PAGANS in Dorset claim their growing popularity is making them a target for threats and abuse.

The Dolmen Grove, a Weymouth-based druid group, says a dead bird with a noose around its neck was left on the windscreen of its van.

Then nails were left under the wheels of the van the night after a music gig.

And the group says its 'peaceful religion' is being attacked by people who turn up at stone circle rituals and shout abuse. Chris Walsh, antique dealer and Arch Druid, said the problems started after pagan band The Dolmen played a gig in Weymouth.

"After they played one particular gig in Weymouth someone left a dead bird with a noose around its neck on the windscreen.

"They also typed the words 'Die Witches' on a piece of paper stuck to it.

"It is difficult to say who it was or whether it is organised in any way, but we were very shocked and saddened by it.

"Then someone put nails under the tyres of the van as it was parked in Radipole Lane, the night after they had played another gig.

"At our last ritual at Maumbury Rings a group of people came along to barrack us for no apparent reason.

"Let's face it, there are a lot of misconceptions people have about witches and pagans but we are a peaceful religion who don't want to bother anyone."

Mr Walsh says one reason for the problems may be the higher profile taken by the Dolmen Grove in the past year.

He says that the Dolmen Grove is given permission by the police for each of its services performed at holy sites around the county.

On March 24 the group will perform a 're-balancing' ritual for a 200-year-old tree cut back at Nine Stones in Winterbourne Abbas.

Mr Walsh said: "We have been going for a few years but decided we were getting popular enough to raise our profile a little. A few of the members don't want all the attention, which is understandable, and it might mean that people think we are easy targets.

"But we are a growing religion and the Dolmen Grove itself has 250 members. All we do is celebrate the forces of nature and carry on an ancient tradition, nothing sinister at all."