MEDINA DEL CAMPO – In many municipalities in the Spanish interior, signs with the text ‘se vende’ (for sale) and ‘se alquila’ (to rent) dominate the streets. These indicate a far-reaching exodus, even of medium-sized municipalities with previously 20,000 inhabitants.
RTVE.es visits the place Medina del Campo in the Spanish province of Valladolid. Even though this is a medium-sized municipality with just over 20,000 inhabitants, the exodus has also started here. Shops are empty. Most are old. You can tell by the dull colours of the letters, the phone numbers written over others that don’t even have a prefix yet. Something before 1998 in Spain was not necessary. “Los 20 duros” has also been for sale for an eternity. Looking at it you step back in time. The time of more than 20 years ago, when there was no euro.
The exodus from the Spanish interior affects not only small towns of 100 or 200 inhabitants but also larger municipalities, such as Medina del Campo. The place is the head of the Tierras de Medina region and provides basic services to all the surrounding villages.
If the residents leave, public and basic facilities threaten to disappear. Medina del Campo has seen 1,336 people leave in just ten years. The mayor of Medina, Guzmán Gómez (PP), points out to RTVE.es that the INE figures only take into account the registered persons. His municipality has a large ‘floating population’ that is registered in the surrounding towns with relatives and lives in Medina, for example. Gómez acknowledges “If this plague does not stop, we will fall below 20,000 inhabitants in no time.”
Key municipality for services to surrounding places
The mayor explains that at the moment no public services have been closed as a result of the depopulation. “But if we continue to lose population at this rate and services have to be closed as a result, the exodus will accelerate even more.”
Gómez also emphasises “the vital importance” of the municipalities that lead the region in the face of depopulation in the surrounding towns. “For example, someone who comes to live in Medina from Campillo keeps returning to his village every day. There he maintains the house, the land, sees his family, feeds his animals because it is only 15 kilometres away. However, if he goes to live in Valladolid, he won’t do that anymore.” The driver acknowledges that more and more people are leaving his place to live in the provincial capital.
Young people leave
Residents tell RTVE.es they are concerned. “In 20 years, Medina has sunk,” says one family as they walk down a street near Plaza Mayor. “Shops close in our neighborhood and more and more people are moving abroad to work… Young people cannot build a life here and leave.”
In Medina, as is happening in more and more places, the population is aging (more than the national average). Only 689 children have been born in the past four years. In 2021, the largest group in the population pyramid will be between the ages of 40 and 64. In 2003, the vast majority of the population was still between 20 and 44 years old.
Laura, 27, moved to the UK several years ago to work as a biotechnologist. Now she is in Medina for a few months because she can telecommute. She acknowledges that she is concerned about the depopulation in her city. “And not just here, all over Castilla y León,” she says. Her parents own a bar near where they live. “They want to retire, but the way things are… they’re going to have to hold out for a while before they try to transfer their business,” Laura added. They run 100 meters along a street near the Plaza Mayor in Medina del Campo: of the 22 stores, half have been closed for some time.
Education for the entire environment
Lucía is a 29-year-old physiotherapist who has lived in Medina del Campo all her life. She admits that she has never had any problems finding work in this city. “It is true that many small businesses are closing and that people are going to study in Valladolid, for example. Yet we still have enough educational options here, such as secondary schools up to and including pre-university education, which they do not have in the surrounding cities,” she explains.
‘Nobody ever did anything’
In general, the people of Medina are tired of politics. Daniel is 73 years old, he is an engineer and refuses to retire because he owns a company that “employs people”. He says he will vote in the next regional elections on February 13. This is despite his anger at the politicians and parties because “no one has ever done anything”. ‘How do you not get out of here? Nobody takes action, it is necessary to give young people work, but the bureaucracy makes everything very difficult,” he adds.
In another province, Ampudia is 21 kilometres from Palencia. Ampudia is a town that surprises its visitors with a beautiful historic centre and its monuments, such as the castle or the collegiate church of San Miguel.
Few residents on the street
On weekends, the city turns out to be practically empty. The RTVE.es team is having a hard time finding some residents. They succeed in one of the two bars in the town. There will be some tourists scattered throughout the day, but the number is not significant. It is, after all, low season and cold.
Ampudia had 600 inhabitants in 2021, according to the INE. The population register has lost 100 people in the past 20 years. The depopulation here indeed led to a significant loss of public services.
Pandemic gives a death blow
Two middle-aged women are chatting in the street. When asked, they say that the pandemic ‘finishes’ what started a long time ago due to depopulation. “Now the doctor comes a few days a week if he comes at all,” says one of them. He lives in Valladolid, but he comes and goes. The three savings banks in Ampudia closed years ago and the mobile cashier comes no more than once a week.
“To be vaccinated against COVID, they had to go to Villarramiel,” the doctor explains. That is 20 kilometres away, while only one bus goes to this city every week.
The mayor of Ampudia, José Luis Gil (PSOE) says the city council is trying to tackle the problems with some measures. “For example, we work together with the pharmacy to compensate for the use of healthcare services. For example, they prepare the entire pill box for people who ask for it and take the blood pressure”.
He points out that the problem of GP practices is something “common in the region”. A practice was open daily in Ampudia, while it now only opens by appointment. “For emergencies, residents have to go to Villarramiel,” he adds.
The school remains open with only 14 students
The mayor tells RTVE.es that the local school now has 14 students. However, the capacity is much greater. He is not afraid of closing the school given the drop in the number of children. “No, because it is the commitment of the board to keep the schools open as long as there are three children in them.”
A young couple is also walking down the street. The only young people the journalists see. His name is Rubén, he is 19 and is doing a module on organic farming and animal husbandry in Viñalta (Palencia). He also helps out on his family’s sheep farm. She, Vanesa, comes from abroad and accompanies him on the visit to the city.
“I only have one friend who comes from here and continues to live here,” says Rubén. The rest of his friends mainly live in Palencia. That is why he is happy that he immediately got his driver’s license when he was 18. “You need that to be independent. Before that, I was dependent on my parents who took me everywhere.” He intends to continue with the family business.
That is also the most important economic activity, according to the mayor. “We are talking about Ampudia with over 11,000 hectares of agriculture,” he explains. He regrets that this activity “now provides little labor because machines cover almost everything”.
Measures to combat depopulation
There is also work in the Renault and Michelin factories and nearby towns: “We are located 30 kilometres from Valladolid and Palencia, we are located in a very strategic area,” he explains. The municipal council has tried to offer social housing and grant subsidies to those who want to buy a house. “Our goal is to increase the population,” he says, acknowledging that the trend is “downwards” for now, mainly because of “more deaths than births.”
Another resident on the street is retired but still a professor of geography at the University of Salamanca. “I have studied the demographic situation of the region for years,” he says. “The problem is that the scenario seems irreversible. Many of the proposed measures are aimed at continuing to promote heritage and tourism. Of course, there are many tourists, especially in the summer, but they do not fill the empty houses and business premises,” he adds.
Municipalities in danger
Medina del Campo and Ampudia are just two examples of the effects of depopulation in supposedly depopulated Spain. The phenomenon extends to 70% of the Spanish territory. Only the capitals of the provinces to which both belong, Valladolid (by far the larger of the two) and Palencia, have lost 20,518 and 3,476 inhabitants respectively in the past 20 years. The departure of the youth, the lack of births, the consequent aging of the population, and the lack of generational change in shops and services are endangering all these municipalities. According to the locals, it feels like a train that has no brakes and requires reverse