such as the UK’s brownfields or the Five Sister Bing may seem unlikely given the sites’ history of shale mining and oil refinery. However, these areas have been regenerated through seed rain, open mosaic habitats, insects and other random natural processes bringing foreign plant and animal life to the environment. Nuclear exclusion zones such as Chernobyl have resulted in increased populations of wolves and bears in spite of the radiation, and we can learn a lot about how nature has responded and adapted in such places.

Islands of Abandonment shows how areas such as war zones and abandoned cities can flourish in the absence of human-induced environmental catastrophe. Therefore, when considering our place in relation to nature an optimistic approach to ecology could be the key to overcoming climate anxiety and inactivism.

The opinions expressed in this event recording are those of the speaker. For more information, view our full statement on external contributors.


Cal Flyn headshot

Cal Flyn


Cal Flyn is an award-winning writer from the Highlands of Scotland. She writes long form journalism and literary nonfiction. Her latest book, Islands of Abandonment, has been a Sunday Times bestseller and was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Baillie Gifford Prize for nonfiction. It was the 2021 winner of The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award, the UK and Ireland's most influential prize for young writers.


Oliver Zanetti


Oliver Zanetti is a Mission Manager for Nesta’s sustainable future mission, which focuses on home decarbonisation and economic recovery. Oliver leads research and innovation projects in the sustainable future mission. In particular, his work focuses on increasing the appeal of low carbon heating to householders and boosting the skills and capacity in the market to meet that demand. With a PhD in human geography, and five years of postdoctoral experience, Oliver manages the research and analytical capacity of the sustainable future mission. He joined Nesta following a two year postdoctoral position at the University of Oxford examining the social impact of smart city technologies. He has also previously worked as a researcher at the Open University and lectured in geography at Queen Mary, University of London.