Under Attack: TheTraditional Sounds of Britain’s Countryside:

Jean Arp, the 20th Century German-French sculptor, artist and poet, once lamented that mankind has turned its back on silence. Day after day, he declared, it invents machines and devices that “increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation and meditation”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that environmental noise represents a major threat to public well-being and so has recommended that it should at least be limited at night to a maximum of 40 decibels.

In practice, the Guardian columnist Richard Godwin noted on 4th July, “comparative decibel levels” (based on statistics issued by Industrial Noise Control.com) are becoming much louder: A normal conversation can reach 55 decibels, the sounds from a motorway at a distance of 15 metres 76dB, a motorbike at 7.5m (90dB), a jet plane landing at one nautical mile (97dB: hence the widespread objections to a third runway at Heathrow Airport) and live rock music (108-114dB).

However, Tony Lewis, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, quoted by Godwin, has emphasised that people do have a legal right to a reasonably quiet environment, so can contact their local authority if they feel they are being unduly disturbed. The Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in Wales, for example, states on its website that it investigates around 400 complaints about “noise nuisance” every year. Most of these are related to noisy neighbours (music, shouting, alarms and DIY at unacceptable hours), noise from commercial venues such as pubs and industrial premises (factories and construction / demolition sites), car alarms or loud stereos (but only if the vehicle is parked) and persistent barking dogs. They don’t have the power, though, to resolve issues connected to road traffic noise.

Godwin has observed that, unsurprisingly, all of the loudest locations are in cities: “It’s well established that the more densely populated an area is, the more complaints there will be”. One obvious solution therefore would appear to be to move away from a crowded urban conglomeration to a more peaceful rural setting. It’s a decision that many city dwellers have made – but without taking into consideration the fact that the countryside has its own noises which they might find equally unsettling.

As Thierry Ottaviani, president of France’s National Committee for Victims of Noise and Pollution, told the Daily Telegraph correspondent Henry Samuel, “These are people who could no longer bear the stress of the city. They have bought a house in the country, thinking that they would find absolute tranquillity but forgetting that it’s also a living environment with a working life”.Jacques Bischoff, the mayor of the village of Cesny-aux-Vignes in Normandy, was cited by Samuel as urging city folk to learn to cohabit with the traditional country sounds of tractors, combine harvesters, braying donkeys, chiming church bells and the wildlife which was there long before they arrived.

It’s a similar situation in the UK: On 18th April, Richard Hartley-Parkinson, a commentator for the Metro newspaper, highlighted the case of Stephen Nolan, a farmer from Higher Wheelton in Lancashire, who had become exasperated with “townies” moving to to the countryside and then complaining about the horses, chickens, hens and geese. His response was to post a notice on his gate pointing out that the property is a farm, that it has animals who make funny sounds and smell bad: “If you can’t tolerate all of this (he advised), then don’t buy a property next to a farm”.

On 29th June, Alex Shipman, also a journalist for the Metro, reported that the bells of St Mary’s Church in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, had been silenced for the first time in 161 years because someone had complained that the “8 am racket had disrupted their Sunday lie-in”. This followed similar circumstances in Sandwich, Kent, in February, when St Peter’s Church was ordered by the local council to stop ringing its bells at night, after 239 years, because one person insisted that its chimes were keeping them awake – despite more than 4,000 people signing a petition to keep the bells tolling. In the view of a Fishguard resident, this is a trend that has been instigated by people “who move to the countryside and then moan about cockerels crowing at dawn”.

There have indeed been a series of recent court cases involving cockerel owners who have been fined because their birds have been crowing too loudly and too frequently. The South Northamptonshire Council specifies that “the law will consider nuisance is being caused if your cockerel is crowing at unsocial hours – namely at night, early morning or late evening – and is crowing for long periods”. According to Danelle Wolford of the “Urban Farming. Healthy Living” website, a rooster may crow between between 12 to 15 times a day; “It’s not possible to silence its crow, but you can decrease the volume by adjusting its lifestyle or placing a collar around its neck”. At night-time, its coop should be well stocked with sufficient food and water and kept dark as this will limit its exposure to light. Furthermore: “Roosters crow to assert their dominance over other roosters – so to avoid crowing contests, keep only one in the roost”.

Filed under: Society | Posted on July 10th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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