Scarlet-clad bird-catchers in traditional river skiffs begin swan-upping duties for census dating back to medieval times
The Guardian, Monday 14 July 2014 23.53 BST
On a sunny summer afternoon on the Thames just outside London one of England's stranger seasonal rituals is under way.
Six traditional river skiffs, crewed by scarlet-clad bird-catchers, have embarked on the ancient tradition of swan-upping, the annual ornithological census of mute swans dating back to medieval times.
With their flag-decked boats they will, over the course of five days, travel upstream to round up and monitor all the birds they find between Sunbury and Abingdon.
It's a colourful spectacle, but these days it serves a greater purpose too as an important conservation effort.
Each cygnet is weighed, each bird given a health check, and the data obtained supplied to scientists to monitor the swan population.