Cockerel killer: New court case on countryside noise begins

The alleged killer of Marcel the cockerel is to appear in court today as the owner joins fight for legal heritage of ‘countryside sounds and smells’

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The alleged killer of a noisy cockerel is set to appear in court in southeast France today after a cockerel named Marcel was shot dead in May 2020 for “being too noisy”.

The accused will appear at a correctional tribunal in Privas, Ardèche, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

The case centres on Marcel, a cockerel that was owned by Sébastien Verney and his family in the commune of Vinzieux.

One morning in May this year, a neighbour allegedly killed the cockerel - who lived with five brown chickens - with a gun and an iron bar. It is thought that the neighbour had grown tired of the cockerel’s noisy crowing.

Mr Verney said that the violent act had deeply upset his household, with family and friends launching a petition soon after the incident, called “Justice pour le coq Marcel!" (Justice for Marcel the cockerel!). More than 98,000 people have signed it so far.

The petition not only seeks “justice” for Marcel, but also places the incident within the wider context of countryside noises and smells, which it says are natural and normal. It calls for the countryside’s identity to be recognised, and for it not to “become a museum”.

It reads: “Who will be the next victim? Turtle doves tweeting, the wheat harvest, the growing tomatoes, the braying of the donkey, the sound of our bell towers or the grazing of our cows?”

Speaking of the court case, Mr Verney said: “We hope to hear their explanations and excuses.”

Saving rural heritage

Mr Verney is also the founder of the association Laissez-les chanter! Sauvons le patrimoine rural (“Let them crow! Save rural heritage!”).

He said: “Our children were traumatised by what happened. It was an opportunity for us to realise that there is a general unease in our countryside. This problem goes beyond our local area and the issues with our cockerel. We must find solutions through dialogue.

“In most of these physical or verbal acts of violence, the act comes before simple communication between neighbours.”

The countryside and the law

The law in France does not yet recognise these specific countryside needs, which has prompted Mr Verney’s association to push for legal acknowledgement of the characteristics of a rural lifestyle.

A legal bill is currently being examined by parliament. It introduces the idea of “a sensory heritage of the countryside” and would mean that “sound and smell emissions from natural spaces and areas can be the object of a title registration of sensory heritage, and the nuisance sounds and smells cannot be considered as abnormal issues by neighbours”.

The list of smells and sounds that could be included as part of the heritage list - and how this would be decided - has not yet been determined.

Noisy countryside

Noisy animals and angry countryside neighbours are not a new issue in France.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of cases involving crowing cockerels, ringing church bells and cowbells, croaking frogs, and “unbearable” smells from cow farms.

In 2019, a mayor in an Haute-Savoie (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) commune took out a decree to preserve “life in the countryside”, and ruled that cockerels were legally free to crow to their heart’s content.

Earlier that year, Île d'Oléron (‎Charente-Maritime) cockerel “Maurice Le Coq” hit international headlines and became the “most famous cockerel in France” when a court gave its owner 15 days to remove or silence him, after neighbours had complained that his crows were disturbing their sleep.

The initial ruling was later overturned by a court in Rochefort. This second court rejected the neighbours’ complaint and ordered them to pay €1,000 in damages to the animal's owner, Corinne Fesseau, who was allowed to keep Maurice after all.

In a similar case, another cockerel - Coco, from Margny-lès-Compiègne in the Oise (‎Hauts-de-France) - was also the subject of a popular petition after a court ruled the bird was too loud.

In the same year, police in Indre-et-Loire reported that a resident had called them after hearing “screams of help”, which actually turned out to be cockerel crows from a nearby yard.

The proliferation of cases led to the mayor of another French village calling for the sounds of the countryside to be listed as part of the country's “national heritage”.

Other similar cases have been reported in recent years, including a farmer who was ordered (and refused) to remove ringing cowbells from his herd; a Dordogne couple who were ordered to drain their pond of noisy frogs; and one village that even held a local referendum on whether to allow church bells to ring in the morning after one resident complained.

In October this year, a village in northern France installed a sign in its main square that reads “Beware, you are in the countryside. Here, we have two [church] bells that ring often, roosters that crow early in the morning, and cows in the fields with bells around their necks…

“We have farmers who are working to give you food, artisans who are working for you...if you cannot stand these countryside noises, from a village that wants to develop itself reasonably, that’s up to you...

"If you cannot stand that others might benefit from our environment, that’s up to you...but respect this area and the people who are used to all...”

And in Morbihan, Brittany, homebuyers must now sign contracts confirming that they will accept the sights, sounds and smells of country life, before being allowed to move to the area.

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