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Originally Ordnance Survey was started as an agency to serve a military purpose. Its main goal was to map Scotland and the national boundaries in the wake of Jacobite rising of 1745 and the potential threats emanating from Napoleonic Wars. The Government of that time also realised South Coast of England needed to be accurately mapped to defend it. So it instructed its Board of Ordnance – the Defence Ministry at that time – to do the required survey work. It was an historic decision which led to the mapping of the whole country in detail and also was the source of the intriguing name ‘Ordnance Survey’.

Ordnance Survey Maps & Contributions to Geographical Studies

Now in its present form, Ordnance Survey (OS) is a national mapping organisation of the UK and is considered as one of the world's largest producers of maps. Coming to be known as Ordnance Survey Ltd since 1st April 2015, it became a government-owned company with 100% public ownership. It is accountable to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is also a member of the Public Data Group. Mapping done by Ordinance Survey is crucial in times of disaster management teams, emergency services for the best routes possible and civil engineers and developers to find the ideal site to build on. But that’s not all, from civil developers to surveyors and cartographers to marketers, the mapping products developed by Ordinance survey are a lifeline to many.

Types of Maps Produced

The mapping carried out by the Ordnance Survey is usually classified into 2 categories. Firstly, large-scale (very detail oriented) mapping comprising of 1:2,500 maps for urban localities and 1:10,000 more generally. Secondly, small-scale mapping comprising of 1:25,000 Explorer series, the 1:50,000 Landranger series and 1:250,000 road maps. The agency is known to produce a large variety of paper maps along with digital mapping products. The products are divided into categories such as:

  • Mobile Apps - Release of OS MapFinder in 2013
    1. OS Maps - Version available on iOS and Android. Free to download app can be used offline. Routes can be saved and shared.
    2. OS Maps Web - Available as a web page – it allows users to access maps from the web using modern web browsers, planning of custom routes and printing of maps is possible similarly to what the mobile applications can do.
    3. OS Locate - Available on iOS and Android, the free app is fast and highly accurate displaying grid reference, longitude, latitude and altitude in reference to a user’s location.
    4. OS Ride - Free app using Ordnance Survey's detailed outdoor mapping including OSLandranger Maps (1:50 000 scale) enabling cyclists to successfully navigate and track their progress on pre-loaded routes. It also allows users to follow tracks of 2014 Grand Depart professional cyclists.
  • Leisure Maps - OS's range of leisure maps are published in a variety of scales:
    1. Tour - Major and most minor roads and selected footpaths. (Excluding Scotland)
    2. OS Landranger Active - Specifically designed for walkers & cyclists covering only Great Britain.
    3. OS Landranger - Covering footpaths of Great Britain & Isle of Man. (Subject to a 1:50,000 scale)
    4. OS Explorer Active- (1:25,000 scale)
    5. OS Explorer - Similar to OS Landranger Active. Also available in a mobile version of Android and iOS Devices.(Subject to a scale of 1:25,000)
    6. Activity Maps - Experimental range of maps designed to support specific activities like Walking and Cycling.
    7. Route (1:625,000) - Covering whole of Great Britain designed for long distance road users.
    8. Road (1:250,000) - Similar to Route covering road users.
  • Business Maps - Products for business communities like utility companies & local authorities
    1. OS MasterMap- Highly detail-oriented mapping showing all real-world objects and assigning them a unique reference number (TOID). It comprises of aerial imagery, transport and postcode.
    2. OS VectorMap Local - Customisable vector product at a 1:10,000 scale.
    3. OS Landplan - Raster map subject to 1:10 000 scale.
    4. Meridian 2, Strategi - Mid-scale mapping in vector format.
    5. ADDRESS-POINT, Code-Point - Developed jointly with Royal Mail for postcode searches.
    6. Boundary-Line - Mapping electoral wards, parishes and counties.
    7. 1 Series - Leisure maps.
    8. OS Street View - Street Names.
    9. Land-Form PROFILE, PROFILE Plus, Panorama - Digital terrain models.
  • Digital Products - Ordinance survey digitised the mapping data and made them available on CD/DVD or easy downloads. Buyers can view the maps on a PC, a laptop and a smartphone and can also print copies. With maps being GPS-aware they are ready-calibrated. Users can easily transfer desired maps on their laptop or smartphone & use them for a drive or walk while keeping a track of their position on screen.
  • Educational Maps - Maps associated with 1970’s to 1990’s are used in schools both in Britain and in commonwealth nations. Either as stand-alone geographic aids or as part of geography books. Moving into a paperless culture, Geographical Information Systems (GISs) enabled interactive child-orientated website "MapZone" was launched featuring learning resources & map-related games. For geography teachers a quarterly journal called Mapping News is published regularly.
  • Customised Products - Through OSCustomMade clients can specify the area of the map or maps desired. It is available on 2 scales - 1:50,000 or 1:25,000. Clients can give own titles and cover images for maps. The products are also available in 1:10,000 (Landplan) and at 1:1,250 or 1:500 (Siteplan).

Contribution to Geographical Studies and Research

Ordnance Survey has a research department which has contributed to Geographical Studies and Research for several decades now. The sphere of its research has especially been in areas like:

  • Semantics and ontologies
  • Election Maps
  • Public Transport Mapping
  • Geological Mapping
  • Map Generalisation
  • Spatial Cognition
  • Geo Data Visualization
  • Community Mapping
  • Spatial data modelling
  • Remote sensing and analysis of remotely sensed data

Ordnance Survey through a dedicated university liaison team actively carries out academic research and external research. The aim is to provide society and people a mapping that informs guides and inspires. To reveal an ever-changing landscape in extraordinary detail giving a comprehensive detailed view of Britain. On board, Ordnance Survey has MSc and PhD students who are always trying to understand how people could use geographic information more effectively. All content is designed to meet users’ needs now and in the future and their need to see every route or terrain getting mapped.

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