NATURE reserve managers near Watlington have asked their staff to stay vigilant after five of their sheep were butchered by thieves.

The Beulah Speckled Face sheep were killed at Aston Rowant Nature Reserve at the weekend, and yesterday owners Natural England told how the thieves used a gate to pen the animals in.

They were professionally butchered and slaughtered and the meat was stolen, leaving behind the skins, feet and internal organs.

The sheep were in remote fields near junction six of the M40 at Lewknor.

Thames Valley Police said it would have taken two hours to butcher the sheep, with 200kg of meat taken away.

Natural England runs the 400-acre nature reserve which has fields on both sides of the M40, close to Stokenchurch cutting.

Natural England team leader Alistair Helliwell said: “Whoever did this removed a wooden gate to pen the sheep in before butchering them.

“This is a large area that is open to the public but we are asking staff to be vigilant and to lock gates with padlock and chains.

“We are also staying in touch with neighbouring farmers.”

Mr Helliwell said the butchered sheep were from a flock of 320 Beulah Speckled Face sheep, which were bred in Wales.

The nature reserve includes 100 acres of beech woodland, 100 acres of shrubs and 200 acres of chalk grassland.

Anyone with any information should contact Pc Simpkins on the police inquiry line 101.