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Churchyard rabbit plague tackled

6 Sep 2017

Biosecurity officers have come to the aid of a historic mid-North church whose graveyard was being significantly damaged by large numbers of burrowing rabbits.

Ngawha local James Edmonds contacted the regional council in desperation recently after rabbit numbers built up to a point where they were threatening both the safety of visitors and the graves themselves.

Mr Edmonds – whose parents and grandparents are buried at the church – says over a period of about 10-12 months a rabbit infestation gradually worsened to the point where literally 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 says the church is still regularly used and as well as its parishioners, relatives of those buried there still go to visit and tend their graves.

Locals had attempted to control the rabbits themselves in the past, but this time the pests' numbers had got to the point where the regional council had been approached for help.

Rabbit holes on grave.Damage inflicted to just one of the graves by rabbits prior to the control operation.

"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."

He says help arrived in the form of Kaitaia-based Northland Regional Council Biosecurity Officer Mike Knight, who recently 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 says he's grateful to the council, both for its initial help but also arming him with the knowledge he needs to keep rabbits to a manageable level in future.

For his part, Mike Knight says the council was very happy to help and will also remain in touch with Mr Edmonds to help him keep an eye on the area.

“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 says.

He’s aware of at least two other Northland churches that have experienced similar rabbit-related problems in recent years.

Meanwhile, Mr Knight says general information about a wide variety of animal and plant pests – and how to control them – is available online via www.nrc.govt.nz/pestcontrolhub