Queen Elizabeth can add Swan Upping to a list of canceled royal events, including Trooping the Colour, Royal Ascot, the annual Maundy Service and the Chelsea Flower Show

By Phil Boucher
May 18, 2020 02:17 PM
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Credit: Sang Tan/PA Images/Getty

Queen Elizabeth can add the ancient tradition of "Swan Upping" to the long list of royal events to have fallen foul of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 800-year-old old practice of counting swans on the River Thames has been canceled because The Royal Swan Uppers, who wear the scarlet uniform of The Queen and travel in traditional rowing skiffs to catch, weigh and tag the birds, cannot maintain social distancing while carrying out their very hands-on duties.

"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," Queen's swan marker David Barber said in a statement about the annual swan census, which joins Trooping the Colour, Royal Ascot, the Queen’s annual Maundy Service and the Chelsea Flower show (which held it’s first virtual event, Monday) among the list of royal postponements.

Credit: Sang Tan/PA Images/Getty

Buckingham Palace has also been closed to the public for the summer, while Royal Ascot — the Queen's favorite event of the year — has been canceled.

It's not just the Queen either, as Kate Middleton has seen her beloved Wimbledon tennis championships fall by the wayside, while Prince Harry has been forced to cancel the 2020 Invictus Games, which were originally set to take place in The Netherlands from May 9 to May 16.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision for all of us to have to make,” Prince Harry, 35, said in a personal video while announcing the cancellation. “And I’m so grateful for everybody that’s worked so hard over the past couple of weeks to try to find any alternative to try and carry on these Games in a different way — in a safe way.”

Having endured during the plague, famine, and numerous monarchs, the ancient practice of Swan Upping is certain to return once COVID-19 is beaten.

Dating back to the 12th century, the event was originally conducted to ensure that the royal family had enough swans to feast on during their vast state banquets.

It is as a direct result of this that the Queen still officially owns all mute swans (the most common of three local species) found on open water in the U.K.

Yet today, "Swan Upping" has two completely different goals; conservation and education.

"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," adds Barber.

Credit: The Office of The Queen's Swan Marker

In July 2019, Karen Hammond, 62, from South Dakota became the first woman in history to take part in the ancient ritual.

"It's hard work and you get a bit of a mess,” she told PEOPLE at the time. “At some point, it's almost like swan wrangling. You've got the adult swan on the ground and you kind of kneel over it.

She continued, "They flap a bit but once you have them, they actually go quite calm. I think probably because they've had this experience before as Cygnets."

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According to the official British Monarchy website the swans are "ringed with individual identification numbers... then set free again.”

"It's a brilliant experience," added Hammond. "I'm hoping to still be doing it when I'm 75!"