Each July, the River Thames witnesses the historic tradition of royal swan upping. During the week-long event, swans are rounded up, counted and examined for injuries, while cygnets are also weighed and measured, before they are all released back into the wild. Plenty of people rally together to help out with the swan upping, which is one big swan census, with added pomp and ceremony.
The responsibility of England’s swan upping has long been held by the Keeper of the Queen’s Swans, but this role was split between the Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, and the equally intriguingly titled Warden of the Swans, Christopher Perrins, in 1993. Impressively, both men have now held these positions for more than a quarter of a century. Beginning on a Monday in Sunbury-on-Thames each year, the event takes place over the course of a week in July, finishing on the following Friday at Abingdon Bridge, near Oxford.
Also involved in the process are swan uppers from the Worshipful Companies of Vintners and Dyers, two of the most ancient livery companies of the City of London. Besides the monarch, these are the only people who still observe the tradition of owning swans on the River Thames. Indeed, it’s commonly believed in the United Kingdom that Queen Elizabeth II owns all the swans in England. In fact, although the Queen does own all unmarked swans in open water in the country, she exercises ownership only on certain parts of the River Thames around Windsor.
And it’s much more than an old-fashioned tradition. Sadly, swans on the River Thames are at risk of being wounded or even killed. When swans’ eggs hatch, the young cygnets are very vulnerable to attack by predators, and they are susceptible to damage from vandals, too. Discarded fishing tackle poses another serious threat to cygnets; injuries caused by this dangerous debris can often result in death. The swan upping enables the conservation of the mute swan and ensures that these majestic creatures will be around for generations to come.