Recent decades have seen a steady extension of the meaning and content of heritage. Heritage no longer needs to be old, or tangible or of global significance. Increasingly heritage is intangible and linked to the everyday. This is underlined by the recent legal protection of the “sensory heritage” of the French countryside, including the sound of cow bells, the smell of cow dung and noisy tractors.
The discussion of this move in the Guardian includes the observation that this is victory for long-term countryside dwellers over the “neo-rurals” – tourists, gentrifiers and lifestyle refugees from the city. Of course, what is also represents is the romanticisation of the rural – the idea that work and productive activities in the countryside must be protected against the expansion of urbanite lifestyles. The concept of sensory heritage is also based on a perfumed version of the rural smell and soundscape, the idea of freshly mown grass and cows wandering happily in the fields. The reality of industrialised farming in many areas, with large quantities of slurry, silage and pesticides, may give a different feel to sensory heritage of the future.