The Irish Times view on sounds of the countryside: when the cock crows

A new French law will protect the sounds and smells of the country’s natural spaces

Corine Fesseau feeds her rooster Maurice in Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, France, in June 2019. After a series of high-profile disputes in rural areas, the French parliament has passed a bill that enshrines countryside smells and sounds as protected national heritage. Photograph: Kasia Strek/The New York Times

Corine Fesseau feeds her rooster Maurice in Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, France, in June 2019. After a series of high-profile disputes in rural areas, the French parliament has passed a bill that enshrines countryside smells and sounds as protected national heritage. Photograph: Kasia Strek/The New York Times

 

Maurice and Marcel, two fine, noisy, now late, specimens of le coq gaulois, will be remembered. Their place in the history of rural France is enshrined in an law agreed last week to protect the “sounds and smells” of the country’s natural spaces, legally now part of its “shared heritage”.

Their early-morning “cocoricos”, the onomatopoeic French cock’s crows, had been too much for vacationing second-homers. Maurice, a cock from Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, an island off the west coast, had so tormented a Limoges couple that they petitioned a court to silence him. The 2019 case caused uproar nationally and much rage at the presumption of urbanites who would not embrace the full rural experience .

Maurice was spared by the court, but Marcel from the Ardeche was not so lucky. He was shot and beaten to death by a neighbour infuriated by his crowing – the guilty party received a five-month suspended prison sentence.

Elsewhere the battle has gone the other way. In the Dordogne a court ordered a couple to drain their pond after neighbours’ complaints about incessant frog croaking, while an Alsace court ruled that a horse stay at least 50 feet from the neighbouring property after complaints about smelly droppings and droves of flies.

A woman in the duck-breeding Landes region was unsuccessfully sued by a newcomer neighbour fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.

In Le Beausset, a village in the south, locals were appalled when tourists complained that, as they sipped their pastis, they couldn’t hear each other above the racket of cicadas. And demanded the immediate spraying of insecticides. The mayor responded last year by installing a two-metre statue of one.

The new legislation urges local administrations to draw up an inventory of their areas’ “sensory heritage,” to give newcomers a better sense of rural life and disabuse them of over-bucolic expectations. Cow bells and the sound of early-morning tractors are also likely to feature.

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