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topographic survey of farmer's field

What should a land survey include?

While there are many similarities from land survey to land survey, chances are they won’t contain the same thing. Even surveying the same area of land might include different features depending on what the survey is going to be used for. When we first meet with a client and determine that they need a land (also known as a topographic survey) as part or all of their survey, we need to make sure that we include everything on a survey that they need.

Though they will be different, there are similarities in what we look to include in our topographic surveys. They need to be comprehensive enough that they can serve as a base map from which other design and plans can be made.

Data in the right format

First off, we need to determine what form the data gathered from the topographic survey should be supplied in. There is no point taking the time to do a 3D or full cloud point survey when the client only needs a basic 2D survey or vice versa, where we would need to go back into the field to gather more data to complete the survey. So data in the correct format is something that will always be included in every survey.


One of the most basic things to be included on a topographic survey is the boundaries. Even if they are not in dispute, including them in a survey is important to the people that will be using the survey afterwards for planning. Boundaries make it clear what people will be working with. If only a part of a property is being surveyed, then it is possible that the official boundaries won’t be included but that would be made clear in the survey.

 Levels and Elevations

The basis of topography is measuring the surface of the area being surveyed and this includes levels and elevations as well as occasionally drainage details. It is important to include these in a survey because this determines levels for new buildings and infrastructure, such as roads and railways, and changes that may be made during excavations, all of which are an important part of planning. Elevations can even determine whether or not a project is viable or not.

 Buildings and structures (partial or whole, permanent or temporary)

Existing buildings and structures, whether partial or whole are important to include as again this data will be used for planning. Even if the structures themselves won’t be structurally affected by the project, all data is relational, so planning needs to take into account how close structures are together and how that will change the landscape being surveyed.

 Surface and sometimes underground utilities

 Similar to buildings and structures, surface and underground utilities can change the planning and viability of a project. Underground and overhead services can be expensive to reroute and can determine where a building can be built. The accurate location of services is also vital when excavations are to take place.

 Natural and manmade features

 The list of natural and manmade features is long and depends on the environment being surveyed. If it is a rural location being surveyed, there may be trees, watercourses, and steep slopes. If a topographic survey is being done in an urban area, it is likely to include roads, buildings, services, and many other man-made features. Whether or not these are needed will again be determined by the survey requirements, but are likely to be included as they will affect planning.

 Sometimes features adjacent to the site need to be included

 While this doesn’t always need to be included, it is also important to consider that features addicted to the site may need to be included in a survey. This can be because these features might affect flooding, zoning and planning.

 Interested in finding out more about topographic surveys? See our Topographic Surveys – Everything You Need to Know article.


If you need a topographic survey for your next project, get in touch!