The wonderful sight of swan upping came to the Henley Reach yesterday lunch time stopping off at Leander Club to meet the children of Sacred Heart School.
The 12th century tradition is led by the King’s Swan Marker, David Barber who was wearing the King’s cypher for the first time and flying a new ensign on his rowing skiff. He was joined by 19 men in skiffs from the Crown, Vinters and Dyers livery companies who share ownership of the swans all in their traditional regalia.
Swan upping starts in Sunbury and takes five days to travel the Thames, finishing in Abingdon. 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. They are supported on the route by Swan Support.
There are fears that this year swan numbers will be hit hard by avian blue. David Barber said, “The disease had been quite disastrous for the swan population.”
Talking to the Year 5 and 6 children David explained the history surrounding swans and the ownership by the crown including that swans were originally considered a delicacy for medieval banquets. The Crown still has ownership of unmarked mute swans on open water, such as the Thames, so this counting of swans, now part of conservation work, has its roots in asserting royal rights. They were pleased to find and mark 7 cygnets near Temple Island.
Jeremy McCarthy, from the Dyers Livery company, explained to pupils what the biggest threats to swans are. He said: “The baby swans, the cygnets, they are prone to natural predator, be that pike, mink, herons, dog attacks but also humans. We had a case recently where the team from Swan Support found a couple swans that had been shot. One of the main problems we do seem to get is with fishing tackle. Sometimes it can get caught in trees, or it can get caught on the bed of the river and swans who are bottom feeders can get caught in the tack that has been discarded.” He then showed the children some examples and encouraged them to pick up fishing lines or floats if they saw them when out walking.
The children then got the opportunity to see two cygnets up close and a blown swan’s egg.
Henley Mayor, Councillor Sarah Miller was invited to meet Swan Uppers for the first time. Afterwards Sarah said, “I felt quite honoured to be there and witness this historic ceremony. I managed to watch a lot of the swan uppers from a launch which was fantastic and then, along with David Barber, The King’s Swan Marker, I handed over a very special Royal certificate to the children of Sacred Heart School. Which acknowledged how important it is for them to protect the Swans, to appreciate the wildlife, the river and all its inhabitants. It really was a very special afternoon, I learnt a lot, and I would like to thank the organisers very much for inviting me.”