OVER-zealous gardeners have joined climate change as two of the biggest threats facing the region’s wild flowers.

Householders obsessed with pristine lawns have gone into overdrive, taking powerful ride-on mowers along the region’s highways and byways.

They have transformed verges once brimming with wild flowers, like lady's mantle and agrimony, into swathes of grass of little interest to flora and fauna.

Margaret Atherden, from York, and Nan Sykes, of Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire, have been meticulously surveying the county's roadside verges since the 1980s.

In a new book, 'Wild Flowers on the Edge', they are calling for verges to be treated like a huge national nature reserve which at their most vibrant support an astonishing array of plant and animal life.

“For many car drivers roadside verges are just a passing blur, but for nature they are sanctuaries, a green corridor linking grassland, woods and wetlands,” said Dr Atherden.

The Northern Echo: primrose

AT RISK: Bird’s-eye primrose

“That makes them hugely important. The use of ride-on mowers has led some gardeners to dramatically extend their grass cutting and more than once we have seen rich verges ruined by people who probably think they are improving the environment."

Dr Atherden is the chief executive of the book’s publisher, conservation charity Place - People, Landscape and Cultural Environment Education and Research Centre – based at York St John University.

North Yorkshire has 6,000 miles of roads, most fringed by verges, and common plants include the tall and aromatic mugwort, whilst among the rarities are bird's-eye primrose and baneberry.

And the book warns that change is coming, with a warming climate likely to see some species die out such as cloudberry, chickweed wintergreen and globeflower.

"The importance of verges for biodiversity is being more widely understood, which is timely, because so much has already been lost," Dr Atherden said. "Culprits include chemical-based farming, together with the liberal use of insecticides and the obsession with garden tidiness.

“We wanted to write this book to pass on our love and appreciation of wild flowers to the next generation.”

Copies of the book are available for £9.95 from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York, YO31 7ZQ Tel: 01904-431213.