Swan Upping is the traditional practice of counting swans along the River Thames and is a historic royal ceremony that has been performed for the last 900 years. This year, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony will not take place – only the second time in the last 900 years that the event has been cancelled.

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The Queen’s Swan Uppers along the River Thames at Abingdon in 2006.

The five day ceremony was due to take place from July 13th-July 17th between Sunbury-on-Thames and Abingdon and is hugely popular with people from Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxford as they flock to see the Royal Swan Uppers at work.

Swan Upping dates back to the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans, which back in those days was considered a culinary delicacy. In the present day, the ceremony has more of a wildlife conservation purpose than a culinary one.

The five-day event normally sees cygnets being weighed and measured as well as checked for any signs of injuries. if injuries are found they are usually taken off for treatment. The young birds are then ringed with identification numbers that denote whether they belong to either the Vinters or Dyers livery companies. Crown birds are left unmarked.

In 2012, due to heavy flooding that made the Thames dangerously fast flowing, the ceremony was cancelled for the first time in its 900 year history. This year, however, the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown and social distancing measures have enforced a cancellation of the historic ceremony.

In 2009, Her Majesty The Queen, as Seigneur of the Swans, attended the Swan Upping ceremony for the first time in her reign. This was the first time a Monarch had attended Swan Upping in centuries.

It is expected that the Swan Upping will commence again in 2021.

Photos: Phillip Allfrey & NASA

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