| STAINES, England, July 15
STAINES, England, July 15 It used to be a way of
seeing how many swans were around that might eventually grace
the royal banquet table, but these days the ancient English
tradition of swan-upping, a census of the birds, is part of a
The Queen's Swan Uppers, who still wear traditional scarlet
uniforms in echoes of medieval times, will be out in rowboats
flying flags and pennants all this week on the River Thames near
Using their skiffs to close in on the cygnets, the bird
catchers pull the birds from the water by their necks.
They are brought ashore to be weighed and their beaks
measured before being placed safely back in the water, David
Barber, the Queen's official Swan Marker, said on Monday, the
first day of the census.
"Each family we come across there with the young cygnets we
lift out of the water, measure them, weigh them, check them for
any injuries and this is all completed by swan uppers in six
traditional rowing skiffs," Barber said.
"The skiffs work round the swans, they work in closer and
closer until they can actually pick them out of the water and
take them to the shore," he said.
All unmarked mute swans still belong to the Queen in a
tradition dating from the 12th century when the crown claimed
ownership of swans found in open water.
Cygnets in particular were once regarded as a tasty dish at
banquets and feasts, whereas today the swans are counted to
protect their numbers.
Last year 107 cygnets were counted from 37 swan families.
Barber told Reuters that attacks by dangerous dogs could
mean that the number of cygnets was down this year.
"Vandalism is quite serious so we have many shootings and
dog attacks, that's why swans this year we feel have been a
little bit less than other years," he said.
Another annual tradition is observed when, on passing
Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with
oars raised and salute the Queen.
At the completion of the five-day long event, the Queen's
Swan Marker will write a report on the number of swans found,
this enables conservation methods to be used to protect the
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Ralph Boulton)