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The Queen’s royal swan uppers returned to the River Thames in Oxfordshire

The Queen’s royal swan uppers returned to the River Thames in Oxfordshire yesterday morning at Moulsford and ended in Abingdon at 5pm, with crowds lining the banks to catch sight of the crew. Swan upping is an annual ceremony in England in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, ringed, and then released, a tradition steeped in history dating back over 900 years. By prerogative right, the British Crown enjoys ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water. Rights over swans may, however, be granted to a subject by the Crown. The ownership of swans in a given body of water was commonly granted to landowners up to the 16th century. The only bodies still to exercise such rights are two livery companies of the City of London. Thus the ownership of swans in the Thames is shared equally among the Crown, the Vintners' Company and the Dyers' Company. Its main practical purposes today are to conduct a census of swans and check their health. It occurs annually during the third week of July. Over five days, the Queen's, Vintners' and the Dyers' respective swan uppers row up the river in 'rowing skiffs'. Swans caught by the Queen's swan uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker are left unmarked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Those caught by the Dyers and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of a further ring on the other leg. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would be marked on the bill, a practice reflected in the pub name The Swan with Two Necks, a corruption of "The Swan with Two Nicks". This year marked a positive change in the recent trend, as the population along the Thames increased from 72 last year to 134. Royal swan market David Barber, who led the team along the river, said: “The increase wasn’t expected, so it was a pleasant surprise. Hopefully it marks a change in situation.” Mr Barber noted how the population had been steadily declining in recent years, but he and his colleagues had been working to educate the public on the importance of the birds. He said: “We’ve had so many school pupils along the trip and during the year we have held talks at fishing clubs and other organisations involved in the river. “All the people who go along [to watch] enjoy it; it’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s hard work and a long journey, but we are preserving the swan population for the future, which is brilliant.” As well as counting the number of swans, they also assessed the health of young cygnets and examined them for injuries. Mr Barber said they found fewer cygnets with injuries this year. Ian Gillies Bell

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