The historic Swan Upping ceremony has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The annual census of the swan population on the River Thames was due to take place from July 13 to July 17.
The centuries-old tradition sees a flotilla of wooden skiffs travel along the Thames, through Windsor and Maidenhead, to monitor the number of royal birds.
But Buckingham Palace confirmed today the event will not go ahead.
David Barber MVO, The Queen’s Swan Marker, said: “Although not unexpected, it is of course disappointing that members of the public and local schoolchildren will not be able to enjoy Swan Upping this year.
“It is always a great opportunity for the young people who attend to learn about mute swans, and see first-hand the health checks we carry out on every single family of swans along the river.”
The Queen’s Swan Marker is working with the Thames Swan Rescue Organisations to continue overseeing swan welfare as usual.
‘Swan Upping’ is the term used to describe the annual census of the swan population on a particular stretch of the River Thames. Having had a primarily ceremonial function when the tradition was begun over 900 years ago, it’s now come to play a significant role in wildlife conservation. This year, however, the historic summer event is one of a slew of many that has been cancelled amid the crisis.
The historic ceremony dates all the way back to the 12th century, when the English Crown first claimed ownership of all mute swans. These birds were once considered a delicacy, and the Upping took place to count numbers in order to ensure a plentiful supply for feasts. Today they are no longer eaten, but the tradition of Swan Upping has continued, now with the purpose of ‘conservation and education.’
Swans are still seen as a special bird due to their ties to the monarchy, and the annual Swan Upping is an event of appropriate fanfare for an animal with royal pedigree. Over five days, which usually occur in the third week of July, a flotilla of traditional Thames rowing skiffs descend on the river, carrying Swan Uppers in their impressive scarlet rowing shirts. The group are led by the Queen’s Swan Marker, who wears a hat bedecked with a white swan’s feather.
Having made their way up the Thames to the designated spot, the Uppers shout , ‘All up!’ when they sight a family of swans and cygnets. They then row into position around the swans to lift them from the water and check the health of the birds. The Queen’s Swan Marker David Barber explained last year: ‘We lift the whole family out of the water, we take them ashore, we weigh them, measure them and check them for any injuries.’
The Queen shares ownership of the mute swans on the Thames with two old trade associations who join in the upping – the Worshipful Company of Vintners and Dyers, two of the City of London’s 12 great Livery Companies. The cygnets are then each ringed with identification numbers that show whether they belong to the Vintners or Dyers livery companies, which is determined by their parentage. While the Queen has the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, this right is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the River Thames. All these Crown birds are left unmarked.
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