The 'Swan Upping,' one of the Queen's favourite events, returns this summer

By Heather Cichowski

Last year, so many royal events had to be cancelled or greatly altered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Swan Upping was sadly one of those events that did not take place in 2020 due to COVID-19. So, it is a joy to see the historical conservation event is returning for 2021. It is also exciting news for the Queen, who loves it.

Buckingham Palace shared the thrilling news on June 22 that the Swan Upping is back this year.

"Swan Upping - the annual census of the swan population on a stretch of the River Thames - is back again this summer," revealed the @RoyalFamily Twitter.

As the tweet explained, the Swan Upping is an annual census of the swan population on a section of River Thames.

Previously, it was considered a ceremonial event, but it has evolved in recent times to a critical part of wildlife conservation and a key opportunity to educate younger generations. It typically takes place once a year and involves the weighing and measuring of swans and cygnets (baby swans).

The event takes place over five days. The Thames is the second-longest rier in the United Kingdom and the longest in England. It spans 346 km and flows through southern England, including London and Oxford.

During the process, "Swan Uppers" inspect animals for injury, which can commonly be caused by fishing hooks and lines. Dogs and other animals destroying swan nests and pollution are other issues.

The practice dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership on mute swans.


The Royal Swan Uppers, led by Swan Marker David Barber (left), sail upriver near Windsor for the Swan Upping census on the River Thames on July 20, 2009. Photo: © Sang Tan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The educational aspect is equally as important as the conservation and documentation. Over the course of Swapping Upping, the Swan Markers share their knowledge with school children and allow them to ask questions and learn about the history and biology of swans, as well as the royal connection to it.

In 2021, several primary schools will be able to join the Swan Uppers on the river for the educational lessons.

“This year, the breeding season has been successful in terms of cygnet numbers and there has been a decrease in the number of dog attacks on swan nests reported," read an announcement about the Swan Upping 2021 on Royal.co.uk.

"However, we have seen a vast increase in the incidence of pollution on the river over the same period; engine and diesel oil deposited in the water along with other debris and pollutants cause serious problems for swans and other water borne wildlife.

"These situations are entirely avoidable and have a devastating impact upon both the wildlife and the environment."

The Queen smiles as she is shown an orphaned cygnet at Oakley Court during the 2009 Swan Upping. Photo: © Sang Tan/PA Images via Getty Images

Her Majesty retains the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, but this right is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the River Thames, according to the Royal website. Crown birds are left unmarked, but cygnets belonging to certain liveries are ringed with individual identification numbers. Just three liveries can claim rights to the swans.

MORE: The Queen steps out to final day of Royal Ascot 2021

Swan Upping involves a flotilla of traditional Thames rowing skiffs, manned by Swan Uppers. They are headed by the Queen’s Swan Marker, who wears a white swan’s feather. The ceremony gets its name because the flotilla goes upriver on the Thames and they cry "All up!" when swans and/or cygnets are spotted.

The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, shows school children from Dedworth Green First School a cygnet (a young swan) on the second day of the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2019 on the River Thames. Photo: © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Over the years, Her Majesty has been photographed participating in the Swan Upping, including at the informal education classes and on the boat as part of the flotilla.


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