An unholy plague of pesky rabbits have been cleared from a historic Northland graveyard after their numbers started threatening the safety of visitors and the graves.
Northland Regional Council biosecurity officers have come to the aid of Ngawha's historic St Michael's Church. Its graveyard was being significantly damaged by large numbers of burrowing rabbits.
Ngawha man James Edmonds contacted the regional council in desperation after rabbit numbers built to a point where they were threatening the safety of visitors and the graves themselves.
Mr Edmonds - whose parents and grandparents are buried at the church - said during the past 10-12 months a rabbit infestation got to the point where dozens of deep rabbit holes dotted the graveyard at the historic 19th century church.
Both the church and its graveyard were built to commemorate the July 1845 Battle of Ohaeawai and subsequent making of peace, and the area is the final resting place of many local Maori and European.
Mr Edmonds said the church is still regularly used and as well as its parishioners, relatives of those buried there still visit and tend their graves.
Locals had tried to control the rabbits in the past, but this time numbers had got to the point where the regional council had been approached for help.
"We were getting really worried that someone was going to seriously injure themselves either by falling into or tripping over one of the rabbit holes, or that the holes were going to cause graves to collapse or headstones to topple," Mr Edmonds said.
Help arrived in the form of Kaitaia-based NRC biosecurity officer Mike Knight, who fumigated the rabbit holes, with Mr Edmonds' assistance.
The holes have also been filled and the church will be monitored over the next two months for signs of any rabbit survivors.
Mr Edmonds is grateful to the council, for its initial help and for arming him with the knowledge of how to control rabbit numbers.
"While it may initially sound like quite an unusual problem, this isn't the first time my colleagues and I have helped a church with an issue like this," Mr Knight said.
He's aware of at least two other Northland churches with similar rabbit problems in recent years.
Meanwhile, Mr Knight says general information about animal and plant pests - and how to control them - is available online at the regional council website.