POLICE are investigating one of the worst cases of badger slaughter in Hampshire after the horrific discovery of carcasses in woodland.

At least six badgers - a protected species - have died after becoming tangled in snares set on an estate between Stockbridge and Winchester.

League Against Cruel Sports investigators also found a number of snares and traps set on the Heath House estate near Stockbridge Downs, a National Trust beauty spot which is popular with walkers.

The organisation was alerted to the area by a walker whose dog was caught in a snare.

Wildlife crime officers have questioned estate employees and removed the carcasses of two badgers for examination.

Four more carcasses in various states of decomposition, were found near snares set to protect game reared for shooting.

The LACS said more than 50 snares were found, along with an assortment of other traps and a number of dead animals, including tawny owls, which are also a protected species, foxes, crows and squirrels. The police refused to confirm or deny that they were investigating the killings.

Sgt Louise Hubble, wildlife liaison officer, said: "Hampshire Constabulary has a specialist unit dedicated to investigating reports of wildlife related crime. All reports of cruelty to animals are taken very seriously."

Mike Pawling, chairman of the Southampton Badger Group, said: "I'm very concerned and upset to hear this. Snaring is not necessary. It is cruel and indiscriminate. The animals die a lingering death. It is not instant or humane. They suffer a lot."

LACS chief executive Douglas Batchelor said: "This is a truly awful case and certainly the worst case of badger slaughter I have experienced. To kill one badger in a snare could be excused as an accident but to kill six is quite simply appalling. This case underlines the urgent need for a total ban on the use of snares in the UK to stop any animal, not just badgers, suffering a cruel and lingering death - one which is completely unnecessary.'' No one at Heath House estate was available for comment.