Dog on the Move

How the person who oversees the Queen’s swans has made counting them the most popular ticket on the town

David Barber is feeling pressured. He has one of many extra uncommon jobs within the Royal Family – overseeing the Queen’s swans. And that is his busiest time of 12 months, as he prepares for Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan inhabitants alongside the River Thames.

Barber is below strain, as a result of because the Royal Swan Marker, he leads this five-day occasion which begins on Monday. He rows with a crew alongside a 79-mile stretch of the river gathering knowledge, assessing the well being of younger, weak cygnets and checking them for accidents.

Each time the crew – who put on blue or crimson blazers with royal insignia for the occasion – spot a household of swans and cygnets they shout, “All up!” and row over to the birds. The crew – or Uppers, as they’re recognized – leap out and raise the grownup and child swans from the water. The swans have their legs and wings tied with delicate string to allow them to be inspected.

“That is my thirtieth Swan Upping,” says Barber, who wears a hat with a swan’s white feather in the course of the census. “The strain is absolutely excessive at present; there’s an terrible lot to do.

Barber exhibits college kids from Dedworth Inexperienced a cygnet on the second day of the annual Swan Upping census in 2019

“I begin organising every part at the start of the 12 months. I’m accountable for arranging coaches and accommodations for everybody concerned, proper by way of to the logistics of constructing certain we all know the way to take care of the younger cygnets we raise from the water to weigh and measure them, and put a British Belief of Ornithology ring on them.”

The census, which begins in Sunbury, Surrey, and ends in Abingdon Bridge, Oxfordshire, is a royal occasion as a result of the Queen has proper of possession of all unmarked swans swimming in open waters – though that is primarily exercised on sure stretches of the Thames.

The Queen – who, together with titles resembling Defender of the Religion, and Head of the Commonwealth, can be the Seigneur of the Swans – shares possession of swans with the previous commerce associations of the Vintners and Dyers, whose representatives be part of the upping.

Today, Swan Upping is about conservation – a method of monitoring the well being of the swans – however the custom, which dates to the twelfth century, was once about controlling the swan inhabitants with a view to guarantee there have been some top-class feasts to be loved.

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“Swans have been classed as a royal chook for nearly 1,000 years and in these days have been classed as a delicacy served at banquets,” says Barber. “Now, in fact, they’re a protected species and it’s unlawful to eat them, however they’re nonetheless royal.”

Now in his early sixties, Barber grew up by the Thames in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. “I’ve lived and labored on the river all my life,” he says. “I bought the job as a result of I used to assist my predecessor rescue swans, and clear swans for Henley Royal Regatta and occasions like that.

“When he retired, my title was put ahead with fairly just a few different individuals for the place, so I went to interview on the Palace with numerous different individuals. I wished to alter the job into extra of a conservation- and education-based job. The Palace appreciated the concept and the Queen appointed me as her Swan Marker.”

Just a few years in the past, the Queen got here alongside to observe the Swan Upping ceremony. “She met the youngsters who have been a part of the conservation initiatives we do with colleges, and she or he noticed the swan catches. The Princess Royal [Princess Anne] got here alongside, too – she bought actually concerned. I’ve met the Queen many occasions in several conditions, and she or he’s a really good woman.”

“I used to be actually nervous in regards to the Queen’s go to,” he has mentioned in regards to the monarch becoming a member of his swan census. “I believed I might ask a pleasant landowner I do know between Windsor and Maidenhead whether or not we may use her garden.

Swan Uppers and a procession of different boats make their method upstream on the River Thames

“I bought Swan Assist to catch some cygnets beforehand and put them on the garden. All of it went spot-on. Afterwards, although, the Queen mentioned, “Mr Barber, aren’t you alleged to catch them first?”

When Swan Upping season is over, the strain would possibly dissipate however Barber gained’t be sitting round. “All 12 months spherical I’m coping with completely different points with Pure England, giving permission to individuals to maneuver swans, or coping with issues with injured swans.

“The Queen has the royal prerogative, so all these requests and points need to undergo our workplace. I get numerous police calls about individuals capturing swans, too – often it’s kids with air rifles. That’s partly why I really feel strongly about educating kids now about appreciating wildlife.”

Barber thinks that, on the entire, the swans have a pleasant life on the Thames, though they do have a nemesis: the home canine.

“Usually canines will see a nest and go for younger cygnets or the grownup chook, after which we’ve a catastrophe,” he says. “I do attempt to encourage individuals to maintain their canines below management when there are swans round.

“Swans are so devoted to their younger,” he provides. “The feminine will sit on her nest for round 35 days, getting little or no meals in that point.

“Then you will notice the younger cygnets on their mom’s again the place they sit to stay away from predators; not solely pet canines, but in addition birds of prey, and mink.”

Barber hopes the following era will respect the swans and often offers talks in colleges and exhibits kids fluffy white cygnets. “They’re superb creatures. Seeing a pair of swans and the way they entice one another, it’s actually so marvellous.”

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