What is a Topographic Survey?

Topographic surveying has an important role to play in building design and development projects, as well as in land administration and management generally. In this post we’re aiming to answer in detail the question, what is a topographic survey, whilst exploring how topographical surveys work and why they are so important during the building process.

Topographic surveying is used primarily by architects, planners, designers and engineers at the design and planning stage of a building project. Provided they are captured with accuracy, these surveys have the power to reduce the risk of the expensive errors that can typically arise due to unforeseen issues.

What is a topographic survey?

Topographical surveys are used to indicate a range of ground related features in their true positions.

The survey aims to show any variations between the actual levels of the land and the gradients of the site, and those assumed in the initial building or development designs.

Topographic surveying defines the contours of the soil, and anything else that may be present just above or below its surface. This may include plants and trees, buildings, roads and pavements, service inspection covers, drainage features, water channels (for example streams, brooks, ponds and lakes), street furniture (such as post boxes, phone boxes, streetlights, traffic lights, road signs, bus stops, waste bins, benches and bollards), fences, utility poles, overhead lines and retaining walls.

Where necessary, the survey will also capture additional elements, such as visible detail of neighbouring property or land, road markings, level grids and contours, as well as providing the necessary data to calculate area and volume. All data captured will typically coordinate with Ordnance Survey national grid and levels, providing true, accurate X, Y & Z position with reference to national coordinates.

Topographic surveys today are most often carried out using 3D laser scanners for accuracy. However, in situations where the line of sight isn’t achievable (e.g. ground levels in long grass or dense vegetation), surveyors will use traditional total station instruments.

Once the data has been captured, it is transferred to CAD (computer aided design) software so that detailed site drawings and plans can be produced, giving a true overview of the site and all its features.

topographical survey

Why is topographic surveying so important?

Topographic surveying delivers measured value to projects by providing an in-depth understanding of the site and its distinctive features.

These surveys are important because they reduce the risk of coming across unforeseen problems during the building process, when they could be a great deal more expensive to resolve.

The survey provides a comprehensive picture of the land that’s being developed. As well as onsite features, it will also cover offsite and near-site features, all of which could have the potential to protract the project, or even put a halt to development altogether.

Because topographic surveying provides complete visibility over a plot of land that could not be achieved to such a degree in any other way, it can help determine the most effective design and construction methods.

When design and build teams are able to clearly see information on land constraints, and are alerted in advance to any potential boundary issues, they have a better chance of submitting a successful planning application.

Many issues that come to light during topographic surveying won’t have been obvious to the naked eye. Land without prominent features can appear clear, but a topographical survey may well highlight all sorts of hidden elements that could potentially cause issues, such as unseen slopes, ditches or underlying waterways.

Topographical Survey

Looking for quality topographic surveying in London?

Topographical surveys from Callidus Building Surveys Ltd are known for their accuracy. Using modern laser targeted, robotic instruments, and with each survey managed hands-on by a single, dedicated, skilled topographic surveyor, and also overseen by one of our experienced principal surveyors, we are able to offer unmatched standards of quality.

All our topographic surveying is undertaken in line with industry best practice and in accordance with RICS specifications.

With decades of experience, and a team made up of some of the best-trained measured surveyors in the UK, you’ll enjoy an efficient, hassle-free service. So you can focus on what you need to do, and leave the deadlines, and the detail, to us.

Ready to book a topographic survey in London?

The first step is to send us your plans (or an aerial photo mark-up) so we can fully understand your boundaries and objectives for the survey. For us here at Callidus Surveys, this is a vital step, as it enables us to adapt our process to fit your needs, and make recommendations regarding the specific survey boundaries (which may or may not accord with existing legal boundaries) and level of detail your topographic survey may need.

Once we’ve received your outline brief, we’ll get back to you with a tailored quote with detailed specification. You are also welcome to contact us to discuss your individual requirements.


Need a quote for a measured survey in London?

Email us your survey specification and we’ll get back to you with a tailored quote.

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This post was written by

Andrew Wilson
Andrew is the Survey Manager and Director at Callidus Building Surveys Ltd.