A farmer has been ordered to pay €102,000 in damages to his neighbours after the noise and smell of his cows were found to be causing “abnormal neighbour issues”.
Vincent Verschuere, 33, from Saint-Aubin-en-Bray (Oise) was ordered to pay the amount by the court of appeal in Amiens after his neighbours took him to court.
They claimed that the noise and smell of his cattle were causing “abnormal” issues since the expansion of his farm, which is near the centre of the village.
The court of appeal upheld the initial decision made at the Beauvais court in 2018, finding in favour of the neighbours.
While it did not order the farmer to dismantle his cattle barns, it gave him three months to find “technical solutions” to reduce the problems.
Mr Verschuere told FranceInfo: “This case was my last chance. I am so disappointed, I feel as though it’s a real injustice. I don’t have this money in my account. This means the end of my farm. I’ll need to take the cattle out of their barn. I won’t be able to work anymore.”
The farmer had invested €600,000 into the expansion of his farm in 2010. This included the construction of two cattle barns, with one spanning 2,800m2. He had obtained prefectural approval to do so, and had ensured that the barns were at least 100m2 away from the closest residential homes.
Residents of the village (around 1,200 people live there) complained of smell and noise nuisance, and brought the case to court, managing to cancel Mr Verschuere’s building permit in 2013.
In the latest ruling on March 9, the judge found their complaints to be valid, stating: “The building that houses the cattle…has a completely open façade to the outside, which offers no real barrier against smell or noise.”
‘Shocked at this bad message’
The case has been followed closely by the farming world, amid fears that it could set a precedent in future neighbour-farmer disputes.
Luc Smessaert, vice-president of farming union la FNSEA, who is also a dairy farmer in Oise, said: “We are shocked at this very bad message being given to meat and dairy producers.
“[Mr Verschuere’s] is a family farm, which had made huge efforts to integrate into the countryside. We cannot say that people should ‘eat local’, and then block activity in our countryside.”
Mr Smessaert is now calling for rural areas to draw up a “charter of good neighbourliness” to enable the coexistence of residents and farms.
The case is the latest in a string of disputes in the French countryside over the “nuisance” caused by animals, rural sounds, and farming.
In 2017, a row broke out between residents and a farmer in Haute-Loire, who refused to comply with a court order to remove bells from his cowherds, which had been found to cause “noise pollution” that goes against “environmental standards”.
In 2019, a farmer in Cantal (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) was ordered to pay €8,000 after neighbours complained about the intense and “unbearable” smell of his cow farm.
In the same year, Maurice the cockerel found global fame after fighting complaints from holiday homeowners over the noise of his crowing, while just weeks later, Coco the cockerel in Margny-lès-Compiègne (Oise) gathered almost 100,000 signatures in a petition against a ruling requiring his owner to remove him, or face fines.
In 2021, a court found in favour of a couple who asked to cancel a house sale and be refunded after discovering there was a smelly chicken farm next door that had been concealed by the sellers.
Yet, some countryside residents have attempted to fight back.
In 2019, a mayor in Gironde called for sounds of the countryside to be listed as part of France’s “cultural heritage”.
Similarly, a mayor in Gard and another in Haut-Rhin installed signs at the entrance of their rural villages, warning tourists to “enter at their own risk” due to the sounds of church bells, crowing cockerels, cowbells, and farm vehicles.
The same year, a mayor in Haute-Savoie even enacted a decree to legally allow noisy cockerels in his village after one of the commune’s residents, Daniel Bauquis, was ordered to pay €4,000 – including €3,000 in damages and interest – after his neighbours took him to court for the allegedly “too-loud” crowing of his two cockerels.