A spate of animal attacks and the appearance of occult symbols in the New Forest are being investigated by police, with local residents concerned a Satanic-style cult could be to blame.
One sheep was fatally stabbed and marked with pentagrams near the Hampshire village of Bramshaw, while one heifer and two calves were found with stab wounds in the Linwood area. The animals were later treated by vets.
Satanic symbols, which included an inverted cross and the number 666, have also been sprayed onto the door of St Peter’s Church in Bramshaw.
Police are currently investigating to establish whether the incidents, which have been taking place since Tuesday 12 November, are linked.
Reverend David Bacon, the vicar at St Peter’s, said: “People are concerned. I’ve been here 15 years and seen a lot of stuff, but nothing like this.
“It could just be kids, but I don’t think it is, given the context.
“There’s been witchcraft round here for hundreds of years – the New Forest is well known for witchcraft and black magic happening, and this has obviously gone up a level.”
The New Forest covers more than 220 square miles of southwest Hampshire, with locally-owned livestock allowed to roam freely across the woodland under common rights dating back to the 13th century.
Author and occultist Gerald Gardner, who died in 1964, claimed a coven – a secret society of witches – met there at the start of the 20th century.
Tony Hockley, a resident and the chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association (CDA), expressed his concern at the effect the attacks could have on the local community.
“Any harm to New Forest livestock hurts everyone,” he told The Independent. “We all depend upon the vocational commitment of 700 local people to turn livestock out to graze the landscape. Most have just a few animals, and there are only 200 sheep in the whole of the New Forest.
“It is devastating to lose one in this way, and it is the sort of thing that will make commoners give up. If the grazing goes then the accessibility, culture and biodiversity go too.
“We’d implore anyone with any information on these terrible incidents to help the police.”
Mr Hockley added that he was not aware of a history of occult incidents in the area but added: “The New Forest, like many rural areas, has a historical association with witchcraft so that draws some people and some of the local shops trade on that but it’s normally more about fairies.”
Hampshire police are also making enquiries into reports of a second sheep being found dead and covered in markings within the New Forest.
Sergeant Andy Williams, of Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch team, said: “These incidents are unusual in the New Forest. We are looking at the circumstances of each one to see if they are linked, and to see how these animals came to be injured.
“If you have any information that could help our enquiries, then please call 101, quoting the crime reference number 44190416137.
“We would also urge anyone who uses the Forest, including Commoners, to be vigilant. Please contact us if you see anything suspicious, even if you think what you have seen or heard is not that important.”
Animal charity RSPCA said: “We are very concerned about how these animals died so would urge anyone with information to contact police who are investigating.”
PA contributed to this report