The Destinations Nature Really Did Reclaim

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We’ve all seen the memes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which decry humanity for being the virus as wildlife purportedly takes over typically animal-free spots. However, some of these claims are a little dubious – those deer pictured on a housing estate in London are actually in a leafy suburb and the claims about dolphins taking over Venice’s canals have been refuted.

That’s not to say that wildlife never does reclaim the land. In celebration of Earth Day, we’re here to bring you the destinations which nature really has clawed back.


In 1968, Chernobyl saw one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents occur and thousands of lives tragically lost. As a result, the human population left, leaving behind an entire town. In the last few years, the disaster zone has been opened up, and visitors can travel to Pripyat (on the Ukrainian side) to see the site where such a momentous event occurred. However, the Palieski reserve (in Belarus) has been left largely untouched. During the 50 years in which the area was devoid of humans, nature crept back in (despite the radiation levels). Verdant fauna creeps across the buildings that once stood resplendent here and the area feels overrun. Nowadays, lucky visitors can spot wolves, lynx, eagles and Przewalski’s horses here. A Guardian article last year talked of how Chernobyl does not offer eagles their preferred natural habitat and yet, here they can be found. It’s thought that this is due to the lack of human population.


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Phi Phi Islands

The island of Koh Phi Phi Le in Thailand was made famous by the film The Beach, in which Leonardo diCaprio and a group of equally gorgeous young adults swim across to find verdant jungles and deserted golden beaches. On my arrival in 2015, those beaches were better described as teeming than empty, and the surrounding sea was buzzing with speedboats. This, unfortunately, all had a negative impact on the wildlife here. In 2018, the Thai government decided that enough was enough and closed the island to tourists. By December of that year, shoals of blacktip reef sharks had returned to the shores, reclaiming the spot that was originally theirs.


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The island of Ōkunoshima off the coast of Japan is another destination on this list with an incredibly bleak past. This was the location for the creation of chemical warfare. Phosgene and mustard gas were developed here and then used against the Chinese in the 1930s and 40s. Nowadays, the island has an altogether more cuddly feel with the sole residents being a large colony of rabbits. No one quite knows exactly where these furry critters originate from – there are rumours of children setting them free, or them being the descendants of the rabbits once used to test the gases. Either way, visitors nowadays are likely to find rabbits basking in the sunshine, bounding through buildings once sterile that now have vines creeping through, or snuggling up to those offering them treats.


Spreepark in East Berlin is a favoured spot with urban explorers who scale the fences for a chance to explore this dilapidated theme park. When it was opened in 1969, the Spreepark was the only amusement park on this side of Berlin and offered visitors a form of escapism in a world that was otherwise quite difficult. When the Berlin wall came down, newer, bigger theme parks were suddenly within reach and people stopped coming to this quirky destination quite so often. While the park was facing a slow decline, it eventually crashed and burned after a plan to move the majority of the rides to Lima in Peru revealed a plan to smuggle 167kg of cocaine, hidden in one of the rides. Ever since this fateful day, the rides have been closed and nowadays the park is completely shut. The Tyrannosaurus rex has been toppled and plants grow through the mouth of the park’s biggest rollercoaster, giving the whole site an eerie feel. Visitors claim to have spotted raccoons here, and rats run where children once skipped.


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