Well, have you?
Swan Upping is the traditional census-taking of Mute Swans on the River Thames, wherein swans are rounded up, checked for bands or banded, and released. The king or queen of England, by ancient law and custom dating back to the middle ages, owns all unmarked swans in England. And since the twelfth century or so, the swans who live on the Thames have been counted and marked by the Royal Swan Upper to enforce that ownership (though two ancient groups, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the equally Worshipful Company of Dyers also have some swan-related rights and participate as well.) Swans were once reckoned something of a delicacy, after all, and having one on your banquet table was something of a status symbol that the Crown thought ought to mostly belong to it.
Of course, no one today, even the Queen, eats swans. Even so, the annual Swan Upping is still carried out, though in this century it’s more a matter of monitoring the mute swan population’s health than making sure the peasants aren’t eating above themselves. While there’s still some ceremonial involved in the form of natty uniforms and rowing skiffs, the actual handling of the swans is managed by the Royal Swan Warden, a professor of ornithology from Oxford University. And yes, it’s not completely an odd holdover from the past: Swan Uppings in the 1980s revealed a drop in population that was found to be caused by swans swallowing lead fishing weights. The weights were banned in the Thames, and the population happily rebounded.
Unfortunately, this year’s Swan Upping, due to be held July 13-17, will not be taking place because of the pandemic. I hope, though, that the Royal Swan Warden will still be able to pop down the Thames to make sure his feathered friends are safe and thriving.