THE church which overlooks the historic harbour of Whitby is not under threat despite parts of its graveyard disappearing down the surrounding cliffs, officials stressed today (Thursday, January 10).

A series of landslips over the last two months have dislodged banks of earth containing human remains from graves at St Mary's - a church with connections to the Dracula story.

The debris has been tumbling down behind houses and businesses on the east side of the picture-postcard town.

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Engineering work is under way to stabilise the cliff which has threatened buildings, including a 140-year-old kipper smokehouse.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of York, which is undertaking the emergency engineering work, said the church is not in danger of collapse.

She said the building is anchored to solid rock and added: "A lot of the emergency engineering steps have already been taken,'' she said. ''What is happening now is mainly ensuring the stability of the slope.''

The landslip was originally believed to have been caused by a damaged drainage pipe, which left rainwater pouring out of the ancient graveyard and down the cliff.

The church is a familiar sight on postcards as it sits next to Whitby's famous abbey, high above the harbour.

The landslip is different from one about a quarter of a mile along Whitby's east cliff which led to a terrace of five houses being demolished last year.