Eyesight is a precious gift - yet many people could be in danger of losing it without even knowing.

Now a major campaign is to be launched in York to bring home the dangers of blindness-causing diseases.

Members of Lions Clubs are engaged in a worldwide crusade against blindness, and all three local clubs - York, Derwent and Minster - will combine forces for the three-year Lions Eye Health Programme.

Their first big event to raise awareness of the dangers of blindness and the importance of eye tests was held in the St Sampson's Centre in St Sampson's Square, York, between 10am and 4pm on Monday February 28.

The volunteers were supported by consultant ophthalmologist at York District Hospital Robert Taylor, the former Archdeacon of York the Ven George Austin, whose own sight was saved by a simple test and treatment when he was found to be suffering from glaucoma, and an optician.

Local Lions spokesman Gordon Harrison said the campaign was being run with the International Glaucoma Association and the British Diabetic Association.

There were approximately 1.4 million people in the UK with diabetes, all of whom were in danger of developing a diabetic eye disease. He said about 12 per cent of new registrations of blindness annually were due to diabetic retinopathy.

He said glaucoma affected about two per cent of the population over 40, with age the most important risk factor, though others included a family history of the condition, a high degree of short-sightedness and Afro-Caribbean descent.

Mr Harrison said they were also stressing that once these diseases caused blindness the damage was permanent, though both could be rectified if they were caught early enough.

But glaucoma in particular could only be detected through eye examinations, and to check thoroughly three tests were needed - ophthalmoscopy, tonometry and perimetry.

Mr Harrison said people should check that all three tests were available when they went for examinations.

The Lions are to produce lapel badges setting out the three tests, which will be sold for £1 each to raise cash for a digital retinal camera for the hospital.

Mr Taylor said the portable camera - whose total cost is likely to be around £20,000 including an accompanying laptop computer - would be particularly useful for examining young children's eyes, and would provide instant records which could be checked thoroughly afterwards.

He backed the Lions' efforts, saying: "Their campaign is excellent and I think it's well-founded."