When I moved house (and garden) four years ago, I set out a list of target wildlife I wanted to make a home for. That then determined the habitats I needed to create and the plants I needed to grow.
This target setting I find is a good game - it gives a focus, and it then gives a sense of achievement when the wildlife you're aiming for arrives and settles in.
I like to believe my goals are ambitious, but it also makes me think hard about what is likely. For example, I talk a lot about planting Purging Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn as the foodplant for Brimstone butterfly caterpillars, but if you live north of Hadrian's Wall, your chances of success are very, very small as Brimstones are almost unheard of there.
So I try to choose my targets based on what I know might be possible, which involves considering where you are in the country and how close you are to 'source' populations of your target species.
It is then a matter of making the habitats to the best of your ability, and then waiting to see if your target species, by chance, comes wandering in your direction.
One of my targets is one of the most gorgeous insects in Britain. I knew that it could be found up on the downs within a mile or so of where I live. And I knew that what I needed to make it stop, should it ever pass through my garden, was a 'meadow', plus some of its favourite wildflowers for nectaring such as Greater Knapweed, and plenty of its caterpillar's foodplant, Bird's-foot Trefoil.
Well, I grew my first Bird's-foot Trefoil and Greater Knapweed from seed in spring 2017, and then sowed my first 'meadow' area in autumn 2017.
So you can sense my excitement when my target arrived for the first time this week:
It is the Six-spot Burnet. I think it is exquisite. It has metallic green wings, its six spots are pure red, and it has shaggy black fur on its body and giant ladles for antennae.
It is a moth, and it is widespread across much of lowland UK, including Northern Ireland and coastal areas of Scotland.
In some areas of the country, you might also try to create conditions for two of its cousins, the Five-spot and the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets, which are also meadow moths, and for which the main foodplants are, respectively, Bird's-foot Trefoil and Meadow Vetchling.
Now I am a long way still from claiming success. One moth doesn't make a population! I need others, by chance, to drop in, and especially an egg-bearing female to now come down and establish a breeding colony. It is only when I see the little pupal cases on grass stems in midsummer, like the one below I photographed on the downs, that I can crack open the champers.
But it was another little sign that I'm on track. My hopes and expectations are raised. Bring on the burnets!
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