Wardens get down to the task of swan-upping

A A A

It might not be quite up there with the Changing of the Guard, but it's certainly one of Britain's most venerable royal customs. The annual pageant of swan-upping - counting the swans on the middle reaches of the river Thames - got under way yesterday, amid fears that attacks by vandals are taking an increasing toll on the birds.

Historically, all unmarked mute swans on open water belong to the Crown, a tradition dating from the Middle Ages when they were hugely prized for their meat. Roast swan was the favourite dish of Chaucer's monk in The Canterbury Tales, and was often the centrepiece of royal banquets.

Tastes change; now we have the turkey, and eating such graceful birds seems unthinkable (although some who have eaten it say the meat is delicious).

But while swans no longer end up on the royal table, the Queen continues to exercise ownership rights to them on the Thames and its surrounding tributaries upstream of London as far as Abingdon in Oxfordshire, and the annual counting by specially appointed royal officials continues to this day.

Led by the Queen's Swan Warden and the Queen's Swan Marker, the swan uppers, a team of watermen from the Dyers' and Vintners' livery companies of the City of London, wear scarlet uniforms and fly flags as they make their five-day journey up the river in a flotilla of traditional rowing skiffs to count this year's cygnets, starting from Sunbury-on-Thames, upstream of Hampton Court palace.

The Swan Warden, a scientific and non-ceremonial role currently held by a leading academic ornithologist, Professor Christopher Perrins of Oxford University, will ring each cygnet with an individual identification number. Cygnets will be weighed and measured to obtain growth rates and birds will be examined for any sign of injury.

The ceremony, thought to date from the 12th century and carried out during the third week of July every year, was previously continued merely to keep a colourful tradition alive. In recent years it has become an important tool for experts to assess the impact of modern threats such as shooting, vandalism and becoming entangled in discarded fishing tackle, as well as more natural hazards such as minks and foxes.

While experts believe overall there has been an increase in the number of breeding pairs, but attacks, particularly shootings, have been rising. "Regrettably, swans and cygnets continue to be subjected to vicious and mindless vandalism with devastating, and often fatal, consequences," said the Queen's Swan Marker, David Barber. "And eggs continue to be destroyed by senseless youths." Mr Barber's duties include monitoring the health of the local swan population and giving advice on their welfare to organisations up and down the country. He also supervises the rescue of sick and injured birds and removes them from stretches of the river used for rowing regattas.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral