France Passes Law to Preserve the Sounds and Smells of the Countryside

view of the River Tarn in the village of Peyre of Southern France

The French countryside can provide a bit of respite for big city dwellers, but those seeking peace and quiet are often surprised that the rural setting has a soundtrack and scent of its own. In recent years, many of the sensory disturbances have even reached the authorities, including a couple being ordered to drain their pond filled with croaking frogs in Dordogne and a horse needing to stay 50 feet away from a neighbor because of the odor from its droppings in Alsace, The New York Times reported. In one extreme case, a rooster in Ardèche was shot and beaten by a neighbor who complained of its crowing.

But last Thursday, French senators unanimously passed a law to protect the "sensory heritage" of the French countryside, including its sounds and smells, France 24 reported via the Agence France Presse. That means sounds, including those from cow bells, grasshoppers, and even tractors doing their work in the early mornings, as well as the smells they may generate, won't be able to be challenged in the courts. "These sounds and smells are now part of the common heritage of the nation," the bill stated.

The move is a major victory for the rural population after the recent onslaught of "neo-rurals" and travelers who have raised their voices about the secondary elements that have long been a part of country living. "Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances," the junior minister in charge of rural life, Joёl Giraud, said to the lawmakers, according to The New York Times. "Our rural territories are not just sceneries, they are also sounds, smells, activities, and practices that are part of our heritage…new country dwellers aren't always used to it."

While the law itself doesn't include a list of the protected smells and sounds, or any specific repercussions, the idea is to set expectations of what rural life is like and also become "a useful tool for local officials as they carry out their educational and mediation duties," senator Pierre-Antoine Levi said, according to France 24. "This law doesn't mean that farmers are going to be able to do whatever they please…The idea is to create a code of good conduct," Levi added.

One of the most famous rural-versus-urban cases came in 2017 when vacation home owners on the French island of Oléron took a neighbor, who is a permanent resident of the island, to court because of the "abnormal racket" from her rooster named Maurice, Smithsonian reported. The incident sparked a "Save Maurice" petition signed by about 140,000 people. A court official eventually stayed at the vacation home for three nights to experience first-hand just how loud the crowing was, determining it was only intermittent from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., when the original complaint said it started at 4 a.m. In the end, the vacation home owners were ordered to pay €1,000 (around $1,214 now) in damages to Maurice's owner in 2019. Though Maurice died in the summer of 2020 of a respiratory infection that infects chickens called coryza, the owner now has Maurice II, who can now carry out the original's crowing legacy without complaints.

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