Swan deaths have passed the 50 mark in Windsor as avian influenza continues its deadly progress - and now the town's birds are facing the added misery of hunger.

Signs warning people not to feed the swans have been put up along the river by the Royal Borough, following advice from Defra (the Government Department for Environment and Food).

Although the virus does not affect humans, official policy is to play safe and discourage the sort of close contact feeding can lead to.

But Wendy Hermon, the treatment co-ordinator with the Swan Support rescue charity, warned: "Because the public can't feed them any more many swans are going hungry.

"We are concerned that it might cause them to disperse to sites further down the river spreading the disease as they go."

Mrs Hermon and her volunteers have been taking sacks of corn to the riverbank the feed the hungry birds three times a day and she says she has been overwhelmed and touched at the public response to appeals from the charity for financial support to help fund this.

She said: "The public have been marvellous, absolutely amazing. They really care."

Meanwhile the deadly virus has continued cutting a swathe through Windsor's swan population.

Last week the Queen's swan marker David Barber said he feared that as much as a quarter of the swan population could be lost and by the middle of this week that figure had been reached.

He said: "The number of deaths is now up to 50.

"It is hard to tell at this point if it is easing off or not. We just have to wait and see."

Mrs Hermon said that the last two weeks had been 'really, really rough' as she and her volunteers wear protective clothing to retrieve the dead birds.

She said: "We don't know what we are going to find each day. I have seen six swans today that did not look very well."

Mrs Hermon still can not go back to her charity's rescue headquarters in Horton Road, Datchet for fear of infecting the rescue swans being cared for there - and her volunteers are manning the operation.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the charity's work feeding the swans can visit www.swansupport.org.uk