RATS have infested a cemetery in the heart of Oxford because of food litter thrown in by passers-by, it has been revealed.

The Church of St Mary Magdalen, in Magdalen Street, has had to call in Oxford City Council – which maintains the churchyard – to get rid of the pests.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History employee Gary Coates was walking home with a friend from the Lamb and Flag, in St Giles, on Saturday when he spotted up to 20 rats.

He said: “We were going towards George Street at about 10pm when I just happened to look over to the graveyard and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“There were rats everywhere and some were the size of squirrels. I would say there were about 20 of them.

“Some were outside Boswells on the other side of the church and they were not scared of us.

“It’s disgusting really, especially since there are food shops like Tescos and Sainsbury’s nearby.”

Parish priest Rev Dr Peter Groves said the rats have been a problem for some time.

He said: “Well-meaning passers-by quite often throw bread in to feed the birds, but that also attracts the rats.

“We do also get a lot of food waste thrown in at night.

“The city council is currently working with us at the moment to deal with the problem, which always gets worse during the summer.

“It tends to go in cycles and we had the last major treatment done a few months ago, s So it is probably time for another.

“This is a problem we have had for at least as long as I have been at the church.

“As long as people keep throwing food in, it will keep attracting the rats.”

A spokesman for Oxford City Council said: “We visited St Mary’s Churchyard and found an infestation of rats. Officers went back yesterday to bait and will be visiting regularly until the infestation is tackled.”

The council did not say what measures it was using or how many of the pests it had managed to eliminate so far.

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