Boundary Issues and Disputes
The best advice in terms of boundary issues has to be to try to avoid them. The costs involved in terms of professional fees (solicitors / expert witness / court costs) may far outweigh the value of the land and the outcome of such proceedings is often uncertain.
However should you find that you have an issue with a boundary then the first place to look for a solution is the original conveyance of the disputed boundary. Hopefully within this conveyance will be a description of the boundary, maybe even with dimensions noted.
The Land Registry use Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and it is probably one of these that is referred to within a conveyance, there may also be other plans and drawings which may be helpful for trying to establish the boundaries. The Ordnance Survey use aerial photography, developers’ plans and historical plans all stitched together to create their mapping.
OS maps do not show property boundaries, only features on the ground, which may or may not be the property boundaries.
The Land Registry plan merely indicates the general location of the boundary between two registered sites, there may not even be any physical feature on the ground which forms the boundary. The plan is not the final arbiter, it is the original conveyance which split the boundaries out which should be referred to.
To quote Cumming-Bruce in the Court of Appeal case Scarfe v Adams  "it is absolutely essential that each parcel conveyed shall be described in the conveyance or transfer deed with such particularity and precision that there is no room for doubt about the boundaries of each, and for such purposes if a plan is intended to control the description, an Ordnance map on a scale of 1:2500 is worse than useless.”
Lord Hoffman in Alan Wibberley Building Ltd v Insley  “The parcels may refer to a plan attached to the conveyance, but this is usually said to be for the purposes of identification only. It cannot therefore be relied upon as delineating the precise boundaries and, in any case, the scale is often so small and the lines marking the boundaries so thick as to be useless for any purpose except general identification.”
In other words you cannot rely on a coloured line drawn on a Land Registry plan as identifying the boundaries – this is really only an identifying plan and this is usually where all the problems arise.
There may be no actual physical feature on the ground in the position indicated by the line on the Land Registry plan. Alternatively there may be several features – a fence, a hedge and a wall all running parallel to each other. The line on the Land Registry plan is drawn with a thick pen on a small scale map, such that if the line could be placed on the ground it would envelope all of the features and maybe overlap by half a metre further in both directions.
A measured land survey can help by mapping all features on site to a much greater accuracy (at 1:200 to +/- 5cm of accuracy) than the OS. The OS tend to use 1:2500 scale in rural areas and this has an accuracy of +/- 2.3 metres on the ground. So if you scale a dimension between two features on the OS map as 10m then when you actually measure it on the ground the distance could be anyway between 7.7m to 12.3m .
In urban areas the scale used is 1:1250 and the OS quoted accuracy is that the OS map should be within +/- 0.8 m (so 10m scaled from the plan could be anything between 9.2m to 10.8 m when physically measured on the ground.)
A measured land survey (also sometimes called a topographical survey) will map walls / hedges / fences / major trees which may form the boundary. It will also be necessary to map the positions of permanent structures on site like any dwellings / garages / roads, as their position relative to the boundaries may be crucial. Such permanent features are also required in order to give context to the survey. There may be dimensions mentioned in the conveyance document e.g 6 feet from the property wall to the boundary. These dimensions can be checked on site.
The measured land survey will be related to the OS mapping by using specialised GPS equipment. A 1:200 or 1:500 scale plan will be produced at A3 or A4 size as per the requirements of the Land Registry. Features will be clearly labelled as to their construction type. The North Point will also be shown. This measured land survey plan then acts as the basis for ensuing discussions between your solicitor / other parties. It is a true and accurate map of what actually exists on site. Because a measured land survey is more accurate than the OS / Land Registry plan then if you overlay one map onto the other, the two maps are highly unlikely to match.
Once all parties are agreed on the boundary position, we can then return to site if required to mark out a fence line / insert boundary markers and show dimensions on the land survey plan. This land survey plan can be registered with the Land Registry and used to form part of the property’s deeds.
The following are some general principles that are worthy of note;
- If the plan conflicts with the conveyance text, the text will usually prevail.
- If there are two conveyances showing conflicting boundaries then the earlier conveyance will be presumed to prevail.
- Where there is nothing else to identify the boundary and there is a ditch and a bank, the presumption is that the person dug the ditch at the extremity of their land and threw the soil on his own land to make the bank. Often a hedge is grown on top of the bank.
- A ditch may of course have been dug to enclose part of one owner’s land or to divide one field from another, or it may have been formed by a stream.
- Fence posts and walls again are likely to have been placed at the extremity of the boundary but so as to be entirely on the erectors land. It is likely that the root line of any hedge will be near the extremity of the land but will have been planted on one parties land, not straddling the boundary, but hedges tend to grow towards the light and may have been tended more carefully by one party than another.
- Fence lines may move over time if new fences are put in the old fence post may stay and a new fence be placed to one side. Walls may collapse and be re-built in slightly off-set positions.
It is important to remember that we are not land law experts, merely measurement surveyors and we give the above information as guidance should you have a boundary issue. Ultimately it is for interested parties or the courts to decree what the boundary is and for the reasons given above that may not be easy to establish, nor may it be the outcome you desire.
Further information may be found on the Land Registry web site at the following links: