Tests have confirmed several rare black cygnets that became famous after getting millions of views via the world's first Black Swan Cam died from a strain of bird flu, writes Tom Bevan.

The black swans of Dawlish, Devon, have been a draw for tourists for hundreds of years.

And this year they have reached a wider audience, as a live stream of the adult birds and five babies was seen by over 18m people worldwide.

But those looking after them say they are heartbroken after three swans and five cygnets were found dead this week.

The alarm was first raised after one adult black swan and five cygnets died on Monday.

An investigation by the APHA - a subsidiary of Defra - has since confirmed their death was the result of avian flu (H5N8).

A further two swans, one of which was the mother of the cygnets, died overnight on Tuesday. Their cause of death is as yet unknown but Defra have taken the bodies for testing.

A number of other swans are also now unwell and are being monitored by the Dawlish Town Council Waterfowl Wardens.

Public Health England (PHE) has advised that the H5N8 strain of the virus poses very little risk to public health.

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However, Dawlish Town Council, which looks after the swans, has asked people to stay away from them while they are being looked after by its wardens.

Andrew McKenzie, Dawlish Town clerk, said: "We are really sad about the deaths of our very special black swans, and at the news that tests have now confirmed the cause is avian flu.

"We understand the risk of bird to human transmission in this strain is minimal, however public safety is our first priority, and we will be working with the lead agencies to ensure all the necessary guidelines are being followed.

"We know that the black swans are a well known and much loved local feature in our town, as well as an important boost to our tourism industry, so we will work together to try to protect the birds against further spread and do everything we can to keep them safe and well.

"We are asking the public to stay away from the remaining birds, and to avoid feeding or touching them. We'd also ask anyone who sees an ill or dead bird to report it immediately."

Dominic Mellon, lead consultant in Health Protection for PHE South West, said: "Avian influenza is uncommon in humans and the risk to the health of the local population remains very low.

"We will continue to work with Defra, Devon County Council, Teignbridge District Council, Dawlish Town Council and the local NHS to monitor the situation.

"We would like to remind the public not to touch sick or dead birds. And always make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching animals, especially wild animals."

Dawlish Mayor Cllr Alison Foden added: "This is obviously devastating news for us, not just as a council but for the parish of Dawlish as a whole.

"We are famous for our black swans all over the world, they hold a special place within our communities and their health and wellbeing is really important to us.

"We will be following the advice of partner agencies to ensure we can continue being the home of the black swan."

The flock are synonymous with the town and there are records of black swans being in the town in the early 1900s.

The black swans have been there ever since and are now managed, together with other waterfowl, by the Dawlish Town Council through the waterfowl warden.

Three cygnets hatched in July to join the four remaining adult black swans and two cygnets who are on the verge of growing up in the town, and have been joined by six new baby cygnets.