VANDALS have damaged a statue at a Hampshire beauty spot.

The owl sculpture was part of a series of animal sculptures carved out of a fallen tree at the Hocombe Mead nature reserve, in Hiltingbury.

But now it has been left blackened and burnt after a bonfire was lit underneath it.

A dog walker found the damage on Friday morning.

The fire was still smouldering and another two dog walkers managed to put it out.

Nearby resident David Cardinal, whose wife Yvette, 71, found the damage, said there was also rubbish, bottles, broken glass and cardboard left at the clearing area, and wood used to protect growing heather plants had been used on the fire.

The 73-year-old tried to clear it up to prevent any harm to dogs or children that might use the reserve.

He said the sculpture had become a focal point for local residents and families visiting the nature reserve.

Professional chainsaw sculpturer Paul Sivell, from the Isle of Wight, carved the owl into the wooden stump left when a tree came down in a storm.

The project, which sits in the centre of the reserve, took him a week and was finished last August.

There are also further carvings on the downed part of the tree showing wildlife like roe deer, rabbits, butterflies, plants and insects.

The work was funded by Eastleigh Borough Council through the Chandler’s Ford & Hiltingbury Local Area Committee after a resident suggested it.

Mr Cardinal walked his dog the night before and says the damage was not there at that time. He thinks it happened sometime overnight into Friday morning when it was found at around 8am.

“It’s just outrageous, it’s just mindless stupidity,” he said.

“Why would you damage something like that? It’s something people come to see, people bring their children. There’s no justification for it.”

Police are appealing for witnesses or anyone with information to call Eastleigh Police on 101.