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Land Surveyor

land surveyor

Land Surveyor

Tell me about it

Land (or geomatics) surveyors are primarily concerned with the accurate measurement of the natural and built environment, the description and classification of features, the analysis and collation of relevant data and the presentation of data in forms required by users such as architects, civil engineers, property developers, planners, solicitors, environmentalists, geologists, archaeologists, geographers and map makers.

The work is an essential preliminary to virtually all planning, property development and construction, major engineering and other projects relating to the natural environment and urban infrastructure.

Land surveyors learn about the traditional survey methods of triangulation and traversing, and use them when appropriate, but nowadays rely more and more on satellite geodesy and computerised mapping.  

The term geomatics means gathering data and using geographic information systems (GIS) to analyse and interpret site features. Geospatial measurement generally involves the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and surveying instruments to chart the exact coordinates of site features. Surveyors produce digital images of sites (photogrammetry) and map land use with satellite photography (remote sensing). They monitor land movement and subsidence, and use computer-aided design (CAD) programs and other cartographic techniques to draft two- and three-dimensional charts and maps.

Entry level

While it is possible to get into land/geomatics surveying without a degree – or with a degree from a wide range of disciplines plus an accredited postgraduate course – many employers prefer graduates who have completed an accredited surveying degree. You would normally need three A level/Advanced Higher/four Higher or equivalent qualifications to enter an accredited degree in a surveying discipline, together with five GCSE/S Grade passes at A*-C/1-3, including English and maths.

Your degree course should introduce you to the major methods of measuring and recording data, from levels, theodolites and simple maps to techniques involving the technology outlined above. A field course would ensure that you could apply your knowledge to real-world tasks.

Postgraduate courses in more specialist areas are also available, including subjects such as geodetic surveying, environmental management and earth observation, hydroinformatics and geographical information science.

Making the grade

On completion of your accredited course, you would be eligible to move to the two-year Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) structured training stage with an employer, concluding with an interview known as the Assessment of Professional Competence. Alternatively, you could seek corporate membership of the Faculty of Architecture and Surveying (part of the Chartered Institute of Building), usually following a similar route of accredited degree and two years of approved practical experience. A third career development route is through the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors.

The majority of training is organised in-house, with employers providing specific training in the use of different pieces of equipment. Land surveyors need to keep up to date with the latest technology as it is changing all the time. It is necessary to have an appreciation of all methods of surveying so that the most effective is used for each specific task.

Personal qualities

As a land surveyor, you would need to interpret and analyse data, requiring you to be observant and comfortable with numerical work.  There would be extensive use of computers, so you would need to be confident in using the relevant software packages.  You would need to be well organised and ordered in your approach to work as you would be collecting data from a number of different sources, often at enormous expense.  You would usually work as a member of a team, particularly on larger projects.  This might involve you in managing and coordinating the work of members of your team.  In addition to liaising with fellow professionals, you might have to explain quite complicated and technical information to clients with little previous knowledge.  You would need to be physically fit, as you are likely to spend a lot of time out on site or in open countryside.

Looking ahead

Land surveyors can be found in a range of organisations. There are a number of private surveying companies in all areas of the country. However, many of these organisations are small. Local and central government employ a number of land/geomatics surveyors, as do mining companies, engineering contractors and consultancies and large construction companies. There are also opportunities to set up as an independent consultant.

The demand for land surveyors depends to a great extent on developments in construction and civil engineering and the recession of 2008-10 has hit the sector hard, with the housing market weakening and demand for industrial, office, retail and leisure facilities in considerable decline. However, opportunities in construction have been slowly picking up again in 2011.

Alternative suggestions

Other possibilities might include architect, building surveyor, cartographer, civil engineer, general practice surveyor, hydrographic surveyor, quantity surveyor, rural practice surveyor or town planner.

Take-home pay

The average graduate salary is around £22,000, rising to around £30,000 to £40,000 on reaching chartered status. With seniority and experience, you should be able to earn £45,000 to £75,000 a year.  Salaries in the commercial fields tend to be greater than those in the public sector and surveyors working in cities earn more than their rural counterparts.


This is nominally a Monday to Friday, nine to five job, and there would be times when you are based in an office with regular hours. However, you would also be expected to go out to sites.  When on location, you could be in a remote area, and you would need to work more flexible hours and be willing to operate in all weather conditions in order to complete the survey within a designated timescale.

Sources of information

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors: 
Chartered Institute of Building:
Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors:




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