A Law to Crow About: France Upholds Rural ‘Sensory Heritage’

Farmer working the land, France (Walt Girdner photo)

PARIS (AFP) — From crowing roosters to the whiff of barnyard animals, the “sensory heritage” of France’s countryside will now be protected by law from attempts to stifle the everyday aspects of rural life from newcomers looking for peace and quiet.

French senators on Thursday gave final approval to a law proposed in the wake of several high-profile conflicts by village residents and vacationers, or recent arrivals derided as “neo-rurals.” 

A rowdy rooster named Maurice in particular made headlines in 2019 after a court in western France rejected a bid to have him silenced by neighbors who had purchased a holiday home nearby.

“Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,” Joel Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers.

Cow bells (and cow droppings), grasshopper chirps and noisy early-morning tractors are also now considered part of France’s natural heritage that will be codified in its environmental legislation.

“It sends a strong message,” said Pierre-Antoine Levi, the senator who acted as rapporteur for the bill.

“It can act as a useful tool for local officials as they carry out their educational and mediation duties,” he said.

The law is emblematic of growing tensions in the countryside between longtime residents and outsiders whose bucolic expectations often clash with everyday realities.

Corinne Fesseau and her rooster Maurice became the image of the fight when she was brought to court by pensioners next door over the animal’s shrill wake-up calls.

Critics saw the lawsuit as part of a broader threat to France’s hallowed rural heritage by outsiders and city dwellers unable or unwilling to understand the realities of country life.

Thousands of people signed a “Save Maurice” petition, and a judge eventually upheld the cock-a-doodle-doos.

In another case from 2019, a woman in the duck-breeding heartland of the Landes region was brought to court by a newcomer neighbour fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.

A court in southwest France also threw out that case.

© Agence France-Presse

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