The Fairy Shrimp That Stops the Army in its Tracks

Guest Post by: Sharon Michelle, MSc Psychology

I’d like to talk about finding kindred spirits and hope in unexpected places. But before I do it’s confession time. I pick up worms from pavements when I see them struggling to find a way back to the earth after a heavy rainfall. Yuck I know but I don’t want them to struggle or die in vain especially when it is us that put concrete barriers in their way in the first place. You might think this is ridiculous or extreme, however I love and value even the wriggly worms. They are fascinating and work diligently to help keep the soil fertile so why wouldn’t I help them? 

And why am I telling you this?  

You may never know what people might actually be feeling. I am a professional woman with a serious and responsible occupation that has nothing to do with conservation. When I drive past the countless animals that have been run over and killed I feel physical pain in my heart and will say a prayer to acknowledge their life and for my hope to release them from any suffering. All done silently so no one makes fun of me or feels they can’t take me seriously anymore. Most people would never guess how sensitive I am and how much I care deeply for and worry about the environment.  

When I see a tree being cut down I feel like I have been kicked in the stomach (is expressing this a step too far..?) Caring about Nature as I do has made it very difficult to navigate my relationship with mainstream society because what has really hurt me the most is that not very many people seemed to care. I have always wondered if it was me that’s too sensitive or if it’s that modern society isn’t sensitive enough?  

For me each harm to the natural world is the foundation and brick in the wall for climate change. In person I try to come across as a very positive person but I’ve had periods where I really struggled with the weight of environmental issues keeping them to myself because I didn’t want to cause anyone to be upset, or be negative and pull them down.  

Could there be more people who do care but don’t want to talk about what is happening to the environment because they find it too depressing to deal with? I sense at times people feel there is no point in taking action or talking about it because it won’t make any difference. How are we going learn how to deal with the issues if we don’t talk to each other about how we feel about them, or how we feel about nature and what is happening to her?

A few days ago a story dominated the news in the UK. Westham Footballer Kurt Zouma abused and kicked his cat which was posted on Social media. A truly awful story. Very quickly over 80,000 people signed a petition calling for legal action to be taken against him. Even after this, his club went ahead and let him play a big match which caused a commotion in the press followed by a public outcry. Westham then fined him £250,000 and “unreservedly condemned” him for his actions. His cats were thankfully taken away by the RSPCA.  

Several things give me hope here and have challenged my assumptions about people. The public spoke up and said it’s not ok to treat a defenceless animal like that, more importantly a significant number wanted to do something about and took action. What excited me most was hearing the Westham Supporters’ club spokesman talking about it on the Radio saying “it’s wrong to kick a cat, it’s appalling, this is more important than football.” I am not sure how many people he is actually speaking on behalf of but for many in the UK there is absolutely nothing more important than football! Is this evidence of a shift in values? Is it getting easier for people to have the courage to speak out about how they feel?  

This conversation and action occurred in a section of society I never expected it to come from. Hearing about it in the national news gave me a little more faith in people from a space that never really existed before now.

A while ago I had a meeting with a Major in the Army because I wanted his permission to take groups walking on Army land. I expected to meet a muscley, heavily moustached man (that is exactly who I met) who would only be interested in tanks and war (I was very wrong). He spoke passionately about the habitats protected in the UK because so much of Army land is of Special Scientific interest. He proudly told me about all the wildlife the Army have to negotiate sharing their land with that have stayed protected because of this relationship. Most impressively he excitedly told me about a tiny and rare species of Fairy shrimp that live in puddles where the Army train. If Soldiers come across the fairy shrimp, and they do look for them, the Army has to stop in their tracks, and they do stop in their tracks because this species is rare and protected. This was wonderful to hear! I remind myself of this conversation because it makes me feel good, and is great to know that little things can have a big impact.

I seem to be having more and more conversations with people who do care. Maybe because I feel it’s safer to open up as my views seem more acceptable nowadays (except perhaps for the worms…) 

A few months ago I found another source for hope when I spoke with a Gentleman in his 80’s who’d worked in Banks for the duration of his working life. He told me he deeply regretted his part in working for an Industry that enabled the funding for businesses to cause so much destruction to the natural world. To combat this and help him with his conflicting feelings, and to help others to deal with theirs, he’d taken part in workshops to become a facilitator for Climate Change Café’s. From this unexpected conversation I learnt about a space where people can meet and talk about their grief, sadness, the wins that are happening, and about different sources of hope. These café’s create a place to share what you are going through and to be around others who will listen ( for more info see lovely Guardian article on climate cafés: guardian-climate-cafes-popping-up-around-world )

These conversations are not happening on the scale that I need so that I can stop worrying, but it’s a start.  

I strongly believe that environmental problems trump all other world problems because without healthy eco-systems we may lose our life-support system. When we can talk more about how we feel about nature and climate change there is an opportunity to break it down so it feels more manageable, and how to cope with the difficult realities. We might learn about places to go to be inspired when we want to take action but are not yet sure how to. We might meet someone that pleasantly surprises us in unexpected places and discover we have more in common than we realised.

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