Swan Upping returns to the River Thames after year hiatus

Shay Bottomley. Photos by Ian Longthorne


Swan Upping returned to the River Thames this week after a one-year hiatus.

Spectators lined the river and watched on from bridges for the three-day event, which began on Tuesday at Eton Bridge.

Swan Upping involves taking an annual census of the unmarked swan population along a section of the Thames for the Queen, who retains the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open

What was historically a ceremonial event is now an important annual celebration of education and conservation.

When a family of swans and cygnets is spotted, the Swan Uppers position their boats to allow them to lift the birds out of the water to check their health and wellbeing.

Swans that are marked belong to either Abbotsbury Swannery or one of two London livery companies, namely the Vintners and the Dyers.

The Queen’s swans are left unmarked.

Marking takes place by attaching a small, numbered leg ring which is attached where a swan is marked but a cygnet is not. Ownership is determined by parentage.

Prior to this year’s Swan Upping, The Queen’s Swan Marker David Barber thanked residents who had reported injured swans in the absence of last year’s event.

Speaking about the count at The Ferry, Cookham, Mr Barber said: “It’s a little bit less than it was two years ago, which is a little bit disappointing.

“Although we’ve had very large cygnets, the actual numbers in the broods have been very, very small, only twos, whereas at the last one [in 2019] we did have seven.

“It’s not a disaster, but it has gone down.”

Mr Barber said there had been issues which had been highlighted to the Swan Uppers over the past year.

“We have had a lot of problems with people shooting swans in the last year,” he said. “We’ve also had a lot of problems with pollution, so there are factors out there.”

The event was one of the first to take place after the government relaxed restrictions on social contact on Monday.

When asked about how it felt to be welcomed by excited onlookers, Mr Barber said: “It’s nice to be out Swan Upping once again, that’s a sure fact.

“But, it feels very strange, and we’re still all very conscious of the fact that COVID-19 is around, so we’re trying to keep as safe and social distance as much as we possibly can.”

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