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Swan Upping: Ten Interesting Facts


Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames in the UK’s counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

This year’s Swan Upping kicked off on Monday, July 15, and will continue until Friday, July 19.


1. This historic ceremony dates from the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans. The Queen of England generally just keeps tabs on the ones living on the River Thames and surrounding areas though. Mute swans have white feathers and are known for being less vocal.

2. Until recently, the “Seigneur of the Swans” (the Queen) was the only person who could kill and eat swans. Now, nobody can do either. But as recently as a decade or so ago, killing a swan was an act of treason that could technically be punishable by death or imprisonment.

3. Swan Upping is a swan census, basically. During the celebration, all of the Queen’s swans along the River Thames are rounded up, caught, tagged and measured and then released back into the wild.

Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames

Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames

4. The focus of Swan Upping these days is on the cygnets. Not just because they’re super cute either, but in order to track breeding trends of the mute swans.

5. It takes place annually during the third week of July in areas like Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, among others.

6. The Queen’s Swan Marker leads the Swan Upping. The current Swan Marker is named Swan Marker David Barber, a Professor of Ornithology at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology. One of the biggest threats to swans these days is the increasing numbers of dog attacks. “When we have dog attacks it’s through carelessness,” said David Barber. “We are trying to stamp it out.”

7. The other swan counters (called “Swan Uppers”) wear traditional scarlet uniforms. And six traditional Thames rowing skiffs are used for the Upping, each adorned with flags and pennants.

8. Swan Uppers cry “All up!” when they spot a group of swans. The Uppers target cygnets and when they spot them, this call indicates that they need to get into position to grab and tag.

9. As they pass Windsor Castle, the Swan Uppers toast to the Queen. Queen Elizabeth is rarely ever present at the event (she’s attended once), so the rowers must stand at attention and hail Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans as they pass Windsor, one of the queen’s pads.

10. There was no Swan Upping in 2012. The Upping was supposed to be a part of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour, but due to flooding, the ceremony was cancelled for the first time in 900 years.
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