What Is a Land Survey?

Land surveying is a discipline that goes back centuries. As long as human beings have owned land, we’ve wanted to define it, understand it, and ensure that nobody lives or builds on it without our permission. This is the essence of a land survey.

Carried out by licensed professionals known as chartered surveyors, land surveys involve the measuring and mapping of a plot of land to determine its boundaries, size, and characteristics. 

Surveyors use specialist land survey equipment combined with time-honoured techniques to measure the land’s topography as well as any natural or man-made structures that are contained within it. Some surveys even measure the characteristics and composition of the soil beneath the land. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at the different types of land surveys and why you might need one, as well as the role of a surveyor and the costs involved. 

What does a land survey include?

What a surveyor will include depends on the nature of the land survey to be carried out. There are several distinct types of land survey designed to appeal to different clients and use cases. 

Boundary Survey

Boundary surveys are conducted to determine a property’s precise boundaries. A boundary survey will often start with the surveyor researching the property’s historical records and legal descriptions in order to establish the location of the property boundary lines. 

The surveyor then physically surveys the property. 

They will typically use a total station theodolite, digital level and mapping techniques such as global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to gather precise measurements of the boundaries and any physical features that may impinge upon them, such as fences, buildings, and natural landmarks like rocks, trees and hills.

The information gathered during a boundary survey is used to create a detailed map or plan of the property lines, which can be used for a variety of purposes. 

These typically include obtaining planning permissions, settling boundary disputes and ensuring that any construction is compliant with local land use regulations.

Detailed Survey

Detailed surveys are similar to boundary surveys but go into much more granular detail. 

While the main deliverable for a boundary survey is a two-dimensional map, a detailed survey might include highly detailed 3D images or digital models including details about topographical features, elevation levels, and soil composition. 

Other deliverables may include video imagery such as drone footage.  

A detailed survey may require the use of sophisticated imaging equipment such as 3D laser scanners as well as more conventional tools like a total station and digital level.

Topographic Survey

A topographic survey uses the equipment mentioned above to measure the relative positions and heights of all natural and artificial topographic features on the surveyed site. 

Natural features may include trees, shrubbery and other vegetation, as well as artificial features. 

Of course, this includes buildings, bridges, walls, fences and hedges. However, it also includes gardens, paths, ramps, roads, gullies, ditches and manholes.

Construction Survey

Construction or engineering surveys include checks to make sure that a proposed site is viable for construction. 

This is a process that goes back to the building of the pyramids, although the technology used to do it has grown more sophisticated. Nonetheless, the basic methodology remains the same. 

The surveyor begins with a detailed topographic accounting of the area. Next, they stake out markers and reference points on the site that identify the parameters for the proposed construction. 

This type of survey employs laser scanners, GNSS, total stations and digital levels, and the same process is used for roads, footpaths and other utilities as well as buildings. It is used not just for the construction of new structures but improvements and extensions to existing structures.

Soil Survey

A soil survey may be part of a construction or other detailed survey. Developers and individual property owners may undertake a soil sample before purchasing a plot of land to make sure that the land will support the foundations on which construction will commence. 

As well as determining the quality of the soil, this type of survey highlights any potential anomalies in the ground conditions that could curtail the groundwork that is so essential to construction.

This survey involves the digging of small holes up to 3m in depth using an auger rig. Samples are then collected to determine the soil composition, particle sizes, pH levels and whether any contaminants are present.

Why are land surveys needed?

As we can see, there is a wide range of land surveys. However, land surveying is generally needed under similar circumstances. Some of the most common reasons why a land survey is needed include:

  • Building or improving a property – Property developers and owners alike will need to carry out land surveys when building a new home or adding a new structure onto an existing building such as a conservatory, orangery or similar extension.
  • Establishing boundaries – Landowners may commission a survey to establish property boundaries to ensure that the land they intend to improve is indeed theirs, or to settle a boundary dispute with a neighbour.
  • Obtaining planning permission – A land survey will usually need to be carried out as part of an application for planning permission from your local council.
  • Mortgage application – Mortgage lenders may make a land survey part of the mortgage application process in order to mitigate their risk. Even if this is not a term of the mortgage application, it is absolutely advisable to get a mortgage survey when buying property to ensure that there are no issues like subsidence that may affect the value and safety of the property.
  • Identifying potential liability issues – Boundary surveys especially can prevent future legal issues pertaining to easements, encroachments and planning violations that can make landlords vulnerable to legal liability. 

How much does a land survey cost?

A chartered surveyor may charge anywhere from £300 and £1,000 per day and a further £300+ to provide drawings. But this is a tricky question to answer accurately, as there is no fixed cost for a land survey. There are a number of factors that will determine a survey’s cost. These include:

  • The type of survey required
  • The size and topography of the plot
  • The location of the plot
  • How long the process will take and how long the surveyor will have to devote to it
  • The level of detail required
  • The urgency of the project (faster turnarounds will inevitably cost more)
  • Any legal fees paid to the land registry or local council that might add to the cost

Can I carry out my own land survey?

Some may be tempted to save money by carrying out their own surveys. And while there are no laws prohibiting this, it is absolutely not recommended. Chartered surveyors are held to extremely high standards by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and have extensive training combined with years of experience in the field. 

Even a careful and methodical amateur may make mistakes with land surveying that could lead to embarrassment, friction and substantial expense later down the line – especially if an oversight leads to a boundary dispute or an encroachment on someone else’s land. 

Instead of inviting an unnecessary degree of risk by attempting your own survey, it is best to manage costs by being as informed and communicative as possible with a professional land surveyor. Be as clear and specific as possible in terms of the purpose of the survey, the level of detail you need, and the proposed time frame.

What is a land surveyor? 

A land surveyor is someone who carries out land surveys on behalf of clients. Their training will usually consist of a degree in surveying, civil engineering or geomatics as a minimum.

In order to become a registered surveyor, they will need to become a chartered surveyor through the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

A licensed land surveyor may specialise in a particular type of land survey or offer a wide range of surveys for different clients and use cases. 

What technology do land surveyors use?

Professional surveyors use a variety of technologies in order to carry out surveys. These include sophisticated optical, digital and laser technologies, however, the methodologies they use are often the same as those used by their forebears centuries ago.

The total station, for instance, is a more advanced, modern version of the theodolite – a tool which has been around for hundreds of years and helped shape our understanding of British topography in the compilation of the ordnance survey map of the early 19th century.

A land surveyor’s tools often include:

You can learn more about the types of tools land surveyors use in our handy guide.

The KOREC Group are very proud to have worked with land surveyors for over five decades. 

As new technologies have enhanced the tools of the trade, we have always been on hand to provide surveyors with the most sophisticated, hardy and frictionless solutions to get the precise data they need to carry out comprehensive land surveys. 

Our mission will always be to empower you to measure, map and manage the natural and built environment.

If you’d like to learn more about the land surveying equipment we offer or how you can go about
hiring land survey equipment, just get in touch with our friendly team who are always on hand to help.