Health professionals and patients will become the first in North Yorkshire to use natural prescriptions in a unique approach to tackling mental ill health.

The North York Moors National Park Authority, North York Moors Trust and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have teamed together to bring RSPB Nature Prescriptions to the region as part of an innovative new project, delivered collaboratively with health professionals.

This will mean that appreciating birdsong, listening to the trickle of a stream, and noticing the changing colours of the seasons will be prescribed to boost mental health.

As part of the project, GPs and social prescribers will receive training on how to prescribe nature and guide patients through activities that can be done anywhere, independently or with friends or family.

Getting into the outdoors could be prescribed for mental health as part of the projectGetting into the outdoors could be prescribed for mental health as part of the project (Image: PA MEDIA)

The nature prescriptions will also encourage patients to connect with the outdoors and natural landscapes in either of North Yorkshire’s two national parks.

James Metcalfe, Director of the North York Moors Trust, said: “Nature Prescriptions is an aspirational approach to lifting the health and wellbeing of people and communities across North Yorkshire from the Moors to the Dales.

“Connecting people and nature is a positive, proactive, and cost-effective response to the worrying decline in the health of people and nature.

The Yorkshire DalesThe Yorkshire Dales (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

"It is our hope by bringing them together we can support both to thrive, from reducing stress and anxiety to encouraging independent action to protect and enhance nature and biodiversity.”

The project has been developed as a response to tackling deteriorating mental health outcomes, rising numbers of people registered to access support services, and dwindling opportunities for people to spend time outdoors or connect with nature.

The number of people in contact with mental health services in England rose by nearly 550,000 in the four years between March 2020 and March 2024, according to data released by NHS England.

The North York MoorsThe North York Moors (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

The project draws inspiration from a successful RSPB pilot project with NHS Scotland, where three in four patients said their mental health and wellbeing had benefited from the prescription and 87 per cent of people said they would continue to have a meaningful connection with nature, such as gardening or visiting beaches or local national parks more regularly.

Heather McNiff, head of outdoor learning and engagement at the North York Moors National Park Authority, said: “We are excited to have this opportunity to support people to engage with nature and the outdoors in new ways, from back gardens to the glorious landscapes of the North York Moors.

“Spending time in nature, with its inherent beauty and therapeutic qualities, can play a critical role in uplifting our physical and mental wellbeing, combating feelings of loneliness, and nurturing a sense of connection.”

The project is currently working with health professionals across five primary care networks in North Yorkshire. 

Sarah Walker, nature and wellbeing manager at RSPB England added: “Nature should be a big part of our lives and an important part of health and social care.

"Many of us have an instinct that nature does us good, but we do not always embrace that and don’t always know how best to do that. RSPB Nature Prescriptions are designed to help us improve our wellbeing by bringing nature into our lives in small, simple, everyday ways.

"It could be taking a moment to listen to birdsong or watching a summer sunset."