The Queen's Swan Markers - Swan Upping 2021There is confusion and myth surrounding swan ownership in the UK and the association of swans with the Royal Family. The facts, though, while ancient in origin, are clear and precise.
Ownership of swans in the UK
All unmarked mute swans on open waters in the UK are the property of the Crown (the office of the Queen or Royal Family), a right established in the 12th century. Three other organizations retain rights of swan ownership. Mute swans marked with a leg ring denote their ownership by Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset (gained the right to own swans in the 14th century and can be visited today) and the Vintners' Company and Worshipful Company of Dyers, two ancient livery companies (mediaeval trade associations) both of which gained the right to own swans in the 15th century.
Each year a five day process known as Swan Upping is carried out along certain stretches of the River Thames by the Queen's Swan Marker and his attendants. The Swan Markers identify, weigh, and health check cygnets and place leg rings on the cygnets of birds not owned by the Queen. All cygnets of unmarked birds belong to the Queen and are not marked.
UK swan population
Three species of swan are found in the wild in the UK.
Mute swans (Cygnus olor). Adult c. 150cm bill-to-tail, wingspan up to 235cm, weight up to 12kg, 6,400 pairs breeding in the UK, 74,000 birds wintering in the UK (from Europe).
Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus). Adult c. 150cm bill-to-tail, wingspan up to 235cm, weight up to 11kg, 23 pairs breeding in the UK, 11,000 birds wintering in the UK (from Iceland)
Bewick's swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii). Adult c. 120cm bill-to-tail, wingspan up to 195cm, weight up to 6kg, c. 5,000 birds wintering in the UK (from Siberia, Russia).