A royal tradition dating back to the 12th century is being carried out this week as the annual Swan Upping takes place on the River Thames.
For the past 800 years, the swan population along the Thames has been checked and measured – first as a ceremony, but now as a matter of conservation. The Swan Upping started when the Royal Family claimed ownership of the mute swans along the river. These swans, known for being less vocal than other species of the waterfowl, were prized as a delicacy and often served at royal functions.
The census occurs the third week of July each year and takes five days to complete, with red-shirted officials gliding down the river in traditional Thames rowing skiffs. When they discover a mute swan and its cygnets, the teams yell “all up!”
Barber told the BBC the number of swans has decreased since last year as they started their survey Monday. “We’ve had a pretty rough time with…dog attacks, all sorts of things – like mink.”
The Swan Upping began Monday in Sunbury, West London, and will end Friday at Abingdon Bridge in Oxfordshire. It is led by Barber, The Queen’s Swan Marker, who wears a hat with a white swan’s feather.
The Queen owns the mute swans on the Thames, along with the old trade associations of the Vintners and Dyers, and the young cygnets are ringed with identification numbers that denote whether they belong to the Vintners or the Dyers livery companies. All Crown birds are left unmarked.
While Her Majesty retains the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, this is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the Thames.