Vegetation advances on ancient agricultural terraces at the abandoned village Las Dueñas (Arcos de las Salinas, Teruel). Photo: Recartografías.
Rural depopulation involves the abandonment of traditional land uses and, sometimes, their replacement by other uses; as a result of emigration, fields, pastures, woods and cultural heritage are abandoned to their fate. Mediterranean mountain’ territories are a good research laboratory for these spatial processes -depopulation processes and consequent landscape changes-, also for their consequences and to figure out the possible ways of managing these changes.
While Mediterranean peri-urban metropolitan areas, especially in coastal areas, expand and thicken, the Mediterranean mountains empty. Both cases are good represented near the University of Valencia. For example, the province of Teruel is paradigmatic on abandonment. With a population loss, in the mountains, of about 50% over the last half century, and with current population densities less than 10 inhabitants / km2, Teruel is one of those laboratories of geographical research. This territory, like others in the peri-mediterranean mountains, has been managed for centuries through a system of scattered, self-sufficient settlements of medieval origin, in form of neighbourhoods or small villages, mases or masadas and masicos, and the land associated to these small nuclei are the first ones to be abandoned, namely sooner as the land near the greater villages. After depopulation, vegetation and wildlife, ecosystems, are gaining ground, following natural and spatial laws, starting from residual stains covers. Forests thicken and become more complex. They restore dynamics and natural, biotic, edaphic and hydrogeomorphological processes, in a context of climate and global change. Aims of this research are these natural processes and spatial patterns that arise after centuries of continuously management, in an abrupt depopulated environment and in a context of climate and global change.
What spatial patterns follow the vegetation territorial advance? At what rate do forest and scrubland gain ground?
What happens inside those forests where utilization of resources has completely or partially ceased? Or what occurs in pastures or rangeland?
What effects does this abandonment have on soil and in the water cycle and what may be the consequences, for example, for water resources in Mediterranean mountains and surroundings?
What impact has the abandonment of cultural, tangible and intangible heritage, on natural processes and dynamics or on the preservation of that heritage?
What social and economic responses can be given to these changes?
What effects has the abandonment process on the communal land tenure?
In short, we aim to ascertain and evaluate those geographical changes triggered on the territory by the depopulation of a centuries-old anthropogenic landscape, and also the consequences of that abandonment on vegetation, biodiversity, soils, hydrogeomorphological processes and heritage, with the target to deliver some management proposals, in a context of climate change and continued negative demographic trends. To achieve these objectives we combine different Geography methods, that consist mainly of literature and document review, analysis and mapping of historical and current aerial photography, application of geographic information systems (GIS), performing in-depth surveys and both, qualitative and quantitative fieldwork.