The smell of fresh cow droppings hitting your nostrils. A rooster’s shrill crowing waking you up at 4 AM. The gentle hum of cicadas on a warm summer night.
These are all experiences that became explicitly protected by French lawmakers late last week as part of a bill designed to preserve the “sensory heritage” of the countryside. The move comes amidst a number of lawsuits which have seen wealthy French urbanites visiting their countryside holiday homes sue local residents for ‘noisy’ animals.
In September of 2019, for example, a farmer was sued for over $5,000 by her neighbor because her ducks were quacking too loudly. The ducks’ quacking, the neighbors claimed, made it ‘impossible’ to enjoy the terrace of their newly bought villa. In the same year, a similar lawsuit was brought against farmers by their neighbors for the early morning crows of their rooster Maurice, prompting outcry online and even a petition to save the bird’s life. And, a year earlier, two people vacationing in the South of France asked the mayor of a small town to kill local cicadas with insecticide because the insects were too noisy.
While in all these examples the court sided with the farmers, they were seen by many as indicative of centuries-old tensions between rural and urban areas. These tensions have increased as wealth continues to accumulate in the country’s cities, and flared with news reports of wealthy Parisians fleeing en masse to vacation homes during recent pandemic lockdowns.
In a press release, Secretary of Rural Affairs Joël Giraud welcomed the legislation as a step forward to protecting rural life.
“Our rural territories are not only landscapes,” Giraud wrote. “They are also sounds, smells, activities, and practices that are part of our heritage. It is important to integrate, and this is the object of article 1 [of the bill], a definition in the environmental code relating to sounds and smells characterizing natural land and sea environments.”
"It's a real victory for rural communities," he added. "Do your part, let's preserve the countryside."
While Maurice the rooster tragically died last June, with this legislation in place, animals across rural France can now rest easy knowing that they can quack, crow, moo and poop without fear of some snotty tight-ass neighbor.