cygnet numbers in London drop by 40 per cent

The recent annual swan census saw numbers drop to 94 from 155 in 2022 (AP)

A historic Royal data search – known as ‘swan upping’ – has revealed the number of baby swans is in drastic decline in the capital.

The number of cygnets found on the River Thames has dropped by 40 percent with the decline in numbers put down to “disastrous” avian flu levels as well as “growing levels of violence” and high flood water levels washing away swan nests.

On July 17 the historic act of ‘swan upping’ took place on the River Thames, which sees the King’s official swan marker, David Barber, travel the length of the Thames wearing an actual feather in his cap to take the annual swan census.

Wearing his bright scarlet jacket and travelling with pomp down the river, ‘swan upping’ sees Mr Barber pick up and weigh every baby cygnet he spots as they travel the length and breadth of the River Thames to check on numbers and conditions of the swans, one of the Royal Family’s most favoured animals.

He travelled the length of the river over five days, starting in west London and finishing in Abingdon in Oxfordshire at the end of the week. Along the way in 2023, only 94 cygnets were found – a number down by 40 percent year-on-year. The numbers are down from 155 in 2022 – and this is the lowest number of cygnets in seven years.

The decline has been blamed on avian flu but also a growing problem of violence, including shootings, catapult attacks and dogs killing swans.

The King’s swan marker, David Barber, said the result was “disappointing”. He also said it would be “expected” because of avian flu saying: “It really has been horrendous, terrible to see. But those found had been in good condition.”

Other concerns for the birds – who are a protected species – include swans being shot with air rifles, swans being harmed by dogs off leads and eggs and nests being destroyed by flood water levels rising.

Swan upping was first done back in the 12th Century when the Royal Family claimed ownership of all mute swans, with swans considered a delicacy for medieval banquets.

The Royal Family still has ownership of all unmarked mute swans on open water, such as the Thames, and the counting of swans and their babies is now part of conservation work.

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