POLICE are mounting extra patrols in the New Forest amid fears that sheep and cows found with stab wounds were attacked by devil-worshippers.

During one incident at Penn Common, near Bramshaw, a ewe was knifed to death and marked with pentagrams – a five-pointed star often associated with the occult.

Police are investigating reports that another sheep in the same area also suffered a fatal knife wound.

In other incidents a cow let out in Bramshaw returned with a wound on its neck and two calves grazing at Linwood, near Ringwood, suffered minor injuries to their shoulders.

Last night Hampshire police confirmed that the markings found on the dead ewe formed part of their investigation.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said: “The evil perpetrators of these horrific crimes must be severely punished.

“While it would appear that incidents of this nature are rare, it serves as an important reminder to local people and visitors to the Forest to be on high alert and to report anything suspicious to the police.”

Phallic symbols and the number 666 were sprayed on doors and signs at the 12th century St Peter’s Church, Bramshaw.

Judy Rudd was out walking her two dogs when she came across the carcass of the sheep in Bramshaw. It had been covered with green and purple symbols, including a pentagram and a cross.

Mrs Rudd said: “It was very unpleasant - some people think it’s sinister.”

Her husband added: “I think it’s reasonable to say it’s not just lads messing about. It’s unnerving - we’ve lived here for 40 years and there’s been nothing like this before.

“It’s related to something other than simply a desire to injure animals - it’s either witchcraft or whatever. It’s rather worrying.”

A farmer from Bramshaw, whose cow was knifed and needed veterinary treatment, added: “I’m very concerned for the welfare of the animals and the people out there in the forest.

“It’s quite scary to know somebody is going around doing this. Why injure and kill animals and put symbols on them?”

The vicar of St Peter’s, the Rev David Bacon, said the spate of incidents, which occurred between November 16 and 20, could be a result of witchcraft or black magic.

He said: “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 and this has obviously gone up a level.”

Jessica Sloley, 79, who lives near the church, said: “I have no idea who would be capable of letting a sheep bleed to death.

“I think it’s outrageous. Whether it’s just somebody being wicked, I don’t know.”