After the rural exodus observed in the first half of the 20th century, we are now observing a migration of urban populations towards rural environments. These people called “neorurals”, motivated by a certain number of aspirations, however seem to face a certain number of problems that they had not anticipated. Among these, that of noise caused by animals, a source of growing tensions. This article aims to try to understand this phenomenon.
Since when have we observed neo-rural migrations?
A certain number of people leave their urban environment to settle in the countryside. Far from being a recent phenomenon, this movement actually dates back to post-1968. Around 1975, this movement stagnated, continuing throughout the 1980s, then it has gained momentum since the 1990s. However, the motivations and profiles have evolved.
Why do neo-rural people leave the cities?
Today, people who leave cities to settle in the countryside are driven by the desire to change their lifestyle, associated with the search for a quality of life that they believe they can find in rural areas. These urban dwellers want a less stressful life, a less polluted environment, more proximity to nature and tranquility.
But it turns out that the project is often idealized, confronting urban dwellers with an environment which ultimately does not completely correspond, for some of them, to the life they dreamed of. Some migrate because their standard of living is hampered by the high cost of living in the city. Others want to engage in activities such as organic farming or animal husbandry. Still others, thanks to easier access to teleworking since the Covid-19 pandemic, see the opportunity to be able to choose where they live without compromising their career.
Why can rural areas pose noise problems?
We can easily guess that the perception of the environment and the necessary adaptation are not the same depending on the project. But we note that some neo-rural residents, accustomed to the pace of life and the sound environment of cities, can encounter difficulty adapting to the particularities of rural life.
The constant urban noise gives way to other sounds, animal cries but also the operation of agricultural machinery. While the cock crowing at daybreak, the bleating of sheep, the mooing of cows and the sound of their bells are an integral part of the rural soundscape, these sounds can ultimately be considered sources of annoyance for those who do not They’re not used to it.
New rural residents therefore find themselves involved in a life transition that goes beyond a simple change of place of residence, something they did not necessarily anticipate. Adaptation to a set of social, cultural and environmental realities exceeds their projections. In this context, the question of noise tolerance can take center stage.
A usual question
Emblematic of the countryside, the rooster often crows early in the morning. For neo-rural residents accustomed to the relative calm of urban mornings, this early and loud awakening can be perceived as an unpleasant intrusion.
In mountain regions, the bells carried by cows, although perceived as quaint by some, these sounds can be considered repetitive and disturbing for those who find themselves confronted with them on a prolonged basis for the first time in their lives.
The urban dweller who discovers the reality of rural life can discover an activity that he did not suspect. Around the animals, a whole activity takes place: sheep shearing, harvesting, plowing, comings and goings to the mountain pastures to monitor the herd… Life in the countryside can be anything but silent.
Yet cities are noisy…
Cities often generate constant but homogeneous background noise. The distinct and natural sounds of the countryside can therefore seem more intrusive due to their irregular and unpredictable nature.
Countryside noises, particularly when they occur early in the morning or late in the evening, can be perceived as an intrusion into privacy and domestic comfort.
Many neo-rural people ultimately have no real knowledge of life in the countryside of which they had an idealized vision. The reality of these noises can therefore conflict with their prior expectations.
It goes without saying that sensitivity to noise varies greatly from person to person. What may be a minor inconvenience for some can become a major source of stress for others. We then observe that people decide to put an end to what they consider to be nuisances.
The perception of noise is cultural
Noise perception varies greatly between cultures, influencing how individuals respond to surrounding sounds. In some cultures, noise is seen as a sign of vitality and energy, while in others it is associated with disorder and discomfort. The fundamental point is ultimately to give meaning to the noise. The neo-rurals, like the romantics of the 19th century, see nature as the means to promote their inner peace. It goes without saying that sounds that appear without being wanted are difficult to accept. A certain number of speeches also devalue agricultural activities, judging that they promote animal suffering. From this point of view, animal noises can be perceived as illegitimate.
In Western metropolises, noise is often considered a nuisance, but also an inevitable part of daily life. The sounds of traffic, sirens, and constant human activity are perceived as natural elements of the urban landscape. But ultimately, it is common for city dwellers to develop a certain tolerance or habit towards urban noise. This adaptation can go as far as a certain level of unconscious ignorance of constant noises. However, when we settle into a new environment, we seek to understand our environment, which develops attention to noises of all kinds.
Acclimatization to noise necessary for neo-rural residents
The process of acclimating to new noises takes time. After the initial “shock”, many neo-rural residents end up becoming familiar with these noises and integrating them into the perception of their new environment. This process can be facilitated by a growing understanding and appreciation of rural life and its rhythms.
But we observe that conflicts can still arise around these questions. Complaints are filed by neo-rural residents against the morning crowing of the neighboring rooster, the sound of the village church bells or even the operation of agricultural machinery. These complaints can lead to conflict situations or even legal action.
In the summer of 2019, a rooster named Maurice was at the center of a legal conflict between neo-rural residents and his owner. They complained about his singing too early in the morning. If the courts had finally authorized the rooster to continue crowing, the case, covered over and over again in the media, had become the symbol of conflicts between long-time residents and newcomers.
Responses and measures from the French state
Since January 2021, the law on sensory heritage has put an end to most of these conflicts. It gives a form of legitimacy to the sounds and smells characteristic of rural areas, thus affirming the cultural and historical value of life in the countryside. For neo-rural residents, this law can be seen as an invitation to adapt more fully to their new environment. On the other hand, the countryside is more protected in what constitutes one aspect of its identity.
However, not all the problems have yet been resolved. Cases targeting farmers remain numerous (500 procedures per year) and, in the year 2023, deputies are considering better protecting them through a new law. The countryside needs its farmers to survive and it seems important to protect the economic activities that drive it.
The tensions between neo-rurals and long-time residents show that the same territory can be understood in different ways. The measures taken by the French state maintain that agricultural activities are vital for these territories, and that neo-rural residents cannot transform them into zones of silence at their convenience.