A PIONEERING project to assess the health and wellbeing value of a national park is to be extended after being hailed as hugely successful.

Members of the North York Moors National Park Authority said they wanted to see the impact of connecting with nature assessed and applied wherever possible to its work after a study found every £1 the Government invested in the authority resulted in about £7 of health and wellbeing benefits.

The figure is thought to underestimate the benefits as it only measures the impact on volunteers and visitors and does not investigate other beneficiaries, such as education and youth engagement contacts or health walk attendees.

A full authority meeting at its headquarters in Helmsley heard the findings of the University of York study it commissioned could have far-reaching consequences, opening new avenues to fund authority schemes in the national park.

Members said while the health benefits of the national park authority’s work were clear, the intention was not to attempt to draw funding from the NHS, but councils’ funding for public health initiatives could be targeted.

Authority chairman Jim Bailey said while the national park was well established as a place for recreation and landscapes, if it also became known as a place to improve people’s wellbeing that would take “it to a new level”.

He said: “The intention was never to get money out of the NHS, it was to underline the value that we can give as a national park. It is undeniably a stake in the ground that says this is where we are.”

Member Jeremy Walker added: “When you think about the big headlines of mental health, obesity and diabetes this is just hitting so many buttons.  Bringing forward a methodology for evaluating and quantifying these benefits is a wonderful thing to have done and we should be very proud.”

Members were told the authority had recently been successful in a bid for funding to extend the Explorer Club and Junior Ranger initiatives, to communities in North Yorkshire, which would include an assessment of the health and wellbeing impact of the scheme.

Moreover, as part of the contract to develop the study, the University of York team has trained a cross section of the national park’s staff in assessing health and wellbeing benefits so there is greater understanding of opportunities and limitations, enabling future extensions of the study.