THE death of a swan following a suspected catapult attack in Christchurch town centre has left the community "shocked" and "disappointed".

Despite being rushed to vets by an RSPCA officer after it was discovered by a member of the public, the male bird was put down to prevent unnecessary suffering.

The swan, which was believed to be part of a mating pair, had suffered wounds to its face and neck in the incident on Friday (5.10) morning around 8am.

Mayor of Christchurch Lesley Dedman said she could not believe what had been reported.

"The swans are very much part of the town centre environment," Cllr Dedman said.

"Any attack on wild animals is disgraceful. It is just awful. "Swans do not move very swiftly so they are literally a sitting target."

Residents in Christchurch shared Cllr Dedman's concerns.

Jennifer Baines, from Somerford, said: "I'm completely shocked to hear something like this could happen.

"You have to wonder what goes through someone's head to do this to a helpless animal.

"It is so disappointing and terribly sad."

Stephen Giles, who lives in New Milton, added: "I hope they catch the person who did this.

"It is ridiculous and completely unacceptable."

The swan was rescued from underneath the bridge by RSPCA animal welfare officer Jo Blackburn.

Two pellets were discovered and it is suspected they were shot at the swan with a catapult or large air weapon.

“This was heartless and sadistic attack that has cost one swan its life, and left another without a mate," Ms Blackburn said.

“The vet found two pellets made from lead fishing weights, which are thought to have been shot at the swan from a catapult, and felt from the severity of the injuries and the way the swan was bleeding heavily it must have happened recently.

“All wild birds, including swans, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is an offence to kill, injure or take them without a licence. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine.”

The RSPCA reported the incident to police.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said the case had been sent on to the neighbourhood policing team, who would carry out inquiries.