Swan Upping: The Ceremony of Conservation

Posted on August 27, 2015 by Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

What do swans, nifty uniforms, conservation, and Her Majesty the Queen of England have in common? The answer: the annual Swan Upping.

What, you ask, is the Swan Upping?

Image: Swan upping; a swan being held by 2 different people
Source: LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS

The annual Swan Upping, held on the third week of July, is a ceremonial census taken every year of the Mute Swan population living on a stretch of the River Thames. The Swan Upping began in the 12th Century when the British Crown claimed rule over all unmarked Mute Swans in open water in the United Kingdom. This made the British Monarch “Seigneur of the Swans.” As time passed, the Crown gave up ownership over the entire swan population, and now only claims those living on a stretch of the River Thames and some of its tributaries.

Here’s a video detailing the history and process of the Swan Upping, as well as those nifty uniforms.

Via 1

While the tradition itself is wonderful in its theatrics and history, the Swan Upping speaks to what happens when conservation becomes a part of culture.

Image: 3 Canoes with one person each in a river with a mama swan and her 5 babies
STEVE PARSONS/PA

In modern times, the Swan Upping has become a more scientific survey that not only collects vital data on the swan population, but seeks to educate people on the effects we humans have on their population. Because of its work, when the swan population began a serious decline in the mid-1980’s, regulations and conservation efforts were put into place that have lead to a bounce-back in the population.

The Upping is a rare time when conservation is given the pomp and circumstance it deserves. And, perhaps we don’t need a cavalcade of blazer bedecked scientists heading off into our streams in little wooden boats, but we should treat the work they do with the same respect.

If we considered all species like the animals important to our national heritage–the swans of England, or the bald eagle of the United States–we could retain some of the species that make this earth such a beautiful and diverse place, and pass on to the next generation a globe with all of its wonders intact.

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-Liesl

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” -Victor Borge
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