UK royal swan census cancelled due to virus: reports

The counting of the swans on the River Thames, a royal tradition dating back to the 12th century, will not go ahead this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP Photo/Tolga Akmen)

London (AFP) - An annual swan census on the River Thames in southeast England, a royal tradition dating back to the 12th century, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, press reports said Sunday.

The so-called Swan Upping, which involves measuring, weighing and checking swans on a stretch of the waterway between Surrey and Oxfordshire, is usually conducted over five days in July.

The spectacle, which involves so-called Royal Swan Uppers in scarlet uniforms on traditional rowing skiffs, draws crowds along the riverbank with many schools typically invited to meet the Swan Uppers during their journey.

It is a regal affair because Queen Elizabeth II owns all Britain's unmarked swans, in a custom dating back to 1186 which spawned the annual count.

However several Sunday newspapers said it had been decided that it cannot take place safely this year while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Buckingham Palace, which is expected to make an announcement in the coming week, declined to confirm the reports.

"Swan Upping was due to take place on (the) 13th - 17th July, between Sunbury-on-Thames and Abingdon in Oxfordshire," a palace spokesman told AFP.

"It is led by The Queen's Swan Marker, David Barber.

"The Queen's Swan Marker is working on a daily basis with the Thames Swan Rescue Organisation to continue overseeing swan welfare as usual."

The event was last cancelled in 2012 due to flooding, the Daily Telegraph noted.

Swans were an important source of food when the census first started, but it has been continued today for wildlife conservation and education purposes.

"Swan Upping plays an important role in the conservation of the mute swan," said the website royalswan.co.uk, which is dedicated to the census.

"Cygnets are extremely vulnerable at this early stage in their development and Swan Upping affords an opportunity to help both adults and cygnets that might otherwise go untreated."