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Conservationists anticipate impact on nation's biodiversity after rare species reintroduction: 'We are intervening before they become extinct'

"It's about getting more habitat in the landscape."

"It’s about getting more habitat in the landscape."

Photo Credit: iStock

Hundreds of marsh fritillary butterflies have been reintroduced back into the Welsh countryside by conservationists, the BBC reported.

"Many of our species are on the brink, right on the edge, and we can't afford to monitor them disappearing," said Rob Parry, the founder of Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru, who led the reintroduction efforts. "Once we do that — getting them back is so much harder. That's why these projects — where we are intervening before they become extinct — is really important."

Parry and his team searched for marsh fritillary caterpillars in the wild, reared them to ensure that they completed their transition into butterflies, and released them back into the wild. Though this strategy has had some critics, including the UK government's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, which deemed it "not a priority," the lack of marsh fritillary butterflies in the wild has shown that the species simply is not surviving on its own.

Marsh fritillary butterflies have sharply declined in numbers across the UK and Europe in recent decades. They are now extremely rare. One of the volunteers who helped in the reintroduction said that it was "an incredible experience" to see the butterflies in their natural habitat after "20-odd years of there being no marsh fritillaries on there."

To ensure the butterflies don't just die off again, Parry and company are attempting to work with local landowners and communities to make the ecosystem more hospitable for the butterflies. One of the main drivers of their population decline has been habitat loss, as their native wetlands were turned into farmland. 

"It's about getting more habitat in the landscape," Parry told the BBC.

All animals should be protected, but butterflies are especially crucial. As pollinators, they are essential to help plants grow and to secure food supplies. 

"Scientists estimate that about 75% of the world's flowering plants and about 35% of the world's food crops depend on animal pollinators to produce," according to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 

Other recent efforts to reintroduce threatened species back into their native habitats appear to have been successful. Some 40 Eastern indigo snakes were released in an Alabama forest, where researchers said they could enhance biodiversity when they reintegrated back into the food chain. In Romania, a reintroduced herd of bison may help to cancel out a sizeable amount of planet-overheating air pollution.

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