Table of Contents Next Page


The land is our most valuable resource. It is indeed much more than this: it is the means of life without which we could never have existed and on which our continued existence and progress depend. The resources of the land are neither inexhaustible nor indestructible, as many men and women have already found to their cost. Resources that had taken many millions of years to accumulate have been squandered or allowed to waste away in a few decades, and this squandering and wastage is continuing wherever definite measures to stop it are not being undertaken. Some of the resources of the land, for example, deposits of metals, coal or oil, are not in practice renewable nor can they be both preserved and used. Many other resources can be preserved and even improved in use. It is essential to the mere continued existence of human life on earth, to say nothing of our continued and increasing prosperity, that the resources of the land should be known as accurately as possible. The limitations of those resources which cannot be renewed should be understood and their unnecessary waste avoided, while renewable resources should be carefully conserved and used without waste or damage. It should be our aim to hand on the natural heritage improved, or at least unimpaired, to future generations.

Accurate knowledge of natural resources and an accurate description and record of such knowledge are the first essentials to their rational use and conservation. Measurement is a principal means of acquiring knowledge - in the pure sciences from astronomy to nuclear physics, in the applied sciences, in the arts and in the ordinary processes of daily life. It is, moreover, a most potent instrument of description and record and an essential method in almost every form of human activity. Land survey is the process of measurement and delineation of the natural and artificial features of the earth. The surveyor's observations, measurements and computations and the maps drawn from these are the record of knowledge acquired through survey. The maps are, furthermore, a description of the features measured and delineated in very precise and practical form. These measurements and delineations, when recorded in the form of maps either on paper or within a computer, are at once the best basis of accurate inventories of natural resources.

Hardcopy and digital maps are the media in which the nature, extent and position of resources can best be described and a firm foundation for their orderly and systematic conservation and development. A well-made map is an accurate scale model of the surface of the land which when presented in two dimensions at a sufficiently large scale, can be used to indicate any point on the land with accuracy. A map is, in fact, much better than a photograph for most purposes, not only because distortion can be eliminated to a much greater degree, but also because through the use of conventional signs, contour lines and other devices, the map can show all significant detail with greater simplicity and clarity than in a photograph. It is also possible in a map to show information about what is above or below the ground and to reject irrelevant detail. A series of maps can be used as an accurate record of geological formations; depth and movement of water; movements, temperatures and pressure of the air; volume and distribution of rainfall; distribution of flora and fauna; details of human population or activities; and so on. Digital maps can be combined, manipulated, analysed and displayed in different ways through the use of geographic information systems. In the comments that follow, the term “map” includes maps in digital form.

In almost every country, a great body of public and private rights and privileges relating to the land has grown up, usually accompanied by an almost equally complex system of duties and responsibilities. An accurate large-scale map is the only sound basis for a record of such rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities. No system of registration of rights can be effective and no system of land taxation can be just and efficient without a description which enables the land affected to be identified with certainty on the ground, and no such identification can be regarded as certain without a suitable map to which the description can be referred.

As the population of the world continues to grow and the technical resources available become greater and more varied, so it becomes both more important and more easily possible to plan and organize development of natural resources. But no great work of engineering, no orderly development of agricultural, forest or mineral resources, no schemes for town or country planning can be prepared and executed without maps on large scales and of high accuracy.

In spite of the great use and value of good maps it is a lamentable fact that much of the world is still not adequately mapped for its present needs, especially in urban areas. Many maps are no longer up to date since there has been insufficient investment in map maintenance. The situation in respect of records of rights in land can be no better than that of the large-scale mapping, because a large-scale map is the only satisfactory means of identifying particular pieces of land and of defining their boundaries. The situation as to records of rights, however, may be and probably often is a good deal worse than than that of the available maps. Although full information as to national records of rights in land is not readily available, enough is known to be stated definitely that there are many advanced countries in which the system of recording rights leaves much to be desired, and that many less advanced countries still have no formal record of rights in land at all.

The justification for the reissue of this paper lies in the fact that neither the unsatisfactory state of the world's land records nor the quite unnecessary handicap which this imposes on the possibility of orderly human development seems to be realized, and the argument of the paper may now be briefly stated.

The premises are:

  1. It is important - and, to a progressive economy, absolutely necessary - to have a full and accurate knowledge of the natural resources of the land.

  2. Maps are the best means of obtaining, recording and analysing such knowledge.

  3. Maps are absolutely necessary to the success of schemes for planned development of natural resources.

  4. The complexity of human relationships with the land is such that it is essential to record in detail these relationships as represented by public, communal and individual rights in land.

  5. Large-scale maps in either graphic or digital form are the only sound basis for such a record.

These premises lead irresistibly to the conclusion that no progressive country can afford to deny itself the advantages that derive from an accurate large-scale survey of its land and from a precise and up-to-date record of the rights held therein. This monograph tries to support this conclusion by examining the nature and scope of land surveys and records of rights and of the more important purposes served by cadastral and other large-scale maps and by systems of registration of rights in land. It examines these from the point of view of the land reformer, the landholder, the government, agriculture, economic development generally, and the general public.

The conclusions that it is considered can be drawn from this examination are summarized below under the relevant headings:

Land reform

1. A proper system of cadastral survey and registration of rights is the essential basis of a real understanding of the agrarian situation in a country, and thus to the planning of any measure of agrarian reform.

2. Such a system is, if possible, even more important in the execution of any plan of reform which involves any disturbance or change of existing rights in land (e.g. resettlement, expropriation of landlords, amalgamation or subdivision of holdings, consolidation of fragmented holdings, etc.).

3. Large-scale maps are essential to the proper planning and execution of schemes for the settlement of new lands.

4. Large-scale maps (and usually registers of rights) are of the greatest value in carrying out the provisions of tenancy legislation involving control of rents or security to the tenant's land and improvements.

5. Registration of rights greatly facilitates the operations of any scheme for the supply of agricultural credit, especially to small farmers.

The landholder

6. The fact that the land is properly mapped and that rights are clearly registered is of the greatest benefit to the private landholder.

  1. It provides the fullest possible security of tenure, and minimizes the possibility of disputes and litigation.

  2. It enables credit to be obtained more easily and probably more cheaply.

  3. It enables transactions in land to be effected safely, quickly and cheaply and limits the need for assistance from lawyers or other expert intermediaries. This is, of course, of great importance to small proprietors.

  4. It secures the rights of absentees and of persons with pre-emptive or reversionary rights, and of those enjoying easements or restrictive rights of any kind.

  5. It both prevents the growth of unwanted prescriptive rights in land, and assists in proving the existence of such rights where this system of acquiring rights is considered desirable.

7. Provided that the system of registration of rights is suitable, it will not facilitate the introduction of unwanted innovations in a traditional system of communal tenure, but will, on the contrary, protect and preserve the essential features of such a system.


8. The existence of accurate maps and of an unimpeachable record of rights greatly assists and renders more efficient every branch of the public service connected with the land. This is especially true of taxation, irrigation, drainage and flood control, and of the preparation of agricultural and agrarian statistics of all kinds.

Agricultural development

9. Large-scale maps are of the greatest assistance in the preparation of inventories of natural resources in land, water, and vegetation which are essential to planned agricultural development.

10. Such maps are also necessary in the carrying out of detailed geological, soil productivity, land use, erosion, farm management and other surveys and classifications in connection with agricultural development.

11. No major project of agricultural engineering (irrigation, drainage, flood control, electrification, soil conservation, etc.) is possible without very accurate large-scale maps of the area affected.

12. The orderly investigation, conservation and exploitation of forest resources demand the proper mapping of forest areas, and maps are even more important in all schemes of reforestation or afforestation.

13. The administration and development of inland and estuarine fisheries require accurate large-scale maps and the registration of existing rights in land and water.

14. All forms of public financial or material aid to farmers (subsidies, grants-in-aid, credit, seed or fertilizer distribution, pest control, plant protection, etc.) are rendered much easier and more economical by the existence of cadastral maps and records of rights.

15. Large-scale maps greatly facilitate the application of all sampling methods in statistical research connected with the land.

Other development programmes

16. Large-scale maps and records of rights are essential to the orderly investigation, classification and development of mineral resources.

17. Such maps are also absolutely necessary for all town-planning schemes, for the orderly development of industry in rural areas, and for the development of systems of communication.

18. The record of rights greatly assists in many forms of economic enquiry and sociological study, and in the development of rural welfare programmes.

19. The staff required for the maintenance of the cadastral survey is in an excellent position to collect without much additional expense many kinds of information needed in connection with development schemes which would otherwise require special staff and much additional expense.

20. The cadastral maps and the corresponding index maps can conveniently be used as base maps for the recording of any information which requires maps on these scales.


21. Large-scale maps are absolutely essential to the modern needs of national defence.

The general public

22. Besides the economic, fiscal, agrarian, scientific and administrative uses suggested above, there is a growing demand for maps and plans of all kinds for recreational purposes, for air travel, for the use of tourists, in connection with historical, archaeological or artistic studies, for commercial and industrial purposes and in educational work at all levels.


23. Though the production of large-scale maps is necessarily somewhat expensive, it is not beyond the means even of relatively poor agricultural countries. It is essential that maps and land records be kept up to date but the cost of maintenance of maps and of the preparation and maintenance of records of rights need not be expensive. All expenses incurred will rapidly be recouped in the advantages derived from the existence of the maps and records.

Top of Page Next Page