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Queen’s swans to be ‘marked’ in ancient ceremony

The ancient ceremony of Swan Upping is to take place from 15-19 July 2013. All the swans and new cygnets on the River Thames will be marked and claimed in the traditional ceremony which originates from the twelfth century.

The Queen's Swans which live in the River Thames will be marked in the annual traditional census.

The Queen’s Swans which live in the River Thames will be marked in the annual traditional census.

During Swan Upping, The Queen’s swan markers and also the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers all mark their swans (the Vintners’ and Dyers’ company have shared ownership with the Crown since the 15th century) for reasons of tradition, as swans are no longer eaten even by the Royal Family.

This year’s Swan Upping will start on Monday 15 July departing from Sunbury, and ends at Abingdon, Oxfordshire on Friday 19 July.

The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, said: “The Thames’ swans are nesting later than usual due to the prolonged cold spring we have experienced this year. The number of cygnets has declined over recent years, primarily due to the spring floods that washed away many nests, and of course there have been several outbreaks of duck virus enteritis which killed many breeding pairs of swans.”

One of The Queen's Swan Markers in the traditional livery.

One of The Queen’s Swan Markers in the traditional livery.

The Queen’s Swan Marker and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Livery Companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey upstream to Abingdon. By tradition scarlet uniforms are worn by The Queen’s Swan Marker and Swan Uppers, and each boat flies the appropriate flag and pennant.

It has always been the duty of the Sovereign’s Swan Marker to count the number of young cygnets each year and ensure that the swan population is maintained.

The cygnets are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury, commonly caused by fishing hook and line. With the assistance of The Queen’s Swan Warden, Professor Christopher Perrins of the University of Oxford, the swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of disease.

The Queen legally owns all mute swans in the United Kingdom.

The Queen legally owns all mute swans in the United Kingdom.

The cygnets are ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen’s Swan Warden, whose role is scientific and non-ceremonial. The Queen’s Swan Marker produces an annual report after Swan Upping detailing the number of swans, broods and cygnets counted during the week.

The Queen herself has also in recent years began visiting the markers at a certain point along their marking process and possibly will again this year.

Whilst The Queen legally owns all swans in the UK, only the ones on the River Thames are censused.

photo credits: DavidQuick and Joseph Swan via photopin cc
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