French mayor seeks heritage status for sounds of the countryside as residents complain about cockerels and cows

Henry Samuel
Residents of French villages have been complaining about noises such as cows mooing and cockerels crowing - REUTERS

The mayor of a French village has called for the noises of the countryside to be declared a national heritage treasure in a bid to prevent farmers from being taken to court over the cockerel’s crow, the mooing of cows or the chiming of bells.

Bruno Dionis du Séjour, mayor of Gajac, population 387, in southwestern France, said he had been spurred into action after a string of complaints from “selfish” neo-rurals over the noise of rural life.

In an open letter to French MPs, Mr du Séjour said that such noises were part of “the rhythm of the countryside and things that make it what it is, which are as dear as they are simple”.

“Let the crowing of the cockerel, the familiar bark of the dog, the church bell, the mooing of cows, the braying of the donkey and the chirruping of birds be inscribed into national heritage,” he wrote.

The mayor said he had been shocked by “the selfishness of new fellow citizens, most of the time of urban origin, who discover the countryside like the idiot who discovers that eggs don’t grow in trees”.

This month, a group of six new villagers from Occoches, in the Somme, filed a legal complaint against a farmer over plans to place 80 cows in a field and stable near their property.

Their lawyer, Chloé Peyres, said: “That means no more summer barbecues.”

“The smell, the noise, the flies are real nuisances,” she argued.

A ruling is imminent.

In March, residents of Colmar threatened to file a legal complaint over the ringing of church bells for Sunday mass Credit: Getty

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.

Last year, a couple of holidaymakers complained about bells in the village of Bondons, in Lozère, ringing too early for their liking.

And in 2016, a couple in Dordogne were ordered to drain their pond after neighbours complained the noise from its mating frogs was spoiling their rural tranquility.

The mayor said his main aim was to “protect those who make these noises… so that no lawsuit can be brought against them. The countryside is a whole and must be accepted in its entirety.”

“Justice has other fish to fry than ruling on whether a cock should sing at 4, 5 or 6 o’clock,” the mayor told the Telegraph.

A couple in Dordogne had previously been ordered to drain their pond because of noisy frogs mating Credit: Gary Yeowell/Getty

His plea, which he initially made during a “great national debate” in the wake of France’s “yellow vest” revolt, appears to have struck a chord, garnering the support of 31 local mayors, the local senator and MPs.

Pierre Morel-A-L’Huissier, MP for Lozère , said he would “table a draft bill” to inscribe the noises of the countryside as part of national heritage “within the the next 10 days”. If recognised as such, they could go on to request UNESCO heritage status.

“I live in a hamlet of 12 people, and the tractor at 7am and cows are often the only noises one hears. They are signs of life and activity. One mustn’t complain,” Mr Morel-A-L’Huissier told Le Figaro newspaper.

Jean Viard, a sociologist and land planning specialist, said noise management could be a “major issue” in upcoming municipal elections next year.

But he warned: “Farmers who sold their land in spades are no longer alone in the countryside and must now share the space, rather like motorists who no longer have the monopoly in cities.”