The Skye Cuillin – Britain’s most difficult mountain survey

John Barnard on one of the two summits of Knight's Peak.  Photo Taken by:  Alan DawsonFollowing on from the success of Britain’s new mountain back in April this year, we have a guest post from Myrddyn Phillips on his latest mountainous challenge.

The Cuillin Mountains of Skye in the Highlands of Scotland are renowned as having the most challenging mountain environment anywhere in Britain.  These mountains contain narrow, complicated ridges where a day’s outing can require a mountaineer’s skill and knowledge to overcome their difficulties.

Picture: John Barnard on one of the two summits of Knight’s Peak. Photo taken by: Alan Dawson

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BBC Coast: The French Connection

Mark RobsonMark Robson, (pictured) one of our South Region Surveyors, was recently involved in filming for the summer 2014 series of BBC’s Coast. Find out more about his day.

226 years ago Great Britain was accurately geodetically linked to France for the first time. William Roy, whose vision of a national map of Great Britain led to the founding of the Ordnance Survey, was put in charge of surveying a triangulation scheme originating from a measured five mile base line across Hounslow Heath and running down to the Channel Coast. Angles to common points were observed from both ends of the base line enabling the distances of the two other sides of the triangle to be calculated using trigonometry. From the new measured base lines a network of triangles was observed across South East England with positions eventually fixed at Dover and Hastings. Angles were then measured across to points on the French coast enabling the geodetic relationship between our countries to be calculated. The French had suggested the survey to link the position of the observatories in Greenwich and Paris and had triangulated points from Paris to observe back across to Britain. Read More


Knight’s Peak – Britain’s most difficult mountain survey

Following on from the success of Britain’s new mountain back in April this year, we have a guest post from Myrddyn Phillips on his next mountainous challenge.

Balanced precariously on the aptly named Pinnacle Ridge in the Cuillin Mountains of  Skye in the Highlands of Scotland is a lump of rock that may well prove to offer the most difficult mountain survey ever conducted in Britain.

The mountain in question is Knight’s Peak (grid reference NG 471 254).  Its summit is situated amongst castellated peaks in the most challenging and dramatic mountain range Britain has to offer.

The summit of Knight’s Peak consists of two tops a short distance apart.  One top is spacious enough for one person to balance on its highest point, whilst the other is a pointed top where standing is not advised.  The land beyond the summit area is precipitous.

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Putting my mark on the map

In today’s age of automated systems and electronic data sources, it can be easy to forget that people are at the heart of what we do as an organisation. Keen to get back to the grass roots of what our organisation does, (collecting and maintaining of geographic data), I arranged to spend the day with one of Ordnance Survey’s nation-wide team of 250 surveyors.

I met Jeremy Thompson, a surveyor in one of the five London teams (which forms part of the South Region) at the London office, within the imposing National Audit Office building. Although three surveyors use this as a base, most surveyors work from home – Jeremy has an office set up in his garden shed!

As well as experiencing the move to homeworking, Jeremy has seen big changes during his 27-year career. He said: “I joined Ordnance Survey after completing my A levels, mainly for the reason of wanting a job outside and not being tied to an office. Geography and technical drawing were my two favourite subjects at school, so a job which seemed to combine the two seemed ideal.”

Jeremy explained that it is still quite common for people to associate Ordnance Survey with our paper maps, and not realise the level of detail which is captured by the surveyor. He said: “Since 1986, the job has evolved massively over the years; to working with digital data on a pen tablet instead of film documents and Rotring pens, and using GPS/GNSS, together with other modern-day equipment. The information we capture on the ground is used to inform a wide variety of organisations, across both the private and public sector. The range of rich data we now collect has widened greatly – it is much more complex, including a whole host of attributes, such as addresses and road routing.”

Each surveyor manages their own bank of jobs; with various criteria enabling them prioritise workloads. There are different types of surveying jobs scheduled on the system, all deadline based, and flagged up at various intervals – and the hours spent in front of a computer varies, dependent on each individual job. The surveyors can view intelligence about sites, which has been gathered from various sources, such as local authorities and commercial organisations. Information is also added from the network of surveyors who can make observations out in the field.  The combination of details enables the surveyor to prepare for a job, and have a full background of the site.

Our surveyor Jeremy in London

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How do we survey the changing face of Britain?

One of our surveyors at head office

Keeping the master map of Great Britain up-to-date is no easy task and sees thousands of changes a day made to our database. We capture these changes on the ground through our team of 240 surveyors equipped with the latest positioning technology and via Remote Sensing, with both our own Flying Unit and strategic suppliers capturing aerial imagery which is then processed back at head office.

The latest technology makes the task of capturing change on the ground faster than ever before. Our surveyors are usually home-workers and keep the GI data up to date within a set area. They work on a Panasonic Toughbook – a ruggedised convertible notebook computer which serves as both their laptop and data collection tool. It’s both showerproof and dustproof which is essential for a job largely carried out in the great outdoors. It connects wirelessly to their GNSS equipment, electronic total station and hand-held laser rangefinder. It’s also the means for them to connect to head office, arrange and order data for jobs and send data back again.

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Tweeting the changing face of Britain

Our Twitter map of tweeting colleaguesWe’ve come to the end of the tweeting period for our surveyors and others at Ordnance Survey. We wanted to give you all a feel for the work our teams do each day as they go about updating the master map of Great Britain.

Over the last fortnight our tweeting surveyors have been all over Great Britain – whether it is mapping the latest railway bridge in the Cotswolds, recording the changes left by coastal erosion in the east of England or getting caught in the glaur (boot-hugging mud) near Perth.

For those based in head office, they are still lucky enough to tour the country through their computer screens – checking 3D dam models in Brecon, working on Greenwich Park and testing imagery around Northumberland National Park.

How a tweet appeared on the Twitter mapWe’ve had some great questions come in which either the tweeters themselves or the @OrdnanceSurvey twitter account have answered. From whether our trig pillars are still in use (sadly, we have more modern methods now) to wondering if we’re about to issue a parking ticket (definitely not in our remit)!

I noticed how often weather featured in the tweets – but if your job involved working in the great outdoors, this is bound to be a key topic. If you’ve been following any of the tweeters, following #osatwork or keeping an eye on our map – let us know what you thought.

For us, we’ll be ‘switching off’ the Twitter map, but we hope you’ve enjoyed the tweets and seeing who is working near you across Great Britain. You can still get a feel for the work we do through @OrdnanceSurvey and @OSLeisure too.


All of a Twitter about mapping

Please note our surveyors’ tweeting was over a two week period and the map and accounts are no longer active.

Have you ever wondered what we get up to at Ordnance Survey on a daily basis? Maybe you’ve seen someone in a hi-vis jacket with Ordnance Survey written on it and some odd-looking equipment walking around your local area and wondered what’s going on. Well now’s your chance to get an insiders view.

From today, a selection of our surveyors, field staff and technical experts will be tweeting live as the update the nation’s mapping. We make around 5000 changes a day to the digital mastermap of Great Britain, so there’s a lot going on – from the farthest reaches of Scotland and the Welsh peaks, to inner city London. As the national mapping agency for Great Britain we know a lot of you, be it from government, the business world or as individuals, rely on our work to provide you with accurate and up-to-date information. So we hope this will be a chance to take a look at how we do that, through the eyes of the people doing the work all around the country. And, of course feel free to ask them questions about their work, they’ll be keen to answer them and I promise they don’t bite!

You can follow our intrepid team on Twitter and you can also see where they are and what they’re up to on our OS OpenSpace map, linked to their geo-enabled tweets. Click to view our tweeters on an interactive map. You can see them on Twitter itself under these account names, or if you’re signed into Twitter you can follow this list. Alternatively, keep an eye on the hashtag #OSatwork:

@OS_Kimberley – working in the Cambridge area

@OS_Ashleigh – surveyor in south west Wales

@OS_learning – learning and development consultant at head office

@OS_Dom – surveyor in the Cotswolds area

@OS_matt – surveyor in the Norfolk area

@OS_Doug – surveyor in Moray and north Aberdeenshire

@OS_Biggles – member of our Flying Unit, based in Blackpool

@OS_mickgwyn – surveyor in north Wales

@OS_Jez – surveyor in the Norfolk area

@OS_markmyworlds – surveyor in the West Midlands

@OS_Matthew – quality assurance expert on imagery and height data at head office

@OSRemoteSensing – technician working with aerial imagery in our Remote Sensing team at head office

@OS_phil – surveyor in the London area

@OS_mickup – surveyor in north Oxfordshire

@OS_georgeqa – quality assurance on imagery data expert at head office

@OS__David – surveyor in Perth and Kinross

You can also follow us on @OrdnanceSurvey and @OSLeisure – but we’re not on the map as we don’t have a GPS signal on our desktop PCs I’m afraid! Check out what we’re all up to and let me know what you think.


How do you measure sea level?

Have you ever looked at the height of an object above sea level on a map and wondered how that figure is worked out? With changing tides across the days and during the seasons, we get a higher tide or a lower tidal point.

The standard way to measure sea level is with an instrument called a tide gauge. These are used in ports and harbours the world over and record the heights of the falling and rising tides. Doing this over a period of time enables Mean Sea Level to be calculated and from this, the difference in height from this point to any other fixed location.

Ordnance Survey set up tide gauges in Felixstowe (1913), Newlyn (1915) and Dunbar (1917). Newlyn was chosen as the single reference datum, largely as it was situated in an area of stable granite rock and the gauge was perched on the end of a stone pier at the harbour entrance where it was exposed to the open Atlantic. This meant it wasn’t liable to be influenced by the silting up of the estuary or river tide delays.

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A day in the life of a surveyor in Cumbria

This week on the Ordnance Survey blog we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Lake District National Park. Today we are going to spend the day with Ant Kewen who is one of our Surveyors and is based in Cumbria.





Ant, how long have you been working with Ordnance Survey?
I joined Ordnance Survey back in 1985 as a Surveyor and worked in Lancashire for 23 years. I’ve been in my current role here in Cumbria for the past 3 years.

Ant doesn't have a bad view on his journey to work does he?

Ant doesn’t have a bad view on his journey to work does he?

What is a typical day like for you?
I get up before the rest of the house, have a cup of tea, and put the computer on to check through e-mails. I then decide which area of Cumbria I’m going to work in today. The decision on which jobs to do and where to go are based on high priority work such as Land Registry and high priority jobs based on age and size. I check the weather – it always seems to be raining somewhere in Cumbria but seeing as I have the whole of Cumbria to go to and a choice of jobs that can be done in the rain (such as collecting addresses or reviews), I’m not usually housebound due to the weather. I then double check that I have the data I need – when I return home I usually set this up ready for the following day, then set the SatNav up and off I go. The range of tasks in a typical day can vary from Land Registry Surveys and building sites through to single houses and barn conversions, reviewing planned jobs to assess when they will be ready to survey and collecting and matching addresses. Read More


How do you measure a mountain?

In the past week of so, you may have read about plans by Nepal to re-measure the height of Everest. Apparently being the world’s highest peak at 8,848m just isn’t enough – they want to use the latest satellite technology to get the most accurate measurement possible.


It’ll also an opportunity to settle a long standing disagreement between China and Nepal. According to the BBC, the Chinese argue Everest should be measured to its rock height, while Nepal maintains that any figure should include the snow on the summit – which would add about four metres.

This in itself is an interesting debate – what do you think is fairer?

Anyway, it’ll be two years before we hear the results, so in the meantime I thought it would be worth explaining how you actually go about measuring something as huge as a mountain.

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