Cygnets stayed cool while the Swan Upping tradition adapted to the heatwave
Adaptations have been made to the old tradition of Swan Upping – the annual census of the swan population along the river thames – to help the cygnets in the extreme heat.
The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, took to the water in traditional rowing boats at Sunbury Lock Cut, accompanied by his Swan Uppers team middle sex on Monday as the five-day count and review began despite the heatwave.
Usually the baby swans were taken out of the water and brought to shore to be weighed, measured and checked for problems.
But with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees, the cygnets in the boats were only checked for health issues and promptly taken back to the river to cool off.
The Queen reserves the right to claim ownership of unmarked mute swans swimming in open waters, but this right is mainly exercised on certain stretches of the Thames, with the ceremony dating back to the 12th century.
Mr Barber told the PA news agency: “The cygnets have a problem getting caught in fishing lines because they are not road or river sized so you need to check those.
“Normally we would take them out of the water onto land and weigh each cygnet and measure each cygnet for our data.
“Today we got her out of the water, examined her, put a ring on her and then got back in the water.”
Mr Barber, who has been the Queen’s Swan Marker for 29 years, said it was the hottest swan upping he had ever witnessed, prompting him to forego his traditional uniform of a heavy scarlet blazer, which has embroidered gold thread and royal regalia is decorated.
He was still wearing his white short-sleeved shirt with the top button closed, tie and peaked cap, and briefly wore the jacket to honor the Queen.
“The only time I put my blazer on was at Romney Lock when we toasted it Your Majesty the Queen. I just had to do it,” he says.
“But it’s a very bulky blazer, very heavy, and there was no way I could have worn it today. That would be devastating.”
Mr Barber said the number of cygnets appeared to have fallen, but that was not a cause for concern as numbers were expected to fall due to the impact of bird flu.
A crew member held up an umbrella to protect himself from the rising temperatures as one of the boats proceeded down the river.
Others took a break from rowing and relaxed in the boats basking in the sun.
Mr Barber said: “It was very, very hot as you can well imagine being out in the open water with really little shade but everyone was pretty good at drinking lots of water which saved the day.”
The Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the time when ownership of all unmarked mute swans passed Great Britain was claimed by the Crown to ensure quick supplies for festivals.
It is the duty of the Queen’s Swan Marker to count the number of young cygnets on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries each year and to ensure that the swan population is maintained.
His focus now is on conservation and education.
Swan Upping 2022 started at Sunbury Lock Cut in Middlesex on Monday and will finish at Abingdon Bridge in Oxfordshire on Friday.