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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Swan upping and Queen's swans...

I had earlier posted about ‘Swans’ and of swan song… - a final gesture or performance, given before dying [ not necessarily by the swans !]…. Much space is occupied in UK of one of Queen's swans apparently "barbecued" and left on a river bank near Windsor Castle.  News reports suggest that the bird was butchered and stripped of its flesh before its carcass was dumped close to the water on Baths Island in Berkshire. A sickening news but – I was surprised by the focus of newspapers of UK on killing of a bird.

People kill and eat birds and read that the meat of swan was considered a delicacy and served at banquets…………… not now…. In UK, killing or injuring a swan used to be classed as treason under a law dating back to the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of the birds. Swans now have statutory protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  Upon further browsing understand that the Monarch of the United Kingdom retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water.

Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial and practical activity in Britain in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, marked, and then released and it occurs annually in 3rd week of July. Traditionally, the Monarch of the United Kingdom retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This dates from the 12th century, during which time swans were a common food source for royalty. Swan Upping is a means of establishing a swan census and today also serves to check the health of swans. Under a Royal Charter of the 15th century, the Vintners' Company and the Dyers' Company, two Livery Companies of the City of London, are entitled to share in the Sovereign's ownership. They conduct the census through a process of ringing the swan's feet, but the swans are no longer eaten.

During the ceremony, the Queen's, the Vintners', and the Dyers' Swan Uppers row up the river in skiffs. Swans caught by the Queen's Swan Uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker are unmarked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Those caught by the Dyers' and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of a further ring on the other leg. Today, only swans with cygnets are caught and ringed. This gives a yearly snapshot as to how well Thames swans are breeding. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would be marked on the bill, a practice reflected in the pub name The Swan with Two Necks, a corruption of "The Swan with Two Nicks".

It is stated in July 2009 Queen Elizabeth II, as "Seigneur of the Swans," attended the Swan Upping ceremony for the first time in her reign, and the first time that a monarch has watched the ceremony in centuries. In 2012, due to flooding of the river from adverse weather, the ceremony was cancelled between Sunbury-on-Thames and Windsor for the first time in its almost 900-year history.

In the Swan Upping ceremony, The Queen's Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' livery companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey up-river. The Queen's Swan Uppers wear traditional scarlet uniforms and each boat flies appropriate flags and pennants. When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position. On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with oars raised and salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".

The cygnets (babies)  are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury (commonly caused by fishing hooks and line). One of the biggest threats to swans these days is the increasing numbers of dog attacks. The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is a species of swan, and thus a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
22nd Aug 2013.

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