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A new book, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn, discusses how various parts of the world abandoned by humans regenerate or deteriorate afterwards.

The Times featured a review of the book on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

I was most struck by the opening description of an abandoned herd of cattle in Orkney, which Cal Flyn visited in researching for the book. The animals reverted to feral ways (emphases mine):

The island of Swona in Orkney, Scotland, was a tiny community of nine families. In 1974 its two remaining inhabitants left, letting loose their herd of cattle, hoping they would fend for themselves until they returned. But they never did. When Cal Flyn spent a night on the island, she was told to sleep inside the abandoned cottage (not a tent) and lock the door. The cattle might trample her or break in. In fact they were defensive in Flyn’s presence, but the feral herd were far from “dim-witted, cud-chewing automaton[s]”. They had chosen a succession of alpha bulls and alpha cows, and banished unsuccessful males to the edges of the island. When one of the herd was dying, they would provide what comfort they could, and even introduced rituals to deal with dead bodies, which lay where they had fallen.

The Swona cows are one example of nature’s inextinguishable power to carry on despite the damaging impact of humanity. In beautiful, evocative prose, Flyn explores places that have been left behind by humans, and the ways in which nature has reasserted itself.

What fascinated me was their instinct to promote the fittest bulls and cows and juxtaposing that with death rituals.

Dumb animals? Far from it. God’s creation never fails to amaze.


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