UK royal 'swan marker' confirms census cancellation

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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)
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) - The man who counts swans on England's River Thames on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday confirmed that this year's census had been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The so-called Swan Upping, a royal tradition dating back to the 12th century, was due to take place over five days in July along a length of the river west of London.

Crowds typically gather to watch the Swan Uppers in scarlet uniforms on traditional rowing skiffs as they measure, weigh and check the swans. Many schools are also invited.

David Barber, the monarch's Swan Marker, said: "Although not unexpected, it is of course disappointing that members of the public and local schoolchildren will not be able to enjoy Swan Upping this year.

"It is always a great opportunity for the young people who attend to learn about mute swans, and see first-hand the health checks we carry out on every single family of swans along the river."

The queen owns all Britain's unmarked swans and they are counted and measured every year in a ceremony that dates back to 1186.

The event was last cancelled in 2012 due to flooding, according to newspaper reports.

Swans were an important source of food when the census first started, but the count has continued in modern times 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."