France is set to declare the sounds and smells of the countryside part of its “rural sensory heritage” in an attempt to end a slew of legal complaints ranging from crowing cockerels to the stench of cowpats.
A cultural parliamentary commission from across the political spectrum unanimously voted in favour of the bill this week tabled by centrist MP Pierre Morel-à-l’Huissier.
Once adopted, he said it would enable the different regions of France to draw up a list of the “characteristic sounds or smells of a territory, such as for example the shrieking of cicadas in Provence or the smell of grape must in the Hérault (southwestern France)".
“All the regions concerned will have to do is add these to their heritage list for them to be protected,” he told Le Figaro.
Under the new legislation, complaints about “sound or smell pollution that refers to emissions inscribed on the rural sensory heritage (list) cannot be deemed abnormal neighbourly disturbances”.
The bill follows a raft of court cases by people with homes in the countryside complaining their peace and quiet was being disturbed.
The highest-profile complaint was against a cockerel called Maurice whose owners were taken to court last year by neighbours who insisted the rooster’s dawn crowing was cutting short their sleep in their second home on the île d’Oléron, an island off western France.
The case became a cause célèbre and 160,000 people signed two petitions backing the bird’s freedom of expression.
Maurice was acquitted on the grounds that “proof of nuisance has not been provided”.
In another case, a group of new villagers from Occoches, in the Somme, filed a legal complaint against a farmer’s plans to place 80 cows in a field and stable near their property, saying they would smell and attract flies.
In March, 18 inhabitants living in the centre of Colmar, eastern France, threatened to file a legal complaint unless the mayor muffled the sound of church bells ringing for Sunday mass.
A couple in Dordogne were recently ordered to drain their pond after neighbours complained the noise from its mating frogs was spoiling their rural tranquility.
“The civil courts are assailed by problems about neighbourly disturbances; they account for a third of all civil cases,” said Mr L’Huissier.
“If we hadn’t protected this rural heritage, it risked gradually dying out.”
Parliament is expected to approve the bill on January 30 before it passes through the senate.