Human Population

The territorial scope of Terras do Miño is characterized by its low population density (45.6 inhabitants per km2), much lower than the Galician average (92.3 inhabitants per km2). The total population living in the municipalities that make up the application area corresponds to a total of 185,882 inhabitants in 1999 (see Table I and Pan Human Population), with the population within the proposed limits of 159,457 inhabitants; this fact makes it one of the most populated Biosphere Reserves of Spain, so that sustainable development and interaction with local institutions is of great importance.

Analysing population density in each municipality, it is shown that the mountain ridges are the least populated. The lowest population densities (<20 inhabitants per km2) are located in 7 municipalities (Table I), highlighting Muras (7.3 inhabitants per km2) and Ourol (11.4 inhabitants per km2), and Xermade (17, 6 inhabitants per km2) due to its lower density. In much of the basin, 15 of the 26 municipalities, the densities are between 20 and 40 inhabitants per km2, while the density increases in Cospeito (42 inhabitants per km2) and Vilalba (41.4 inhabitants per km2). The most densely populated areas are located in municipalities with an important urban centre, as is the case of Lugo (263.5 inhabitants per km2) and Rábade (314.8 inhabitants per km2).

In the following figures we can see population density at a municipal and parish level in 1996. From its observation it appears that most of the population is concentrated around the main axes of communication: A-6 motorway, railway and main roads.

Population density by municipality / Population density by parishes

The demographic dynamics registered is negative in the majority of the municipalities (Table II). The current tendency is the concentration of population in the urban centres while the depopulation of the surrounding rural areas takes place, so that only one municipality, Lugo, increases its number of inhabitants in the last two decades. In the following graphic we can appreciate the global loss of numbers recorded between the years 1981 and 1999.

Tabla I Datos socioeconómicos

Table I. Socioeconomic data

Evolution of population in the municipalities included in Terras do Miño (1981-99)

The distribution of population in Terras do Miño, as we have mentioned before, tends to concentrate in the main cities and towns; in this way, the rural areas are subjected to a progressive process of depopulation. In the municipalities of Muras and Ourol the greatest losses of population are registered, this being over 30 % during the period 1981-99 (table II). The majority of the municipalities (23 of them) have losses of inhabitants between 10 and 30%. In only three of them the losses are below 10%. Finally, only in the municipality of Lugo has a positive evolution in the period mentioned.

Out of the 185,882 people that live in these municipalities, according to I.N.E. Data (Spanish Statistical Office, data from 1999), 49.4% are men and 56.6 women (table I). The relation between both sexes is very balanced with a slight predominance in the number of women.

The age structure due to emigration and declining birth rates, is clearly bound to an aging of population according to the data available from the Register Office of 1996. 17% of the population are people under 20 years old, 55% are between 20 and 64, and 29% are over 64 years of age. This indicates that older people outnumber those called to replace them in the future. The ageing index, expressed as the number of people over 64 for every 100 minors under 20, is 170. Demographers consider that a population reaches its ageing limit when this index is 50.

The economically active population for 1996, including the unemployed, represents 44 % of the total (Table I). Of this, 15% appears as unemployed with benefits, a lower rate than the Spanish (18.8%) and Galician average (17.3%). Lower values of the activity rate (<40 %) are located in three municipalities: Ourol, Baralla and Baleira, these are characterized by the advanced age of the population. The highest value of the activity rate is located at Rábade (55 %). The next highest values, A Pastoriza (49.8), Meira (47.6) and O Páramo (47.5) are in municipalities with a predominantly rural population. These usually exceed 45%. This high rate of activity is a result of: i) lack of population under 16 years, which is in legal working age, ii) the importance of women's work in agriculture and iii) the capacity of absorption of labour of small family farms, serving as a refuge or "safety net" in times of crisis. Anyway, these high rates hide the true value thereof because of family farming that reduces underemployment. However, the tendency of the rate of activity is to decrease due to the increasing number of retirees and pensioners as a consequence of ageing, to the change in the current agricultural system and the difficulty of finding the first job.

To assess the level of economic development, the distribution of this active population by activity sectors is more realistic.

The primary sector accounts for 46.7% of the population, the secondary for 23.2% and 30.1% the tertiary or services. The share of the primary sector is very high compared to the average of Galicia in 2001 (17.9%, 29.6% and 52.5% respectively), however the current trend leads to a large decrease in this sector, focusing population in the other two, especially in the tertiary.

The distribution varies in the municipalities of Rábade and, mainly, Lugo. The percentage of primary occupation is far less than the average (4.3% and 6.2% respectively), these are municipalities with urban centres. In rural and less industrialized towns this percentage exceeds the average. The maximum agricultural labour force is reached in A Pastoriza: 72.1% of the population works in agriculture. Other municipalities with a strong agricultural component are Láncara and O Páramo.

The industry employs few people: 23.2% of the total workforce. The branch which offers more employment is construction. This population is particularly high in Riotorto (59.3%) but the overall values are much lower, ranging between 10 and 30% of the total. Láncara is the location with the lowest values, below 10%.

The sector is increasing, and therefore that which the primary labour force is attracted to, 30.1% is dedicated to the services sphere. The maximum percentage of active population working in this sector is located in Lugo with 73.2%, followed by 66.1% in Rábade. In Riotorto and Muras minimums of 12.7% and 15.9%, respectively, are achieved.

Tabla II. Evolución de la población por municipios, desde 1981 a 1999.

Table II. Evolution of the population by municipality, from 1981 to 1999.


The inhabitants of the proposed area, which number amounts to 159,457, is distributed in different areas as follows:

ZoningHuman population
PermanentAccording to season
Core0 hab.No variation
Buffer16779 hab.No variation
Transition142678 hab.No variation
TOTAL159457 hab.No variation


In Terras do Miño, despite the absence of representative ethnic or cultural distinctions within the population community, we can establish large groups, essentially according to their economic activities or factors such as the level of urbanization or environmental ruralisation.

Characterization of the municipalities of Terras do Miño

First, those areas with a distinctly urban character must be differentiated, finding primarily the city of Lugo, which acts as the business operation header of the entire area studied, providing services to a high percentage of the population and with a prominent tourist role within the proposed reserve. In this first group, other minor municipalities are also included, such as Rábade, which has an urban core and employs high percentages of population in the secondary sector and especially in the tertiary. See Human Population Plan (Major population centres).

Then we find those municipalities that have an urban core of some entity, and that, either for acting as head of region or for being equipped with good communication infrastructure, exert a role of economic and service centre of adjacent municipalities. This is the case of Vilalba, Guitiriz or Meira.

North of the study area is the Range of Xistral, comprising a number of municipalities with different characteristics from the rest (Muras, Ourol and O Valadouro). These mountain communities in which there is little agricultural use, livestock often has a markedly extensive nature (there are cattle and horses loose in the bush) and the forestry sector becomes more important.

Finally, the rest of the municipalities in the study area (see diagram II), would fall into a group that is characterized by the predominance of a chiefly rural population, with little presence of young people and where the main activity, livestock and agriculture to a lesser extent, occupies a high percentage of the population. They are municipalities that lack important cores and that depend on other business operation headers to fill gaps in its service sector deficit. Among them, we find some extreme cases, such as O Páramo, where almost 80% of the population works in the primary sector, see Table I, Socioeconomic data.


Lugo is the only city present within the study area where there are also a number of towns of certain entity, such as Vilalba, which act as header of their districts or as centres of flow of people and goods. The habitat of this area is characterized by a strong tendency to spread, generally affecting the whole interior of the province of Lugo, although with nuances. So, in the more mountainous areas, a greater dispersion of habitat is recorded, linked to the hardness of the environment conditions, with villages generally of small size and low population pressure. The Terra Chá is also characterized by its tendency to dispersion, though with increased population pressure and larger villages. The influence of the provincial capital, is manifested in an increase of population pressure and a greater tendency to habitat concentration with larger compact villages around Lugo. This trend towards habitat concentration, although with smaller entities, is also reflected in the southern part of Terras do Miño. This contrasts with the trend of Galician population to place itself along the Atlantic coast in a concentrated habitat.

Outside of the application area, the closest cities are A Coruña, Santiago and Ferrol, the three of them in the province of A Coruña, and Ourense in the province of the same name, see Plan Location.


In the Project Galicia 2010, realised at the initiative of the autonomous government, a survey work over the next ten years has been carried out, addressing different sectors of society and the Galician economy. The paper of Cristóbal Ramírez analyses the dynamics and distribution of the population in this period, whose results are presented below.

It is noted that at present (2001) the birth rate for women of Lugo (0.84 children per woman) is, along with the province of Ourense, the lowest in Galicia. Moreover, the Galician and Asturian is the lowest in Spain and this, in turn, the lowest in Europe. The scene for this decade will be defined by a slight increase in children, but the fact that this growth is so light will not prevent the total numbers of inhabitants from continuing downward: the number of deaths is now twice the number of births, thus the demographic curve is drawn in "free fall."

Moreover, the spatial trend of population points to a concentration at the waterfront, through a phenomenon that geographers call "cascading". This means that people from villages move to the header regions, then, from there to the inner cities, and finally, end at the coast. The reason for this shift is in the search of better living conditions and greater employment opportunities, as well as some specialized services including higher education.

The fact that more than half (57 %) of the population of Galicia resides in the beginning of this millennium in towns of less than 2,000 inhabitants, not only reflects the rurality of the country, but will soon become a historical fact. In a few years these small towns will be inhabited only by elderly people, first step to the final desertification. An example of this is that some non-urban areas of the Rias Baixas (“Lower Rias,” estuarine inlets in the SW coast of Galicia) have a density of 500 inhabitants per square kilometre, while the average density of the territory of Terras do Miño is around 45 inhab/Km2, and in 7 of the 26 municipalities that make up this territory, this density decreases below 20 inhab/Km2.

This desertification will result in the loss of traditional uses that have given rise to the landscapes of Terras do Miño and, with depopulation, rural areas will be subject to strong impacts caused by economic pressures: reforestation with fast-growing species, creation of hydroelectric reservoirs, wind parks, etc., that will remain unanswered in the absence of population in the vicinity. Therefore, depopulation is a key factor which not only thwarts sustainable human development but also affects the preservation of cultural landscapes and the biodiversity they contain.

It is thus one of the basic objectives pursued by the declaration of the Biosphere Reserve: to stop this negative dynamic offering different alternatives detailed in Part III: Plan for Sustainable Development. These include new economic activities that respect the environment and traditional knowledge to secure the population, as well as new services that facilitate the reconciliation of working life of women (and men) with their maternity (and paternity).