OS maps don't show legal property boundaries or ownership of physical features. Our remit is to survey and map the physical features on the ground at the time of survey, not to define a legal boundary.
We work very closely with HM Land Registry, though. HM Land Registry uses OS maps to draw up title plans - and it's the title plans that show legal boundaries. HM Land Registry cross-references and associates their boundary information with our topographic maps as the basis of all HM Land Registry title plans.
We at Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry have put together the information below to help you understand our different roles.
Please also visit our frequently asked questions section on property boundaries
HM Land Registry's role in recording boundaries
HM Land Registry will show the extent of the land in a registered title by a red line on the title plan. Where a boundary of the land is not defined by a physical feature on the Ordnance Survey map, HM Land Registry indicates it on the title plan by a dotted line. The word "boundary" has no special meaning in law but in land ownership it is understood in two ways:
The physical boundary
A registered title almost never shows ownership of individual boundary structures such as walls, fences and hedges. There may, however, be some relevant information on the register or in HM Land Registry's files. For example, HM Land Registry may have kept a copy of a deed that refers to a boundary declaration or agreement, or to the ownership or maintenance of boundaries. Please note that deeds rarely deal with such matters.
If ownership or maintenance is important to you, you may, for example, need to talk to neighbours and/or previous owners. We cannot provide information on either property extent or land ownership.
The legal boundary
A legal boundary deals with the precise separation of ownership of land. It is an invisible line dividing one person's land from another's. It does not have thickness or width and usually, but not always, falls somewhere in or along a physical boundary feature such as a wall, fence or hedge. The exact positions of the legal boundaries are almost never shown on registered title plans and are not shown on Ordnance Survey maps.
England and Wales operates a 'general boundaries' system of land registration. A title plan with 'general boundaries' shows the boundary of a property in relation to a given physical feature on the ground such as a wall or hedge as identified on the Ordnance Survey map.
The red edging on a HM Land Registry title plan is therefore not definitive as to the precise position of the boundaries. For this reason official copies of title plans carry the following warning.
This title plan shows the general position of the boundaries: it does not show the exact line of the boundaries. Measurements scaled from this plan may not match measurements between the same points on the ground.
This is a clear statement that HM Land Registry is unable to tell you precisely where a property boundary is located.
Questions about land registration
For more information about Land Registry plans please see HM Land Registry's practice guide 40. If you have a query about a registered title but do not know which office to contact, Land Registry lists its local offices and the areas for which they are responsible.
Why don't Ordnance Survey maps record legal boundaries?
We are the national mapping agency of Great Britain and the government department responsible for the official, definitive surveying and topographic mapping of Great Britain.
As Ordnance Survey maps are topographic maps, they only show the physical features on the ground at the time of survey. The features shown must fall within the specification for the survey scale and within the published accuracy tolerances.
Ordnance Survey maps never show legal property boundaries, nor do they show ownership of physical features. Although some property boundaries may be coincident with surveyed map features, no assumptions should be made in these instances and consequently it is not possible to be sure of the position of a legal property boundary from an Ordnance Survey map.
HM Land Registry uses Ordnance Survey mapping to provide a representation of where a property's boundaries are located.
For example, if no physical feature (such as a wall, fence) exists on the ground to separate two gardens, nothing will be shown on Ordnance Survey mapping. However, in order for a boundary to be represented on a Title Plan, HM Land Registry will indicate extent of the property with a red line. HM Land Registry will show the extent of the land in a registered title by a red line on the title plan. Where a boundary of the land is not defined by a physical feature on the Ordnance Survey map, HM Land Registry indicates it on the title plan by a dotted line.
A red line on a title plan drawn by HM Land Registry does not mean that a dividing feature exists on the ground. Similarly the absence of a dividing feature on the Ordnance Survey mapping does not mean that information is missing from the Ordnance Survey map or that the title plan supplied by HM Land Registry is incorrect.
Remember that the title plan only shows the features that existed at the time the property was surveyed. Fencing removed or added later will not be shown.
Ordnance Survey has a continuous mapping revision programme for the whole of Great Britain. Changes that have occurred on the ground since the property was registered may result in differences between later Ordnance Survey map editions and the mapping used by HM Land Registry for the Title Plan.