The Queen’s Royal Swan Marker, David Barber gave a very insightful talk to members of The Henley Society this week at Shiplake Memorial Hall.
David talked about the welfare of the Mute Swan, conservation of their habit, swan upping and importance of educating young children about swans. David opened the talk with some great facts too about Swans including their wing span measuring 2.5m and on average they weigh 15 kilos. They lay between 6-9 eggs, every other day and sit on them for 35 days. The average survival rate is just 2.3%. Bird flu this year has been the worst it has ever been.
Mute Swans have had a Royal prerogative since 996. Throughout history swans have been shared between The Crown, The Vintners’ Company and The Dyers’ Company. Originally the birds’ beaks were nicked to show who owned them until 1993 when David got the role of Swan Marker and changed this to a ring being added to their legs instead.
Swan Upping takes place every year during July from Sunbury to Abingdon over 5 days using six traditional rowing skiffs. When the boats see a group of cygnets they circle them with boats and David shouts “All up”. The legs and wings are then tied with soft twine; they are then taken to the shore to be checked over, measured, weighed and then ringed. Showing the pictures of the boats, David said, “I sit on a box but I can’t tell you what’s in the box!” Over the years they have been collecting data, the number of cygnets has ranged from as low as 80 to as high as 142.
The biggest problem causing injuries to swans is fishing tackle. David also showed a picture of swan injured from had a champagne bottle wire.
The Queen joined the Swan Upping in July 2009. David told the audience, “I was really nervous about the Queen’s visit and I wanted everything to go well. I thought what am I going to do? Then I thought I would ask a friendly landowner I know between Windsor and Maidenhead so I rang her up to ask if we could use her lawn. I got Swan Support to catch some cygnets beforehand and put them on the lawn. It all went absolutely spot on. Afterwards though, the Queen said, “Mr Barber aren’t you supposed to catch them first?!”
Educating children is an important part of swan upping with David arranging school visits for the children to hold blown swan eggs, help measure and weigh the cygnets. Each school is given a Royal certificate to commemorate their visit. Before the Queen’s visit, David had asked the Queen’s Private Secretary if she would present a certificate to a school child who had done an excellent project. The Private Secretary on two occasions said that the Queen does not hand out anything. In the last phone call David said could you please ask the Queen and he finally got back to David saying she would be delighted to!
Feeding swans bread is always a question that is asked. David said, “Swans naturally feed on weed but during winter there isn’t much so bread keeps them going. Bread is not ideal, corn and lettuce are better.
David’s talk fee was being donated to Swan Support.
Geoff Luckett, Chair of the Henley Society said, “It was a record breaking turnout for a Society talk with 120 people. Since the talk I’ve had lots of texts, messages, emails to say how much everyone enjoyed David’s talk.”
The next Henley Society talk will take place on Friday 8 April 2022 @ 7.15pm by Simon Clinton of the Save the Wild Tigers Conservation Group again at Shiplake Memorial Hall.