Queen Elizabeth owns how many swans? Annual count gets underway

CHERTSEY, England, July 16 (Reuters) - An 800-year-old tradition of counting the swans owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth started on Monday, an annual ceremony of "swan upping" that in modern times has become a means of wildlife conservation.

The upping sees three teams -- one representing the queen and the others the old trade associations of the Vintners and Dyers -- patrol the River Thames in south England over five days to capture, tag and release any families of swans with young.

The upping dates back to the 12th century when the English crown first claimed ownership of all mute swans, then considered a delicacy that would be served at royal banquets.

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Annual census of the Queen's swans along the River Thames
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Annual census of the Queen's swans along the River Thames
David Barber, The Queen's Swan Marker holds a cygnet as officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A toy swan is seen on a support vessel as officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: A cygnet is weighed during the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials release swans back into the water as they record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Details are seen of the uniform of David Barber, the Queen's Swan Marker, as officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Detail of a tie is seen as officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A woman sits on a support vessel as officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Officials record and examine cygnets and swans during the annual census of the Queen's swans, known as 'Swan Upping', along the River Thames near Chertsey, Britain, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Swans and cygnets make their way after being tagged during the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The Queen's Swan Marker David Barber holds a cygnet as the ancient tradition of counting swans along the River Thames begins. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Swans and cygnets are lined up ready to be tagged and weighed during the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Port is handed around the crew as teams prepare to raise a toast to the Queen at the end of the first day of the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Swans and cygnets are lined up ready to be tagged and weighed during the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Swans and Cygnets are released after being ringed during the annual Swan Upping census on July 16, 2018 on the River Thames, South West London. The historic Swan Upping ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all Mute Swans and they were eaten at banquets and feasts. The Sovereign's Swan Marker, David Barber, counts the number of young cygnets on the river each year and ensures that the swan population is maintained. The swans and young cygnets are also assessed for any signs of injury or disease. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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Britons no longer eat swans and the birds are protected by law.

Last year's count showed there were 132 new cygnets on the Thames, reversing a declining trend in previous uppings.

The queen's team of uppers, in red shirts emblazoned with her royal logo, were directed on Monday by a "swan marker" wearing a gold-embroidered ceremonial blazer, David Barber.

"The law states that the queen can own any swan swimming in open waters if she so wishes, but she mainly exercises that right on the River Thames," Barber said.

"Today swan upping is about conservation and education," he continued.

Schools were invited to view the upping at close quarters, during which the birds are ringed with individual identification numbers for conservation purposes.

(Reporting by Emily Roe, Writing by Joanna Heywood, editing by Andy Bruce, William Maclean)

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