In the United Kingdom, all the swans you may come across are the property of Her Majesty, The Queen of England and as such are protected by the rule of law. You cannot hunt or eat swans lest you be sent to prison. Every year, the Royal Swan Marker sets out into the countryside around the Thames with a team of boats in order to search for and register swans. The numbers of births and adult swans are recorded and populations are monitored.
Beginning in the 12th century, Swan Marking used to be done in order to assure the crown that there would be sufficient swans for the royal banquets. Today it is done in order to protect the birds, monitor the population and check for illnesses as well as monitor cygnets and their health. Of course, it is now very illegal to eat swans – they belong to Her Maj!
This year, however, was the bearer of bad news, the numbers of cygnets show reductions over previous years. The Royal Marker has said that it is most likely due to a number and combination of factors such as loose dogs along the banks of rivers where swans usually nest and bring up their young. A second reason is apparently the introduction of the American Mink. Supposedly escaped from local farms years ago, the mink found the United Kingdom to be a welcoming and cosy new homeland and has flourished, putting at risk the smaller cygnets, above all during the risky nesting period, and when they cannot defend themselves and are still not strong swimmers.
(Holger Holleman / EFE)