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Finding Europe's quiet areas

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At least 110 million people are adversely affected by noise from Europe’s busiest roads alone. People need to escape this pollution and access quiet places to work, relax and live a healthy life. Such ‘quiet areas’ should be protected under EU legislation, but how does this work in practice?

 Image © Travis Isaacs

When we think about noise pollution, we often think about loud music or a neighbour’s barking dog. But in most cases, the real health problems are caused by long-term exposure to noise from road traffic, railways, airports or industry.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

A quiet area is not necessarily silent, but rather one that is undisturbed by unwanted or harmful sound created by human activities, according to the 2002 Environmental Noise Directive. Indeed, some types of noise such as the sound of running water or birdsong are usually perceived as enjoyable. This means that it may not be possible to define a quiet area by just measuring decibels.

A new European Environment Agency (EEA) report, ‘Good practice guide on quiet areas’, provides guidance and recommendations for authorities who need to identify and maintain these places. Its publication marks International Noise Awareness Day, 30 April 2014.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “When we think about noise pollution, we often think about loud music or a neighbour’s barking dog. But in most cases, the real health problems are caused by long-term exposure to noise from road traffic, railways, airports or industry. Quiet areas are important because they can provide respite from noise, ultimately improving quality of life.”

Different solutions for different places

There are many different interpretations of what a quiet area means in practice, and how they should be preserved. This is understandable – an appropriate scheme in one place may not suit another location. The report provides an overview of quiet area measures across Europe. For example:

  • In Dublin, Ireland, the City Council combined noise modelling and measurement to identify long term average noise levels below the levels that harm health, subsequently designating and protecting eight quiet areas in the city;   
  • In Oslo, Norway, authorities asked ‘key persons’ with knowledge of potential areas and mapped noise  to identify 14 areas of quiet that are easily accessible by local people;
  • A slightly different approach was taken in Tallinn, Estonia, where many different criteria were used to identify recreational areas in with low average levels of long-term noise. Elsewhere, the scheme also aims to protect rural areas undisturbed by noise from traffic, industry or recreational activities.

The European Soundscape Award 2014 - open for applications

Another approach to the problem of noise is the idea of soundscapes, creating healthier and quieter environments. The European Soundscape Award 2014 aims to draw attention to the most innovative product, campaign, innovation or scheme solving a noise problem.

The award is a joint initiative of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Noise Abatement Societies of the Netherlands and UK. The deadline for submissions is 18th August 2014. More information.

Noise app

The EEA has developed NoiseWatch, an app which measures and maps noise levels. Over the last two years, NoiseWatch has received more than 155 000 citizens’ noise ratings from around the world. On 8 May, the EEA received a World Excellence Award for the app at the Geospatial World Forum.

Coming up

Later in 2014, the European Environment Agency will publish its first Europe-wide noise assessment report. It will draw on data from Member States, highlighting the main sources of noise in Europe as well as its impacts on health and the environment.  

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