Annual census and health check of the Queen's own population of mute swans

Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames, takes place next week 19-23 July, beginning at Sunbury Lock and ending at Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

The ceremony of Swan Upping dates from the twelfth century and takes place during the third week of July every year.

The Queen’s Swan Marker and the accompanying Swan Uppers of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Livery Companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey upstream to Abingdon.

By tradition scarlet uniforms are worn by The Queen’s Swan Marker and Swan Uppers, and each boat flies the appropriate flag and pennant.

The Swan Marker, is an employee of the Crown, whose job is to count the number of young cygnets each year and ensure that the swan population is maintained. With the assistance of The Queen’s Swan Warden, Professor Christopher Perrins of the University of Oxford, the swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease.

Announcing the dates for Swan Upping, Swan Marker, David Barber reported:”The severe weather we have experienced in recent years continues to cause difficulties for wildlife, and the heavy snow and low temperatures of last winter proved no exception.

“Vandalism and fishing tackle injuries remain a constant threat to swan numbers and are two of the primary causes of fatalities amongst mute swans and young cygnets. The number of attacks by vandalism has increased over the last year which is extremely disappointing. Shootings by youths with air rifles and catapults cause horrific injuries and, usually, slow deaths. Nests have been destroyed and cygnets are attacked causing unnecessary suffering and a reduction in swan numbers.

The observation points and times are as follows (all times given are approximate):

Monday 19th July 2010
Sunbury Lock 09.00 – Departure point
Shepperton Lock 10.45
Penton Hook Lock 12.30
Romney Lock 17.30

Tuesday 20th July 2010
Eton Bridge 09.00 – Departure point
Boveney Lock 10.15
Boulters Lock 13.00
Marlow Lock 17.30

Wednesday 21st July 2010
Marlow Bridge 09.00 – Departure point
Hurley Lock 10.30
Hambleden Lock 12.00
Henley Town 13.30
Marsh Lock 16.00
Shiplake Lock 17.00
Sonning Bridge 18.00

Thursday 22nd July 2010
Sonning-on-Thames 09.00 – Departure point
Caversham Lock 10.30
Mapledurham Lock 12.30
Goring Lock 17.00
Moulsford 18.00

Friday 23rd July 2010
Moulsford 09.00 – Departure point
Benson Lock 10.15
Clifton Hampden Bridge 13.00
Culham Lock 16.15
Abingdon Bridge 17.30

Swan Upping dates from medieval times, when The Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans which were considered an important food source for banquets and feasts.

Today The Crown retains the right of ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but The Queen mainly exercises this right on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Livery Companies who were granted rights of ownership by The Crown in the fifteenth century.

The swans are counted but are no longer eaten.

The cygnets are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury, commonly caused by fishing hook and line. The cygnets are ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen’s Swan Warden, whose role is scientific and non-ceremonial.

The Queen’s Swan Marker produces an annual report after Swan Upping detailing the number of swans, broods and cygnets counted during the week.

Apart from Swan Upping, The Queen’s Swan Marker has other duties. He advises organisations throughout the country about swan welfare and incidents involving swans, he monitors the health of the local swan population and advises fishing and boating organisations how to work with wildlife.

The Queen’s Swan Marker works closely with swan-rescue organisations and supervises the rescue of sick and injured swans. He also co-ordinates the removal of swans from stretches of the river Thames used for summer rowing regattas.