THE ancient ceremony of Swan Upping in Oxfordshire could be cancelled because flooding on parts of the River Thames has made it too dangerous for boats to navigate.

The census of the swan population on the Thames dates back to the 12th century, but looks set to be abandoned for the first time in its 900-year history.

The week-long census, led by the Queen’s swan marker David Barber, was due to begin yesterday Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey and Windsor in Berkshire, but was cancelled due to fast-flowing river conditions.

The rest of the week’s programme could also be affected because parts of the river are considered by the Environment Agency as too dangerous for boats to navigate.

Mr Barber said the flooding of the river further south meant the water was very fast-flowing.

He said “Boats aren’t allowed on it at this time and it simply would not be safe to carry out the census.

“There will not be any Swan Upping today and the rest of the week is also in doubt. From what the Environment Agency says it looks pretty grim.

“It is doubtful that Swan Upping can be rescheduled and we will probably have to wait until next year. If there are red boards on the river we don’t go out.

“There are about 1,200 swans on the Thames between Sunbury and Abingdon and we will be asking swan rescue volunteers to be more vigilant and look out for swans with fishing tackle injuries.”

He added there were about 20 Swan Upping volunteers who were left disappointed.

Dushan Salwathura, landlord of the Broad Face pub in Bridge Street, Abingdon, said: “The Swan Uppers have been coming in here for a drink and a sing-song for about 30 years.

“It’s a real tradition and good for business. I hope it still goes ahead.”

The fast-flowing stream has washed away many swans’ nests, and Swan Uppers were hoping to check the effects of the floods on the swan population.

Environment Agency spokes-man Dave Ferguson said: “There are red boards in place between Sunbury-on-Thames and Windsor, which urge caution because of the strong stream, and our advice to users of all boats is not to navigate.

“There are also red boards in place between Windsor and Abingdon.” The EA warning system for boaters has been in place for over 20 years.

Swan Uppers were due to visit Goring and Moulsford on Thursday, and Benson Lock, Clifton Hampden Bridge, Culham Lock and Abingdon Bridge on Friday.

Yesterday there were flood alerts on the River Ray from Shipton Lee to Islip, the River Cherwell from Lower Heyford to Oxford, the River Thame and Chalgrove Brook.

The Environment Agency Flood Alert warns that flooding of roads and fields was possible.

The Met Office said the weather would be “more settled” for the rest of the week, with cloudy and dry conditions today, followed by light rain tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.


History of swan upping

THE ceremony of Swan Upping takes place the third week of July and dates from the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans, a popular delicacy at banquets and feasts.

Swans are now Crown property and protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The number of cygnets are counted each year to make sure the swan population is maintained and the Queen’s Swan Warden, Prof Christopher Perrins of Oxford University, assesses swans and cygnets for signs of disease. Swan Uppers use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey to Abingdon.