A NEW LAW HELPS PROTECT BIODIVERSITY IN THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE
An infamous rooster named Maurice and a gaggle of contented geese have helped ensure biodiversity in France. In the face of complaints about the noises and smells typical of the countryside, the French Parliament passed a law on January 21, 2021, protecting what it calls the “sensory heritage” of its rural areas.
While the primary intention of the ruling is to help local officials tasked with mediating disputes between vacationers and local residents (more on that later), it introduces sounds and smells into the French environmental code as recognized characteristics of natural spaces. In doing so, it’s able to protect them the same way it does the land, the quality of the air, and the biodiversity of plant and animal species.
French Minister for Rural Affairs Joël Giraud celebrated the adoption of the law, which he said aims to “define and protect the sensory heritage of the French countryside”— be that in reference to livestock manure, church bells, the raucous buzz of cicadas, or the growl of diesel tractors.
As residents of the nation where the loosely defined concept of terroir originated, winegrowers in France are increasingly choosing to promote biodiversity in their vineyards. Over the last two decades a plethora of national and regional certification programs—all of which prioritize
biodiversity among their initiatives—have been introduced and are being widely adopted. As such, the new ruling represents an unexpected win for them as well.
That includes producers on the small island of Oléron off the Atlantic coast of western France. There, vineyards surround the village of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, where Maurice was put on trial in 2019 for disturbing the peace. The rooster has come to symbolize the growing polarization between rural and urban France, and the pandemic has only fueled tensions as city dwellers seek refuge in the countryside during prolonged lockdowns.
Winegrowers in Oléron and the surrounding department of Charente-
Maritime produce Cognac, Pineau, and dry wines from Ugni Blanc, Folle
Blanche, Colombard, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Montils as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Their websites promote enotourism and the rich biodiversity of their estates. Tourism is the region’s largest industry; vacationers flock to the Atlantic coast to enjoy the beaches and the local seafood, including the highly prized oysters cultivated in Marennes-Oléron, which account for 45 percent of the nation’s oyster production.
Cited by Christophe Sueur, mayor of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, as “common sense,” the sensory heritage ruling is not without its caveats. It also entrusts regional heritage inventory services formed to implement the requirements of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage—in this case the L’Inventaire Général du Patrimoine
Culturel for Poitou-Charentes—with the task of identifying and qualifying the
cultural identity of rural areas, including their sounds and olfactory elements, to help protect them through heritage professional training programs, funding, public-education initiatives, and the like.
The French government has been given a six month-deadline to present the court with a definition of “abnormal neighborhood disturbances” that may include environmental factors; local elected officials will then be able to use these guidelines to resolve neighborhood conflicts while preserving the terroir.