PARIS – A crow on a rooster and the ringing of a church bell. The rumble of a tractor and the smell of manure coming from a nearby stable. The deafening song of cicadas or the uncoordinated croaking of frogs. Shepherd ducks, bleating sheep and donkeys.
Perennial rural sounds and smells like these were protected by French law last week when lawmakers passed a bill to preserve the “sensory heritage of the countryside” after a series of high-profile neighborhood entanglements in rural France, many involving noisy animals.
In a nation still attached to its agrarian roots and to its terroir ̵
“Living in the countryside means accepting some trouble,” Joel Giraud, the French government’s junior minister for rural life, said on Thursday. It would be illusory, he said, to idealize the countryside as an ideal refuge for tranquility.
Perhaps the most prominent of these noisy animals was Maurice, a rooster in Saint-Pierre-d’Oleron, a town on an island off the west coast of France. Its owner was sued by neighbors – regular tourists in the area – because he sang very loudly.
Politicians and thousands of petitioners rushed to protect the Gallic rooster, and the court eventually ruled in 2019 that Maurice, who died last summer at the age of six, was within his rights.
“Our rural areas are not just landscapes, they are also sounds, smells, activities and practices that are part of our heritage,” Mr Giraud told French Senate lawmakers. “People in new countries are not always used to this.”
The bill was passed by the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament, last January. In a rare demonstration of parliamentary and political unity, the Senate unanimously passed a version of the bill Thursday.
“The aim is to give tools to elected officials,” said Pierre-Antoine Levy, a centrist senator who helped draft the bill, arguing that mayors were caught in the midst of a growing number of neighborhood disputes.
To name just a few recent cases: In Dordogne, a region of southwestern France, a court ordered a couple to drain their pond after neighbors complained of constant croaking of frogs; in Alsace, eastern France, a court ruled that a horse must stand at least 50 feet from a neighboring property after people grumbled about smelly feces and crowds of flies; in Le Bosset, a small village in southern France, residents were shocked when tourists complained about cicadas singing. (The mayor responded last year by installing a six-foot statue on one.)
In one of the most tragic cases, more than 100,000 petitioners sought justice last year after Marcel, a rooster in the Ardèche in southeastern France, was shot and beaten to death by a neighbor enraged by his moans. The man later received a five-month suspended sentence.
The new law changes France’s environmental code, saying that the “sounds and smells” of France’s natural spaces are an integral part of the legally defined “shared heritage”. And he urges local administrations to draw up an inventory of the “sensory heritage” of their areas to give newcomers a better sense of what to expect.
The law does not provide for specific penalties or create a list of specially protected sounds or smells, but Mr Levy, who represents Tarn-et-Garonne, a predominantly rural area in southwestern France, said he would give mayors more power to settle disputes before they to find themselves in court and would give judges a stronger legal basis for settling cases that have reached them.
“This law does not mean that farmers will be able to do whatever they want,” he said. “The idea is to create a code of good conduct.”
It’s too late for Morris. But his successor, Maurice II, can now sound with the full confidence of someone who has the law on his side. Corinne Feso, its owner, told France 2 television last week that she was excited about the new law.
“The city has its noises,” she said. “So it is in the countryside.”