Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Swan-upping on the River Thames

The Queen's Swan-uppers with David Barber,
The Queen's Swan Marker
My day on the press boat was great fun, sometimes we'd be following, sometimes ahead and sometimes alongside the skiffs carrying the swan-uppers. Needless to say I managed to get some terrific shots on my camera.

It was fascinating watching the six skiffs manoeuvre around a family of swans to either lift them into the boats or lay them on the river bank. There would be much squeaking from the cygnets and anxiety from the parents but swan-uppers are experts in calming them down so you feel the swans realise that it is for their own good - health checks, weighing and ringing the cygnets.

A couple of times David Barber, the Queen's Swan Marker, came on board the press boat for interviews. As a large part of his job is conservation and education, it was fascinating talking to him.

I asked how he got his job. "When the previous Swan Marker retired, twenty-two of us applied and were interviewed at Buckingham Palace. I got the job."

A part of that interview dealt with the future and as David is avid about the River and the swans, his aim is education, particularly with schoolchildren. He often goes to schools to give talks. The major problems for water fowl, especially swans, are swallowing fishing hooks, getting entangled in discarded fishing lines, people throwing stones and kids with air rifles. Not an easy life being a swan.

When we had embarked at Eton Bridge I noticed a huge flock of swans and asked David about it. "That's the singles club. Shortly they'll pair up and move along the river to claim their territory."

Swan-upping takes place in July. For details of observations points log on to www.royalswan.co.uk/

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