Whether or not Her Majesty actually owns all of the swans in the United Kingdom has been a question asked by many. The short answer is yes, she does. The Queen specifically owns any unclaimed mute swan in open water in both England and Wales in ceremonial fashion. This has been a law since medieval times. Her ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Dyers, granted to them by the Crown in the 1400s. In fact, every year there is a census of all the swans in the River Thames. In the United Kingdom, this is called Swan Upping and occurs in the third week of July each year.
Swan Upping takes place for five days beginning around 8:45 am BST. Local school children are invited to watch this event every year. During this time, Her Majesty’s Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers, and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ “use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey up-river”. Traditional outfits of scarlet uniforms are worn during the ceremony. Every boat flies the applicable flags and pennants, as well.
As the British Monarchy’s official website states, “When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of “All up!” is given to signal that the boats should get into position.” Then as the boats pass Windsor Castle, all the Swan Uppers stand at attention in their boats with oars raised into the air. While at attention, they salute “Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans”. However, The Queen, in her 64 years on the throne, has only ever personally attended the event once in 2009.
During Swan Upping, the swans are weighed and measured, so that there is a record of their growth rate each year. Further, they are examined to check for any sign of injury, which is commonly attributed to fishing lines and hooks. The British Monarchy’s website explains, “The swans are also given a health check and ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen’s Swan Warden. The swans are then set free again.” After the Swan Upping has been completed every July, Her Majesty’s Swan Marker releases a report that provides data about the number of all swans that were accounted for.
In the past, the data gathered has helped researchers discover worrying trends, regarding the population of swans in the river. The population decreased quickly in the 1980s due to swallowing lead fishing weights being used by the fishermen in the area. This resulted in the weights being banned. Within the next few years, the swan population increased. This information is vital in helping with conservation efforts for the protection of the swans.