17 July 2023

First annual royal swan census of King’s reign gets under way

17 July 2023

The first Swan Upping of the King’s reign is under way – with Charles’s Swan Marker and his team taking to the River Thames in newly updated uniforms bearing his cypher.

As King, Charles retains the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, though this right is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the Thames.

Swan Upping is the annual census of the swan population and the ceremony is used to count the number of young cygnets, check their health and ensure numbers are maintained.

The King’s Swan Marker David Barber and his accompanying Swan Uppers of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies used six traditional rowing skiffs to begin their five-day journey upstream to Abingdon Bridge in Oxfordshire.

Charles’s flags were flying on the Crown boats and his CIIIR cypher was displayed on the arm of Mr Barber’s traditional scarlet jacket for the first time – as well as on the front of the red polo shirts worn by some of his assistants.

Mr Barber said the past year has been a “challenging” one for the swans because of the spread of bird flu, but although hundreds of the birds have died, reports of infection have fallen in recent months.

Mr Barber was the late queen’s Swan Marker for 29 years and continues in the role for the King.

The ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the ownership of all unmarked mute swans in Britain was claimed by the Crown in order to ensure a ready supply for feasts.

The focus is now on conservation and education, with local primary school children invited to Q&A sessions throughout the week.

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