Broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham hosted a nature Q&A for students with learning disabilities and autism at Stepping Stones School following the launch this year’s Big Butterfly Count.

The Big Butterfly Count is the Butterfly Conservation’s annual citizen science event running from 17th July to 9th August.

To celebrate the launch a group of students from Stepping Stones School at Undershaw in Surrey, an aspirational special needs school, took part in writing their own questions for the TV presenter to learn about conserving nature and different species of butterflies and other insects.

The therapeutic impact that nature has on children and young people with autism has received increasing attention and praise in recent years.

Stepping Stones School at Undershaw, developed and funded by the DFN Foundation, delivers world-class special needs school facilities and high quality education, training, therapy and care to young people with learning disabilities and autism. The school supports students in reaching their full potential, providing a real sense of hope and high expectations as they take their place as fully contributing members of their community and society.

The grounds of Stepping Stones School at Undershaw includes a Forest School which occupies a small area of woodland facilitating lessons set in nature for lower school class groups and therapy sessions for upper school students.

The natural environment setting means that nature plays a big part in the lessons, as being immersed in nature is hugely beneficial for children and young people with learning disabilities and autism, and a great way of releasing energy through low impact actions, decreasing sensitivity to stimuli, improving co-ordination and increasing activity levels.

During the Q&A the nature presenter was quizzed about different species of butterfly, the lifespan of the insects, and the butterfly’s importance in nature.

Packham has also praised the therapeutic benefits that comes from interacting with nature for people with learning disabilities and autism.

Chris Packham said: “It has been great to engage with these amazing young people from Stepping Stones School following the launch of the Big Butterfly Count, giving us the opportunity to teach more young people about the importance of conserving nature whilst highlighting the huge therapeutic benefits that nature has for people with autism.

“From my own experience, I know the hugely positive impact that connecting with nature has for individuals with autism. It is very important that we continue to raise awareness of the benefits of being outdoors in nature for children and adults with autism –  the Big Butterfly Count is a great example of how we can meet this ambition and get involved with nature in different ways.”

Headteacher of the Stepping Stones School,  Jacqueline Silver, said: “Nature plays an important role here at Stepping Stones, so it was wonderful for our students to have the opportunity to ask Chris Packham questions and receive their very own expert lesson on butterflies.

“The nature here at Undershaw brings a lot of joy to our students and being immersed in this environment is highly beneficial for individuals with learning disabilities by increasing the students’ social interactions, communication skills and general wellbeing, while also helping to calm the mind and allowing our students to grow in confidence.”

The DFN Foundation, this year’s co-sponsor of the Big Butterfly Count, is a commissioning charity established in 2014 to make a positive difference to the lives of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Today its reach has grown to influencing policy and funding developments in special needs education, employability, healthcare and conservation.

Chairman of the DFN Foundation, David Forbes-Nixon, said: “Stepping Stones at Undersaw is very close to all of our hearts at the DFN Foundation. We would like to pay a special thanks to Chris Packham for taking time to answer the questions from the students here.

“Stepping Stones is a great example of positively incorporating nature and education in an effective way that supports therapeutic wellbeing and development. This truly represents our passion and vision as a charity, bringing positive change, helping to unlock natural potential and build a more inclusive and environmentally conscious society.”