HAMPSHIRE POLICE are investigating whether 'unusual' livestock attacks in the New Forest area are linked.

Between November 16 and 20, three calves were found with stab wounds at the village of Linwood, while two sheep were fatally slashed near the village of Bramshaw. But the case is attracting extra attention because one of the dead sheep was daubed with pentagrams – a symbol traditionally associated with witchcraft and the occult.

Sgt Andy Williams, from the Hampshire force'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.

"We would also urge anyone who uses the Forest, including Commoners, to be vigilant."

The area has a long tradition of livestock roaming free in the forest, under common rights for farmers and residents dating back to the 13th Century.

Chair of the New Forest Commoners' Defence Association, Tony Hockley, warned that the attacks would have a 'profound impact' on the community: "We look out for each other. There are 700 commoners always looking out for each other and each other's animals.

"Things like this will deter people from carrying on the tradition of grazing animals on the forest and that hurts everyone."

Local resident Judy Rudd, who has lived in the area for 40 years, was out walking her dogs in Bramshaw when she came across the dead sheep.

Mrs Rudd said: "It had purple and green aerosol symbols sprayed on it. It was a pentagram and a cross. It had been stabbed to death. The wounds were in the side of the body by the rib cage."

Her husband Julian added: "I don't agree that it's done to shock – you don't go around knifing animals simply to shock people. It's rather worrying."

Further exciting press speculation, a local church has reportedly had an inverted cross and the number 666 scrawled on its door. In the civil parish, St Peter's, Reverend David Bacon said: "I've been told one of the symbols was a 666 which of course is a biblical sign of the devil, or Satan. 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."