POLICE are mounting extra patrols in the New Forest after several animals were attacked in what are feared to have been occult-inspired crimes.

In one of the incidents a sheep was stabbed to death and marked with pentagrams - a five-pointed star often associated with occultism.

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

Hampshire Constabulary has confirmed that a cow let out in Bramshaw returned with a wound on its neck and two calves grazing in the Linwood area suffered small wounds to their shoulder.

The incidents have sparked fears that modern-day Satanists are at work in the district, which has a long history of witchcraft.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher of the Countryside Alliance said: “Grazing animals are an iconic feature of the New Forest we know and love.

"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.

"Considering these deeply disturbing cases, we would expect visible police patrols in the area to increase.”

Last night Hampshire police confirmed that patrols in the area had already been stepped up.

The National Farmers' Union said it was "shocked" to learn of the incidents.

And several people have taken to social media to condemn what they describe as "sickening" attacks on some of the Forest's free-roaming animals.

One woman said: "I've actually brought my rabbit and three guinea pigs into my dining room to live as I fear what may happen if someone got into the garden."

Another social media user said: "Totally sick, mindless. Made me cry."

As reported in the Daily Echo, phallic symbols and the devil's number - 666 - were sprayed on doors and signs at the 12th century St Peter's Church in Bramshaw.

Villagers say 666 has also been sprayed on roads in the area, including Godshill and Nomansland.

Now fears are growing that members of a Satanic-style cult are roaming the New Forest National Park.

The sheep was found stabbed is thought to have bled to death after being attacked at Penn Common, near Bramshaw.

Judy Rudd was out walking her two dogs when she came across the carcass, which was 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. The owner's very cut up about it and very worried.

"There's a certain amount of concern. It's unnerving - we've lived here for 40 years and there's been nothing like this before.

"I don't agree that it's done to shock - you don't go around knifing animals simply to shock people.

"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 heifer was stabbed 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?

"I think it's more than one person. I reckon it's a group of people."

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

He said: "I've been told one of the symbols was a 666, which of course is a biblical sign of the devil, or Satan, so it could have (sinister overtones).

"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 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."

All the ponies, cattle and donkeys which roam the Forest are owned by people known as commoners - villagers with the right to let their livestock graze the Forest.

Tony Hockley, chairman of the New Forest Commoners' Defence Association, warned the attacks would have a major impact on the community for years to come.

He said: "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."

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.

“We would also urge anyone who uses the Forest, including Commoners, to be vigilant. Please contact us if you see anything suspicious."

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA added: "We are very concerned about how these animals died so would urge anyone with information to contact police who are investigating."

Sybil Leek, a famous "white" witch who lived in Burley in the 1950s, claimed her family had been engaged in witchcraft since 1134.

She always wore a long black cape and often had a jackdaw perched on her shoulder.

In 1963 she claimed there were four covens in the New Forest alone and told the Daily Echo: "I practise witchcraft because it's the only True Religion."

Her second husband, Brian, was not a witch, once said of Sybil: "Look at it this way - I'd rather have her on my side than against me."