Photo Journal: Royal Swan Upping on the River Thames

The annual royal swan upping takes place on the Thames every July
The annual royal swan upping takes place on the Thames every July | © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip
An event that is as ceremonial as it is practical, an annual royal swan upping takes place every year on the River Thames. During the centuries-old tradition, swans and cygnets on the river are rounded up, counted and examined for injuries before being released back into the wild.
Cygnets are weighed and measured once a year © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip
The swan upping is a centuries-old tradition © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip

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 event starts in Sunbury-on-Thames and finishes at Abingdon Bridge © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip

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.

The swan upping is led by David Barber © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip
The event takes place every July © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip

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.

The conservation of the mute swan ensures that these majestic creatures will be around for generations to come © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip
Plenty of people rally together to help out with the swan upping © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip

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.

The event acts as one big swan census © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip
Swan uppers from the Worshipful Companies of Vintners and Dyers are also involved in the event © Chiara Dalla Rosa / Culture Trip