AARWANGEN (SWITZERLAND) — Cows grazing on lush pastures with ornate metal bells gently tinkling around their necks may be one of the ultimate symbols of Switzerland, but not everyone is enchanted by such traditional scenes.
In the village of Aarwangen in central Switzerland, a complaint was filed earlier this year over the noise levels from a herd of around 15 cows grazing overnight on a field next to a residential area.
Two couples in rental apartments overlooking the field asked authorities to intervene to make the farmer remove the bells at night.
The reaction was swift and fierce, with overwhelming demands for a local vote to protect the traditional use of bells.
“My first reaction when I heard about the complaint was one of surprise,” Aarwangen’s Mayor Niklaus Lundsgaard-Hansen, who lives near the field in question, told AFP.
“I wasn’t aware that cows made a lot of noise, but I have learned that they can disturb some people.”
He was even more surprised at the massive response.
Petitioners needed to gather backing from just 10 per cent of those eligible to vote in the village of 4,800 people — about 380 signatures — to push the issue to a vote under Switzerland’s direct democracy system.
Instead, they showed up with 1,099 signatures for the “Bell Initiative”, aimed at maintaining the right of farmers to use cowbells at all hours.
“That’s enormous,” Mr Lundsgaard-Hansen said.
The initiative was officially presented at a municipal assembly Monday evening (Dec 11), and the village decided it should be put to a popular vote that is expected to take place in June.
The backing was “overwhelming”, Dr Andreas Baumann, a neurologist who spearheaded the initiative, told AFP, adding that only four of the 166 people present at the meeting had opposed moving ahead with a vote.
Cowbells were once indispensable for keeping track of herds grazing on Alpine pastures, and while their usefulness has waned with the emergence of GPS trackers, they remain a powerful symbol of idyllic Swiss rural life.