POACHERS are suspected to have caused the deaths of a sheep and a pony at a nature reserve on the edge of Winchester.

The sheep was savaged at Magdalen Hill Down butterfly reserve and a pony died nearby after injuring itself possibly after having been scared by rampaging dogs.

The sheep attack is thought to have happened sometime between 2pm on Saturday December 15 and early Sunday morning on the part of the reserve off Alresford Road opposite Leigh House Hospital.

Reserves officer Jayne Chapman said today: “I received a phone call early on the Sunday morning from one of our regular dog-walkers who came across the body of the sheep. It was a very distressing sight, and there was evidence that the dog had attacked and worried the sheep before killing it with bite marks and puncture wounds to the throat and neck."

She added: "I had a report that there was a dead horse on the public footpath that runs from Magdalen Hill Down to the A31. The pony had been kept with other horses in what is known as The Old Allotments, adjacent to Magdalen. The owner has been informed."

Ms Chapman said it appeared dogs had chased the horse, which in fear and panic had jumped the fence at the bottom of the allotment field. There is no clear landing on the other side, and being on a steep incline, the horse suffered serious injuries. There was evidence that it had managed to drag itself a few feet before dying of its injuries.

The shetland sheep that died was one of this year’s lambs, and belonged to a flock owned by Dr Rue Ekins, the Itchen Valley Grazing Project Officer with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

The flock is on loan to Butterfly Conservation, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Branch which manages Magdalen Hill Down Reserve.

Ms Chapman added: “We have clear signs across the Downs advising dog owners where the cattle and sheep are grazing, and that dogs must be kept on a lead at all times. Conservation work relies on livestock grazing, and the loss of any animal is both upsetting and unnecessary.”

Failing to keep a dog under control where livestock are present can attract a fixed penalty of £75. The owners of dogs that worry livestock can be fined up to £1,000.