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What’s the Role of Surveyors in Determining Land Boundaries?

by nicola on September 17, 2018 in Blog

For much of human history, land ownership and setting the boundaries was about gaining control and power. It was also about assigning private and public lands (e.g. for growing food).

But in modern times, land ownership (and the concept of real property) is now more emphasised in achieving stability and encouraging responsible development. That’s because the security of owning a land (or having the right to work on it) is fundamental to social order and economic growth.

In other words, land tenure makes it possible to invest on the future. Without some security, the community and enterprising individuals won’t have the right incentives to invest huge sums of money (plus time and effort) in building something. Also, land tenure allows us to better manage natural resources, which is crucial to sustaining the present and the future.

Land ownership & determining boundaries are inseparable

On a personal level, owning a land is a huge part of the great dream. It’s almost like we’ve studied and worked all our lives so someday we can own a piece of the land. If we could own a huge parcel of land, that will really give us some pride and peace of mind.

But there are limits. Land availability declines and the price per square metre has nowhere to go but up. Also, there are certain areas that can’t be used for residential, commercial or industrial purposes. We also have to think about erosion, receding coastlines and environmental changes.

In addition, ownership also means responsibility. You might have already heard the phrase “If it’s in your property, it’s your responsibility.” Aside from putting your name on the land, it’s another way of saying that you’re the one responsible for it. And yes, that level of responsibility goes higher because you have to think about who’s owning the land beside yours. You’re liable if you’re stepping down on the rights of another individual or community.

Because of that responsibility, it now requires extra care to determine the land boundaries. This is inseparable with the concept of land ownership. After all, without clear boundaries, ownership becomes ambiguous and inconsistent. And as mentioned earlier, land tenure is fundamental to social order, investment and economic growth. As a result, determining land boundaries is also fundamental to nation building and progress.

The proof of property boundaries

To show the extent of the property ownership, often marked boundaries are the basis. This can be in the form of walls, hedges and fences. However, this may not be enough to accurately describe property ownership. An excavation or construction activity might be already encroaching on someone else’s property. Relying alone on marked boundaries might get people into legal trouble. Aside from legal consequences, demolition and rework (starting fresh) could be really expensive.

That’s why it’s imperative to get things right from the start. Aside from fulfilling an obligation, accurately determining the land boundaries also makes developmental planning much more accurate. Whether it’s a residential, commercial, industrial or government construction project, accurately knowing the extent of property ownership (or the allowed area to work on) can also give insights on how to best execute the project.

To accomplish this, registered land surveyors take the task of establishing a property’s true boundaries. As mentioned earlier, walls, fences, hedges and other marks may not accurately describe the property’s extent. Also, measurements of land on the ground may not be accurate, reliable or consistent. That’s because measurements need to be adjusted when a slope is present (horizontal distances won’t be the sole basis). Other methods such as the use of handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) devices might not give the required accuracy and precision level (measurement results might vary).

To acquire the best evidence on the true location of the boundaries, registered land surveyors use their expertise in determining the relative positions of points on, above or below the earth’s surface. It’s a complete and 3-dimensional approach that results to better planning of the subject land.

The surveyor’s scope of work

Registered surveyors actually perform a variety of tasks. What we’re most familiar with is that they perform land surveying to determine land boundaries (know the extent of land ownership).

Other tasks surveyors also perform include the following:

  • Topographic surveying (sometimes also called detail or contour survey)
  • Engineering surveying (probably more focused on construction and engineering works)
  • Mining surveys (more focus on determining mining’s scope of work)
  • Hydrographic surveys (more concerned with the marine environment and seabed)
  • Level Height Surveys (more about adhering to structural requirements and building codes)
  • Flood surveys on flood zones (identifying the flow of water over the site)
  • Volume surveys (determining volumes for excavation or fill quantities)

There are other more specific tasks registered surveyors perform. The scope of work may depend on the nature of the project and meeting national and local requirements. Their tasks often also cover before, during and after the construction project. But in many cases, their work is crucial during the planning stage.

Why call a registered surveyor or survey firm?

The most requested service is determining property boundaries to avoid property encroachment. But more specifically, registered surveyors are often called to perform and assist in the following tasks:

  • Competent advice on land development and its efficient administration
  • Preparing subdivision proposals
  • Supervising subdivision works & services
  • Determining volume of the excavated site
  • Planning approvals
  • Transactions on strata ownership & boundaries
  • Government policy making and taxation

Aside from gathering the best evidence for land ownership, surveyors also have a huge role in society’s responsible development. And as mentioned earlier (and implied repeatedly), property ownership is also about responsibility. Aside from gaining the right to work on a piece of land, knowing the land boundaries is also knowing the extent of the work and how to perform responsible development.

Role of surveyors in determining land boundaries

To acquire the best evidence in property ownership and land tenure, registered surveyors are the ones most qualified to do the job. Whether it’s a small residential or a thousand-kilometre road project, the services of the registered surveyors are the keys to accurate and responsible land development.

A combination of surveying methods and technologies are often employed to determine land ownership and boundaries. Triangulation, trilateration and traversing are some of the common approaches. Other approaches might also be used depending on the nature and scope of work (e.g. mining surveys might have different requirements compared to residential construction).

When it comes to surveying technologies, the use of sophisticated GPS devices has become widespread (and actually has become essential in regular surveying assignments). That’s because GPS can deliver accurate information in regards to the latitude, longitude and height of a piece of land. This technology’s accuracy may depend on weather conditions (clear skies give more accurate results) and satellite availability and accessibility.

Even with the presence and use of modern methods and technologies, the expertise of registered surveyors is still the most important in accurately determining property boundaries. Experience also plays a critical factor in accuracy and efficiency because different sites and projects often have different requirements. For instance, the general requirements and scope of work might differ in surveying a proposed railway project compared to construction of an apartment. There are different facets in construction and surveying that require different approaches.

Whether it’s a new construction or upgrade of an existing infrastructure, surveying has a huge role in accurate planning and sustainable development. Surveying (specifically topographic surveying) may also provide additional insights about the lay of the land. This can help in maximising the resources and opportunities available. For instance, the presence of water or natural land features might influence the orientation of a proposed residential or commercial building.

That’s just a portion of what we do here at Geosurv. We always take a complete approach when handling a surveying assignment. We rigorously study the client’s requirements before, during and after the project. Our goal is to become a trusted advisor to the clients so they can take advantage of the opportunities available.

Through the years we’ve worked on residential, commercial, government and public transport projects. Since 2005, we’ve built a solid reputation on strong client focus. That’s why we’ve become one of Australia’s leading surveying firms. In fact, we’ve established our presence in Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Wollongong, Albury, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Right now we also have plans of extending our reach to Victoria and WA.

Contact us today and let’s discuss your requirements. With an experienced team of Registered Surveyors, Project Surveyors and Survey Technicians, Geosurv can deliver excellent results and meet technical specifications for your project.