A land surveyor and commercial drone pilot setting up for a mapping mission on a construction site for a new housing development

What is a land surveyor, what they do & why?

An introduction to surveying for the curious

David Walker AssocRICS ACInstCES | Land Surveyor & Commercial Drone Pilot
David Walker AssocRICS MCInstCES |
Land Surveyor & Commercial Drone Pilot. Proprietor of Cricial Services

As a land surveyor with over 30 years of experience, I’ve had the privilege of working on a diverse range of projects across the UK. Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand the important role that land surveyors play in ensuring the proper use and development of land and the impact that our work has on communities and the environment.

When I first started my career, the field of land surveying was quite different from what it is today. Back then, we relied mostly on manual instruments and paper maps to do our work. But with the advent of technology, the field has evolved dramatically, and surveyors now have access to an array of tools and software that make our work easier and more accurate.

However, with these new technologies comes a new set of challenges. Land surveyors today must be highly skilled in using various tools and software to do their jobs, and they must also stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in technology.

Despite these challenges, I can attest that a career in land surveying is highly rewarding. For those who enjoy being outdoors and working in nature, it offers a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic and physically demanding environment. The work also requires a combination of mental and physical skills, making it a challenging and rewarding career.

Over the years, I’ve also seen many of my colleagues advance in their careers, taking on more challenging projects and responsibilities as they gain experience and expertise. This highlights the opportunities for career growth in this field.

Land Surveyor surveying a hospital tower block

Land Surveyor surveying a hospital tower block

In conclusion, I would like to stress that land surveying is a dynamic and important field that offers a unique combination of mental and physical work, and the opportunity to make a tangible impact on communities and the environment. I would highly recommend this career path to anyone who is interested in pursuing a fulfilling and challenging career in the UK.

Below I will break down land surveying and why you should consider being a professional land surveyor.

Definition of Land Surveying

Land surveying is the process of accurately measuring and mapping land and property, and establishing boundaries. In the UK, land surveyors play a critical role in ensuring the proper use and development of land, providing essential data for construction, engineering, and environmental projects on behalf of developers, planners and architects.

Purpose of the Blog Post

The purpose of this blog post is to provide an overview of what a Land Surveyor is and what they do. Hopefully, this blog post will help individuals understand the opportunities and challenges of a career as a land surveyor in the UK. My name is David Walker and I have been a land surveyor / civil engineering surveyor / Geomatician for over 30 years. Whether you’re considering a career in surveying or simply want to know more about the field, this post has got you covered!

Land Surveyor - during construction of The Millennium Dome

Land Surveyor during construction of The Millennium Dome

What Do Land Surveyors Do in the UK?

Overview of Duties and Responsibilities

Land surveyors in the UK are responsible for collecting and analyzing data to create maps and other surveying data that are used for various purposes, such as:

  1. Property boundary surveys: establishing the boundaries of a property for conveyancing purposes or to help resolve a boundary dispute
  2. Topographic surveys: creating a detailed map or topo of the terrain and features of an area of land
  3. Measured Building surveys: providing external and internal plans of buildings to assist with their maintenance, modification or refurbishment
  4. Flood risk assessments: providing data to help determine the risk of flooding to a property
  5. Setting out: providing the precise location of buildings and structures on a construction project
  6. As-built surveys: a land survey to verify a design has been built correctly and to design on construction projects
  7. Asset management surveys: a topographic survey to collect data about assets and infrastructure for asset managers
  8. Utility surveys: using radio detection, ground penetrating radar, magnetometer or thermal cameras to locate buried or obscured objects or utility services
Topographical Survey for a residential development adjacent to a small river with sections

Topographical Survey for a residential development

adjacent to a small river with sections to help client assess flooding

Specialisms

Land Surveyors can specialise in many areas. Some become expert witnesses, hydrographic surveyors, setting out engineers, drone surveyors, mining surveyors or utility surveyors. In simple terms, a hydrographic surveyor applies the same principles to map on or below the water, a setting out engineer uses the same principles in reverse to mark the position of a design on the ground, a drone surveyor the same from the air, a mining surveyor the in mines and a utility surveyor will use the same to map services above or below the ground.

Use of Technology

Land surveyors in the UK use a range of cutting-edge technologies, such as total stations, GPS, and laser scanning, to gather data and create accurate maps and diagrams using computer-aided design (CAD) or building information modelling (BIM). Here at Crucial Services, we are now applying that know-how to drone land surveying.

Land Surveyor surveying an operating theatre

Land Surveyor surveying an operating theatre

How to Become a Land Surveyor in the UK

Education Requirements

Contrary to what some say, to become a land surveyor in the UK, you don’t need to obtain a degree in surveying or a related field, such as geography or civil engineering. A degree can help though but many surveyors start as assistant surveyors working for a survey firm. The employed route allows you to study part-time for an Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) and or a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in surveying whilst working to become a junior surveyor or surveyor. Similarly, with an apprenticeship in surveying, you earn money while learning.

You could opt for full-time study for an OND and or HND. I left my A Levels halfway and went to college in Hertfordshire as a more direct route into my career. I opted to study full-time for an OND in Land Surveying and Cartography (2 years) followed by an HND in Engineering Surveying (2 years).

You can opt to complete your A Levels and study for a degree in surveying. Many surveyors have come to the profession after doing a Geography degree or qualifying in other fields like archaeology, civil engineering or mining.

Professional Qualifications

After obtaining a degree or other qualification, you will need to become a member of a professional body, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES), and pass the necessary assessments to become fully qualified and achieve chartered status as a chartered surveyor. There are several grades to pass through while you expand your professional excellence. Professional bodies also provide a wealth of Continuing professional development (CPD) to their members to help them learn new skills and keep their knowledge in tip-top shape.

License to Practice

In the UK, it is not mandatory to have a license to practice as a land surveyor, but becoming a member of a professional body such as RICS and obtaining professional qualifications is highly recommended. By contrast, in the USA only qualified surveyors can carry out a land survey.

A land surveyor and commercial drone pilot setting up for a mapping mission on a construction site for a new housing development

Drone land surveyor preparing to survey a construction site

Career Path

Job Opportunities

Land surveyors are in high demand, with opportunities available in both the public and private sectors. Land surveying is a growing field in the UK, with opportunities in private surveying firms, construction and engineering companies, government agencies, and consulting firms. This isn’t always the case depending on the economic cycle but there is a skills shortage in surveying just like in many professions.

Job Advancement

With experience and expertise, land surveyors in the UK can advance in their careers and take on more challenging projects and responsibilities. Moving from trainee/assistant surveyor through junior surveyor, to senior surveyor. Some may choose to become managers or directors of surveying departments, while others may start their own consulting businesses or survey practices. Some may opt to work freelance for a portfolio of companies.

Median Salary

The median annual salary for a senior land surveyor in the UK is approximately £40,000, according to RICS. Salaries can vary depending on the level of experience, type of employer, and geographic location.

Challenges and Rewards of a Career in Surveying in the UK
Challenges

Like any career, a career in surveying has its challenges, including:

  1. Working in challenging environments: Land surveyors in the UK often work outdoors in all types of weather and may be required to work in remote or hazardous locations.
  2. Tight deadlines: Surveying projects in the UK may have tight deadlines, which can be challenging for land surveyors to meet.
  3. Physical demands: The work can be physically demanding, requiring land surveyors to be on their feet for long periods of time and to carry heavy equipment.
  4. Technological complexity: The use of technology in land surveying can be complex, and land surveyors must be able to use various tools and software effectively to do their jobs.
  5. Travel and working away from home: Many surveyors travel to sites across the UK and abroad and stop away from home. The hours rarely fit a normal 9 to 5 but there are opportunities for flexible working and working from home rather than in an office.
Rewards

Despite the challenges, a career in land surveying in the UK can be highly rewarding, including:

  1. Making a tangible impact: Land surveyors in the UK play a crucial role in ensuring the proper use and development of land, and their work can have a lasting impact on communities and the environment.
  2. Working outdoors: For those who enjoy being outdoors and working in nature, land surveying can be a great career choice.
  3. A mix of mental and physical work: Land surveying requires a combination of physical and mental work, making it a challenging and rewarding career.
  4. Opportunity for career advancement: As they gain experience and expertise, land surveyors in the UK can advance in their careers and take on more challenging projects and responsibilities.
  5. Travelling and seeing the sights: As a surveyor, I have travelled the length and breadth of the country and worked abroad. This has allowed me to survey and visit some amazing places, and meet some amazing people.
Land surveyor setting out blockwork on a construction site

Land surveyor setting out blockwork on a construction site

What is a land surveyor? The Conclusion

land surveyor setting out the footings for a housing development

Setting out the footings for a housing development

Recap of Key Points

This blog post has provided an overview of what a land surveyor is and what they do in the UK, as well as the education and professional qualifications required to become a land surveyor, job opportunities, and the challenges and rewards of a career in surveying.

Final Thoughts

Land surveying is a dynamic and important field that offers a unique combination of mental and physical work, and the opportunity to make a tangible impact on communities and the environment. The biggest upside is that every day is different because every site is different. You always have to think about what you are doing as a land surveyor even if the survey type is the same. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a land surveyor in the UK, now is an excellent time to explore the opportunities and challenges of this rewarding career path.

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