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Swan Upping

The third week of July, every year within the UK an ancient ceremony takes place on a 70 mile stretch of the River Thames called 'Swan Upping. This is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames in Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The ceremony dates from the 12th century and came about when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans, because back then swans were regarded as a delicious dish at banquets and feasts, of course today they are no longer eaten. The Crown stills retains this ownership right, but only on unmarked swans in open water, but the Queen only exercises this right on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries.

The Swan Upping Ceremony is carried out by the Queens Swan Marker and the Swan Uppers of the Vinters' and Dyers' livery companies who jointly own these swans after being granted to the rights of ownership by the Crown in the 15th century. It is a 5 day ceremony where the officials in traditional uniforms and in six traditional Thames rowing double Skiffs, flying the appropriate flags and pennants, row sections of the Thames to carry out this task. Each Skiff is manned by two watermen handling a pair of sculls, however the The Queens Swan Marker sits at the stern of a randan propelled by one man with a pair of skulls and two others each working a single scull, and all are dressed in traditional scarlet jackets. On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boats with oars raised and salute 'Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans'. When a brood of cygnets is sighted a cry of "All Up" is given to signal that the boats should get into position.

Its purpose is to weigh, measure and ring (giving identification numbers) any new cygnets, and to carry out a health check and count of the current Mute Swan population on a 70 mile stretch of the River Thames, through 5 counties. Once the process is complete the swans are set free again. On completion of the 5 days The Queen's Swan Marker produces a report which gives data on the number of swans including broods and cygnet, this data is then used to determine suitable conservation methods and other protections required for the Swans.

The Queens Swan Markers role is to carry out this function during the Swan Upping ceremony, but he is also has other duties including:

  • Advisor to other organisations throughout the UK on swan welfare and incidents involving swans

  • Monitors the health of local swan populations

  • Briefs fishing and boating organisations on how to work with existing wildlife and maintain existing habitats

  • Works closely with Swan rescue organisations

  • Carries out the rescue of sick and injured swans

  • Co-ordinates the temporary removal of swans from stretches of the Thames used for summer rowing regattas.

It is a traditional and typical English procession of the 6 colourful boats, but also a flotilla of accompanying boats going down the River Thames, through locks and 5 English counties.

Dates and Schedule

The Swan Upping Ceremony usually takes place during the third week of July, but check out our July diary pages which are usually up in June of each to year to check the exact dates for the current year.

A typical schedule for the Swan Upping week is:


Sunbury Lock 09.00 (Departure point)
Shepperton Lock 10.45
Penton Hook Lock 12.30
Romney Lock 17.30
Eton College Boat House 09.00 (Departure point)
Boveney Lock 10.15
Boulters Lock 13.30
Marlow Lock 17.45
Marlow Bridge 09.15 (Departure point)
Hurley Lock 10.30
Hambleden Lock 11.45
Henley Town 13.30
Marsh Lock 16.30
Sonning-on-Thames 09.00 (Departure point)
Caversham Lock 10.30
Mapledurham Lock 12.45
Goring Lock 17.30
Moulsford 09.00 (Departure point)
Benson Lock 10.15
Culham Lock 16.00
Abingdon Bridge 17.15

To find out more about Swan Upping you can at the following links:

Also See our other pages on Swans


Where to Photograph Swans (Location List)

Mute Swan  

Bewick's Swan

Whooper Swan


By: Tracey Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: swan-upping Topic: Wildlife  Last Updated: 06/2013

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