Behind the scenes with a surveyor

Ordnance Survey make 10,000 changes a day to the master map of Great Britain. This fact often astounds people and this behind the scenes story from one of our surveyors, Dom Turnor, helps explain just how many changes occur to our landscape every day.

I’m a forty-something field surveyor living and working in the rolling hills and hidden valleys of Worcestershire, where my primary job and purpose is to keep the large scale mapping up-to-date. I have been working as a field surveyor for nearly 13 years and have concentrated my efforts mainly around the golden villages of the Cotswolds, the post-industrial towns of the Forest of Dean and the wooded valleys of Stroud. It has only been in the last year that I have been transferred a little to the north; where I now find my area of responsibility to be the Malvern Hills.


Each field surveyor, and there are around 300 of us, has a geographical area which we have the responsibility to look after. This means we have to add to the map any new or changed features that we are aware of, or we find. If you can imagine the 300 of us are spread out over England, Scotland and Wales and the landscapes are of course very different. They offer the complete contrasts from mountains to conurbations, from moorlands to industrial estates, military barracks to ports and everything around and in-between. All these places, however contrasting in their fortunes, have one thing in common: development. Houses of varying sizes are being built; gated mansions to terraces of sheltered housing, houses of straw and wood, glass and steel, cut into the landscape or standing like an eye sore against a hill side. Schools have been shut down, knocked down and re-built. Warehouses have been vacated and converted into offices and flats, barns likewise. Military bases have been shut down and huge sprawling housing estates have been built in their place. Estates have been built on floodplains, and flood prevention schemes have been built next to these floodplain estates. Residential care homes are cropping up all over the place and old asylums are being converted into flats and dwellings. Roads are being cut into the landscapes to transport the goods we need to fill our new homes, and bases are built with new housing estates abutting up to their boundaries. Woods are cut down and re-planted, reservoirs and lakes are drained and created, and canals are allowed to silt up and then are dredged and re-opened.

So we are all kept very busy, as the development of this country is ongoing  to a varying extent as according to the economic climate, the change never stops and nor do we. Every update we make to the digital map is sent back to the main database and then sent onto our customers, so our map is dynamic and we are delivering continuous improvements to it – whether it be a small single-story house outside Much Wenlock or a huge shopping centre in central London.

We believe that every change is important to someone and so it all has to go onto our map, ideally within six months of it being completed, this is what makes Ordnance Survey the finest map makers in the world.

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17 Responses

  1. Brian Abbott

    Some information about how the data is actually collected (for example, what equipment is used) would be very interesting.

  2. Leanne

    Does each surveyor have a base station in their area or do they set it up each time? Any tips from OS surveyors on how to keep a signal and the leica rover upright and functioning in spruce plantation?! How far do they travel on foot with the Toughbook and rover because I find the whole system quite heavy.
    From a nosey map obsessive (and a Surveyor in the Geological Survey)

    1. Gemma

      Hi Leanne

      Apologies for the delay in replying, I was out of the office last week and this was missed in my absence. I’ve caught up with Dom and he’s come back to me with some answers for you:

      1. Ordnance Survey has 110 permanent base stations around the country which form a network called OS Net, and the software which works between the Toughbook and the Leica GS15 creates a virtual base station wherever we are working for that particular survey session.

      2. When in a spruce plantation get a pole extension and hold it up high, you could try stilts!

      3. It depends how large the survey job we have to do is, as to how far we walk, it can be anything from a single house survey, to ½ a mile of fencing, to a large building site covering a few acres. Larger sites and sites where there are health and safety issues such as new roads and railways can be supplied using aerial photography. However you must also remember to take regular rests when carrying the equipment, don’t want to give yourself an injury!

      I hope that answered your question – and keep up the map obsession!

      Thanks, Gemma

  3. Spring


    What are the qualifications for working as a surveyor at Ordnance surveyor? Type of degree?
    Do you need a UK citizenship?


    1. Hi Siaron. Among the surveyors we’ve got one fluent Welsh speaker, plus three others who have ‘conversational’ level skills covering various parts of Wales. There are also native Welsh speakers in our head office here in Hampshire who are very helpful when translating for our Welsh language maps.

  4. Isobel Curwen

    Hi there,

    This sounds like a really interesting role. Are the surveyor jobs permenant positions and how much time do you spend out in the field and how much time working in the office?



    1. Hi Isobel

      Yes, we’re currently looking for surveyors to fill permanent positions, although this is an expression of interest with various start dates planned for 2019. Around 70-80% of the role is working outdoors in all weathers and 20-30% editing indoors. Do note that the indoor time is working from home.

      Many thanks

  5. Tony


    I am keen to get into one of the surveyors positions for Kent. What sort of test should I expect during the application and interview process if I am successful ? Any ideas when the closing date are as these are not stated on the job advert.

    Thanks in advance

  6. Kenneth Fawcett

    Hello, I worked as a trainee surveyor with OS LSD in 1964 and I’m looking for a particular piece of equipment. It was a handheld brass mirror/prism thing which you hung round your neck then held to the eye to use. It’s purpose was to establish your line of sight position between two visible points. Very useful when revising 1250 and 2500 scale astrofoils. It was called a ploggle, or something similar to that. I would appreciate any additional information, pictures, diagrams, history, availability, etc.

    1. Daniel Forde-Pogson

      I’m desperate to get my hands on a popeye too. In my day (1987-) they were plastic. I’d love one. A friend had a desk lamp – she used to be a draftswoman at Maybush, I found out years after she and I had left. Those were the days!

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