The practice of Swan Upping dates from the Middle Ages, when the Crown of England claimed ownership of all the swans on the River Thames in a time when swans were considered an important source of food and where the birds would be the main centre-piece of any banquet or royal party.
Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population on the Thames in Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. It is designed to count swans (to assess how many are available for the Royal table) and also lay claim to any swans that are — as yet — unmarked.
The historic ceremony dates from at least the twelfth century. In 1378 the office of ‘Keeper of the King’s Swans’ was created and a document entitled “The Lawes, Orders and Customs for Swans” explained the tasks of a keeper.
Nowadays, the Queen’s Swan Warden collects and records data on cygnets (young swans), and is also expected to weigh, measure and evaluate the birds once captured.
Although birds are still marked, they are rarely eaten (except, occasionally, at state banquets.)
The Royal Swan Uppers, wearing the scarlet uniform of Her Majesty the Queen, travel in skiffs together with traditional Swan Uppers from the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies. Each boat flies the appropriate flag and pennant.
The Swan Sanctuary is a charity dedicated to the care and treatment of swans and waterfowl with an established reputation, not only within the British Isles but worldwide.
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The Swan Sanctuary, Felix Lane, Shepperton
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