When you see a swan in a nearby pond, who do you think owns it? Since it is in nature, nobody should, right? But that’s not how it is in Britain. The British Royal monarch owns most of the swans in the country. So, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II recently, the new British monarch, King Charles III inherited many of the country’s swans.  

How did the Queen come to own the swans?  
But did the Queen literally own all these swans? Technically, no. She didn’t own them. But you can say that she had a right, passed down through the centuries, to claim them if she pleased, making her the de facto owner. But how did she get that right? Well, there is a story to that.  

At one point of time, swan was treated as a rare delicacy, particularly by the royalty. But eating swans fell out of style by the 18th century and it was made illegal in 1981. Post that, they were protected as wild birds. Commoners were not allowed to own swans, and noblemen with sufficient land and income would have to ask the monarch for permission. Due to this, a black market developed, and swan theft became a major problem. In fact, special courts were created dedicated to swan disputes.  

It’s still unclear when the monarchy started to own the swans of the country but in the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I wanted to round up some swans. However, some people claimed that they owned them. When the matter was taken to the court, they sided with the queen, ruling she had a right to unmarked swans, along with ‘royal fish’, a classification that includes sturgeons, whales and porpoises.  

And the law stands to this day. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II recently, the practice will continue under the new monarch King Charles III. 

Who else in Britain is allowed to own swans? 
You may ask if the royal right applies to all the swans in the country. The answer is no. It applies to only mute swans (one of several varieties of swans found in Britain) in open waters which aren’t already owned by three companies permitted to own swans. 

The three companies which are permitted by the monarchy to own swans are The Abbotsbury Swannery, The Vintners Co. and The Dyers’ Co.  

How does anyone know whose swan is it? 
You must be wondering how would anyone find out whose swan it is, right? After all, they all look almost the same. Well, earlier, swans were marked with knives and brands on their beaks to indicate ownership. But nowadays, they are fitted with rings to designate ownership. 

Every year, David Barber, who has served the royalty for nearly 30 years as the swan marker, would lead the royal Swan Upping, a five-day expedition on six traditional rowing skiffs to collect data and assess the health of swans on the River Thames. Wearing a red jacket and a large swan feather in his cap, he would circle the swan families, lift them out of the water, weigh them, check them for injuries and outfit them with tracking rings. 

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