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Old Aerial Photos Pack

Historical aerial photographs are being used by a Lincolnshire Council to provide evidence in planning disputes and public enquiries. Purchased by South Kesteven District Council the OldAerialPhotos have been used to provide evidence of unauthorised land use and to locate the exact position and extent of historical boundaries. Supplied by aerial mapping company Bluesky the photographs are accompanied by a Letter of Authenticity stating the images have not been altered from their original state and were exposed on the date stated – an essential feature for legal proceedings.
“We have used historical images from Bluesky on a number of occasions as they provide crucial evidence in a wide range of cases including unauthorised land use, illegal garden extensions and unauthorised buildings” commented Mick Clift, Planning Enforcement Officer at South Kesteven District Council. “The pictures complete with Letters of Authenticity, are easy to interpret and provide appropriate visual and factual evidence of the dates when the photographs were taken especially in Public Inquiries regarding planning investigations. This has proved invaluable when dealing with such litigious cases.”

The imagery supplied by Bluesky to South Kesteven District Council forms part of an historically important archive that includes some of the earliest commercial aerial survey images, military photographs from World War II and many national archives. Offering a record of most major UK cities and towns, transport and utility infrastructure and commercial property developments, the images are an invaluable resource for anyone with a personal or professional interest in local studies, genealogy, boundary disputes, environmental land use research or town planning.

In legal proceedings it is essential that all parties have confidence in the evidence placed before them. In the case of aerial photographs, such as those used by South Kesteven Council, this confidence must extend to the fact that the photographs have not been altered from their original state and were exposed on the date stated. The Letter of Authenticity supplied by Bluesky states that photographic prints and scans provided by are scanned from original negatives or provided as an original digital image. also guarantee that they are not altered or manipulated in any way and can be fully authenticated with date and time of exposure.

“In all our dealings with Bluesky we have received excellent service,” concluded Mr Clift. “The OldAerialPhotos team are always willing to help locate a site and identify a suitably dated image and our orders are dispatched on time.”


Aerial photography dating back to the 1940s has provided crucial evidence in a long running battle for public access to a historic site on Dartmoor, England. A Planning Inquiry has ruled in favour of the landowner who bought the land around Vixen Tor in 2003, closing off access to the general public. The order to open two paths across the land was made by Devon County Council with support from The Ramblers (formerly the Ramblers Association) and the British Mountaineering Council. Following the recent ruling by the Planning Inspectorate this order has now been rescinded.

Bluesky supplied the historic aerial photography complete with certificates of authentification from their OldAerialPhotos archive providing factual and unbiased evidence for further investigation by Air Photo Services, a company that offers specialist interpretation of aerial imagery, consultancy and expert witness services. Director Chris Cox commented, “Acting as an Expert Witness and working on behalf of my client, I was able to establish, using the historic images, that a footpath was not visible in the alleged place. I conducted comparative analysis on other visible paths in the area from the 1940s to the present day to support this claim.”

She continued, “The fact that Bluesky were able to supply a full range of appropriately dated and authenticated images in a timely fashion meant that I could undertake detailed analysis, preparing a comprehensive report within the short timescales imposed by the Inquiry.”

Planning Inspector Mark Yates ruled that there was not enough evidence to show continuous use of the paths during the twenty years prior to their closure. He said, “I accept that people have walked to Vixen Tor and used routes through the enclosure. However, I am not satisfied that the evidence of public use presented to the inquiry is sufficient to demonstrate the dedication of this route in common law.”

This is a second inquiry that has upheld the rights of farmer Mrs Mary Alford. A previous Inquiry, seen as one of the most important test cases for the Right to Roam legislation, ruled that the public did not have an automatic right of way across the land.

The imagery supplied by Bluesky forms part of historically important UK archive that includes some of the earliest commercial aerial survey images, military photography from World War II and many national archives. Offering a record of most major UK cities and towns, transport and utility infrastructure and commercial property developments, the images are an invaluable resource for anyone with a personal or professional interest in local studies, genealogy, boundary disputes, environmental land use research or town planning.

Visitors to can search by simply entering a postcode, address or grid reference. Detailed search results, including the age and ground coverage, of every image that matches the search criteria are displayed and the visitor can choose to purchase a hard copy print, digital image file or photopack which includes historical and current day photos as well as certificates of authentification.

The Old Aerial Photos Legal Pack is proving to be a real winner among the legal profession, particularly in relation to boundary disputes and adverse possession. The pack contains all the photographic evidence you need to prove your boundary or land ownership issue.  The OAP pack contains a scanned and authenticated historical aerial photo of your choice, and print of an up to date photo as well as the historical photo. The authentication means that the photograph can be used of legal purposes in court. Additional historical aerial photos can be added for an extra fee.  These packs can be purchased on the OAP website or by calling 01530 518528.

If you require advice as to how an old aerial photo can help in legal cases, or if you require interpretation or even an expert witness, please contact our experts on 01530 518528.  The Old Aerial Photos service is run by Bluesky International Limited.

We have recently been working on a boundary dispute case involving an illegal extension, and much of the case had been built on the ‘evidence’ of Google Earth aerial photos, using the very cool time slider (have a look, it is great!).  But what we thought was an “open and shut case” actually ended up being far more complicated, because of the Google Earth data.  The dispute was in an area in London where there are several date of aerial photography available.  The 2003 photo showed no extension, but the 2006 photo showed it – sounds simple enough until you view the 1999 and 2002 photo, both of which clearly show the extension. One might assume it was demolished and rebuilt, but the answer is far simpler.  the 2003 photo was in fact taken in 2001.  To compound the problem it was claimed the extension was built in 2001, so why was it on the 1999 photo?  It transpires that the 1999 photo is the same aerial photo as the 2002 photo, which is dated correctly.  Confused…we were!

If you go to Google Earth and find the Gherkin in Central London then open the time slider you can watch the tower going through various stages of construction, in the wrong order!  Google Earth and  Bing Maps are fantastic resources and we have all lost hours just cruising around the globe looking for past holiday destinations and where our grandparents lives. But be aware that the dates and other information offered by Google (and Bing) are not always to be relied on.  The detail within the photos can also have been altered in the process of putting the data together; Photoshop is an amazing tool…so be warned!  Use Google Earth (and Google Maps for what they are intended, which is not legal disputes!

Our advice is to always use aerial photos from a source that can verify the photo for you. is the obvious place as we have the most on offer!

Here is some useful advice on boundary disputes from Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, taken from their free guide booklet.  Certainly worth reading if you have a boundary dispute. Full link to the original document is at the bottom of this blog.
What is a boundary?

Land Registry records the general position of the boundaries in each registered title using an adapted large scale Ordnance Survey plan.This title plan may not accurately represent the true ground positions of the boundaries. The Land Registration Act 2002 allows you under certain conditions to determine and record the exact line of your boundaries on a registered title, to avoid any future boundary dispute. But what happens, for instance, if a neighbour complains a new wall is overlapping their land, or their new extension takes up part of a pathway between your houses? A minor disagreement can quickly become a full-scale dispute involving solicitors’ letters and threats of court action. Even more damaging are the costs involved. Ultimately, the cost of protecting your right to land in court could be 50 or 100 times as much, so it pays to think hard before rushing into legal action.

What should you do?

Get a specialist to look at all aspects of the problem and advise on whether or not you have a case. Chartered surveyors specialising in boundaries are professional advisors with relevant knowledge of both property issues and the law. They will look at the problem, prepare any technical data that may help solve the dispute at an early stage and, if necessary, provide a court with the appropriate advice and information needed to make a judgement. They will also advise on alternative dispute resolution procedures, which would avoid the need to go to court.

Accurately identifying the boundary

Accurately identifying the boundary between two properties often requires specialist knowledge. The red line drawn around a property on the Land Registry plan only shows the general boundary. It does not identify whether the boundary runs along the centre of a hedge or along one side of it. Ordnance Survey maps are equally unreliable because, as part of the mapping process, they do not mark exact property boundaries. So a line surrounding the property is not necessarily the property boundary. A chartered land surveyor will not only survey the land, check deeds and the plans attached to them, but will refer to historical documents and aerial photographs.

A boundary can change over time for many reasons: a diverted water course, or a wooden fence that moves slightly every time it is replaced. The reason for such changes is rarely recorded and can lead to disputes, especially if the owner has lost the right to move the boundary line back to its original position.

Dealing with disputes

The key to resolving a dispute speedily and successfully is to seek expert advice as soon as possible. In the first instance, this advice can be from either a chartered land surveyor or a chartered surveyor specialising in boundary disputes. Before you ask an expert to work on your behalf, check the following:

• Do they specialise in boundary work?

• Do they have experience of mapping and land surveys?

• Are they skilled at interpreting aerial photographs?

• Are they familiar with the latest civil procedure rules and experienced in preparing reports for court?

• Do they have experience as an expert witness in court and, if so, how many court appearances have they made in the last year?

If you can settle the matter before going to court, or if the court defines a boundary line and writes an order, the chartered land surveyor will mark out your boundary line. They may supervise any fencing or building contractors to make sure there are no further arguments. Ensure they prepare a new plan, to the required specification, showing the agreed boundary line for submission to the Land Registry as a determined boundary

Call the RICS Boundary disputes helpline

0870 333 1600

The helpline will put you in touch with an experienced local RICS member who will provide you with up to 30 minutes free advice.

RICS Neighbour Dispute Service

Call +44 (0)20 7334 3806

Fax +44 (0)20 7334 3802


The RICS Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) provides access to a specialist panel of expert Chartered Surveyors with experience of resolving neighbourly boundary disputes. This can involve expert determination of the boundary and mediation of a dispute. Therefore, you do have an alternative to formal litigation if any doubt or uncertainly exists between parties on the correct boundary line.

The full booklet can be found on the RICS Website

Cutting down hedges, planting trees and moving fences often give rise to boundary disputes. They are the most frequent cause of bad feelings between neighbours although most of the time they can be resolved quickly and cheaply.  Here are three steps taken from, who can provide some of the documents needed when involved in a boundary dispute.  Remember that have the largest collection of aerial photos available for helping with boundary dispute resolution.

Step 1 Title Deeds: An eminent Judge of the House of Lords has recently stated that an examination of the title deeds is the first port of call. You cannot even begin to resolve your dispute without examining all available registered title deeds for each property.

Step 2 Presumptions:  There are certain legal presumptions that apply in the absence of contrary agreement. These must be considered. Any contrary agreement would normally be contained in the title deeds, so the two must be considered together.

Step 3 Aerial Photo:  Aerial photographs of the property should be obtained, if possible, as sometimes it is necessary to examine the position of physical features on the ground and compare them to descriptions in the deeds. It is often preferable to have more than one photo to either back each other up, or show that a boundary has moved.

If necessary:  If the three steps above do not help you settle your dispute you may have to instruct a surveyor, or apply to the court. You will still need several documents however, including the Property Register, Title Plan, all Registered Old Style Deeds, the Lease, as well maps, aerial photos and a list of legal presumptions.

It can be a very upsetting process, and if you need help – we are here.

Aerial survey specialist Bluesky has launched a new web service designed to help resolve boundary, rights of way, and other land related disputes. Visitors to can now identify and acquire photographic evidence from the past to support their claim and in addition to the historical aerial photomaps a range professional services are also available including Letters of Authenticity, Statutory Declaration and even appearance in court by a professional photographic interpreter. With prices starting from as little as £20 the Old Aerial Photos Legal Service can save time and money, even helping to resolve disputes before they escalate.

“As the saying goes a ‘picture paints a thousand words’ and this is never truer than fully authenticated photograph,” commented James Eddy, Operations Director of Bluesky. “Offering irrefutable evidence an Old Aerial Photo is easily worth a thousand words and can potentially save thousands of pounds in legal fees and court appearances.”

Visitors to can search through the millions of aerial images dating back as far as the 1917 by simply entering a postcode, address or grid reference. Detailed search results, including the age and ground coverage, of every image that matches the search criteria are displayed and the visitor can choose to purchase either a hard copy print or digital image file.

The additional services offered by Bluesky as part of the Old Aerial Photos Legal Service include professional archive searches, where trained archivists will search for the most suitable image for you, letters of authenticity, including the exact date and time the photograph was captured and statutory declaration that the photograph is as described and fit for purpose. The Old Aerial Photographs Services Team can also provide a written interpretation of the image, an Affidavit (written evidence for use in court) or even personal courts appearances to provide expert opinion.

Images that are available to purchase from include some of the earliest commercial aerial survey images, military photography from World War II and many national archives, including oblique aerial photographs are also available. Offering a record of most major UK cities and towns, transport and utility infrastructure and commercial property developments, is an invaluable resource for anyone with a personal or professional interest in local studies, genealogy, boundary disputes, environmental land use research or town planning.

I have recently finished a case in which a local authority were taking a local resident to court over an alleged land use change.  I thought I would share a few of the details.

The council were claiming that the four acres of land around the residents house had changed from agricultural purposes to  storage of certain materials, over a 10 year period.  We were able to source several aerial photographs of the area, two of them exactly ten years apart.  All of them were clear enough to make out the land use.  Without going into too many details we were able to prove that the land had indeed been used for the storage of the materials for the at least the preceding 10 years, and longer.  Admittedly the aerial photos also showed the volume of materials stored has increased, and the agriculture had decreased.

We were able to offer the resident a full service, including the aerial photos as prints with letters of authenticity, and full written report on the land use, including a land use map.  We also offered statutory declarations and if necessary a witness in court.  To date we have never had to supply a court witness, as the photos and the report tend speak for themselves, such is the weight of this evidence.

If you want to know more please email or visit


Why do boundary disputes arise?

I was considering the issue of using aerial photos to resolve boundary disputes, when I recalled this article. It is a few years old now, but gives us a good insight into why disputes arise. It was written by John Maynard FRICS.

Far more boundary disputes occur between the owners of two residential properties than between commercial or agricultural neighbours. A typical boundary dispute will be influenced by a variety of factors, some of them technical, some of them socio-legal, some of them psychological.

Technical factors include:

– legal arguments as to whether adverse possession affects the case;

– arguments as to whether certain legal presumptions (such as the hedge and ditch presumption) affect the case;

– downright poor descriptions of the boundaries.

I shall pass over the legal arguments and concentrate on boundary descriptions. Boundary descriptions can be expressed in words or they can be map-based. There is a good reason as to why so many boundaries are so badly described, and it is down to cost. Describing a boundary in words is extremely difficult, and only a land surveyor would know and understand all of the things that should be included in such a description. Describing a boundary in a picture (ie. a map) is relatively easy – for a land surveyor. The trouble is that it costs money to hire the services of a land surveyor to draft or draw what is seen as only a minor part of a conveyance deed, and conveyancing is already seen as expensive enough. So vendors and purchasers have traditionally saved themselves money by relying on inadequate boundary descriptions.

Some boundary descriptions rely entirely on drawings, others include dimensions to supplement the drawings. Here are the problems that are all too common.

Dimensions: Lawyers are accustomed to the notion that maps and plans are not always as accurate as we would like them to be. Lawyers and landowners seem to have a blind spot over the accuracy of dimensions: the thinking appears to be that the dimensions are stated in black and white in a deed so therefore they must be right. I have many reservations over a list of dimensions.

– Who measured them: a qualified land surveyor or the landowner’s gardener?

– What equipment and/or method was used in the measurement?

– Do the dimensions represent horizontal distances (as might be scaled from, or plotted onto, a map or plan) or slope distances along the ground?

To illustrate how significant these discrepancies can be: one case I worked on in Kent involved a dimension that told me the piece of land was 106 feet wide. The land was steeply sloping, and if that dimension was a slope distance, then the plan (or horizontal) distance was only 98 feet 6 inches.

Another problem with dimensions is that they never seem to be given with sufficient information to unambiguously define the boundary. For example, if you give me a set of three dimensions then you are unambiguously defining the size and shape of a triangle (but not of its position on the earth’s surface). I have yet to come across a property that is a simple triangle. Most pieces of land have four, or many more, sides. Give me a larger set of dimensions (than the three sides of a triangle) and you are defining nothing, as the diagram on the right should convince you.

A further problem with dimensions arises when the deeds state the length of a curve or of a sinuous line. Such a dimension is impossible to set out on the ground.

Maps and plans: A wide range of types of plan has been pressed into use as conveyance plans. In the ideal world a conveyance plan should be at a large scale (preferably at 1:500 or at the even larger 1:250 or 1:200 scale) and should show what was actually built. I understand that conveyance plans based on such as-built surveys do exist but I have yet to see one. Here is a list of the types of conveyance plan that I do come across and of what can be wrong with each of them.

Copies of Ordnance Survey maps or of Land Registry plans. Land Registry plans are of course essentially just copies of Ordnance Survey maps. There are references to the accuracy of Ordnance Survey mapping elsewhere on this page. The important thing to repeat here is that Ordnance Survey maps show the physical features that their surveyors encountered and that their surveyors do not make enquiries as to where property boundaries are. So Ordnance Survey maps do not show property boundaries and skillful map interpretation is needed to reconcile the information from the conveyance plan with what one finds on the ground.

Tracings of Ordnance Survey maps. A lot of conveyance plans from the first half of the twentieth century are clearly tracings made from Ordnance Survey maps. If one has to worry about the accuracy of the original Ordnance Survey map, then a tracing made from it can only contain even more inaccuracy.

Developers’ layout plans. Before a green (or brown) field site becomes a housing estate it is necessary for an architect to make detailed drawings showing where all the roads, underground services, houses, an fences will go, and where the preserved trees will be allowed to remain. To save on cost, these same drawings will be used as the basis of the conveyance plans for the individual houses and their appurtenant land. The trouble is that the roads and underground services may have had to take slightly different routes, with the result that the houses had to be built in slightly different places, which meant that the fences went up in places other than the architect had in mind. The end result is that the conveyance plan (ie. the layout plan) bears little resemblance to what was actually built on the land.

Sketch plans. The very name warns of their likely inaccuracy.

Other plans. I once told a client that the plan to his 1899 conveyance was by far the most accurate I had seen. It was beautifully drawn and bore a scale of 1 inch = 30 feet (or 1:360). I later enlarged an Ordnance Survey map to the same scale, overlaid the two, and they didn’t fit. Of course, it is possible that this is because the smaller scale (1:1250) Ordnance Survey map was less accurately surveyed than the conveyance plan, but somehow I doubt it (I didn’t have the opportunity of checking it by doing my own survey). This incident does highlight the need to avoid taking things at their face value and to make your own independent checks.

Socio-legal factors

One factor in boundary disputes is a lack of education about boundaries among landowners. Most people simply do not understand, and why should they, that there is no government organisation that is charged with defining the extents of privately owned land. They automatically assume, wrongly, that Land Registry performs this function and that Land Registry’s red edging identifies the line that precisely defines their boundary.

Another important factor in boundary disputes is the lack, in English law, of a concept of theft of land. Plants, statues, paving stones, parked cars, and almost anything else including the soil itself, may be stolen from your land, but the land itself cannot be stolen. Land can be possessed by someone other than the rightful owner, and if that possession is adverse to the interests of the rightful owner then the adverse possessor may eventually become the rightful owner. But if the rightful owner wins a civil case to recover his land, then the adverse possessor does not gain a criminal conviction for theft and cannot be sent to prison (unless of course he has demonstrated a contempt of court during the course of the trial). The prospect of an adverse possessor being rewarded with the title to the land he is claiming is an encouragement to squatters. The lack of sanction of a failed adverse possession, by means of a criminal record and a prison sentence, means there is no deterrent against squatters.

Another factor is the lack of intermediate legal processes that might defuse a boundary dispute and prevent it from escalating. A surveyor might at an early stage give his professional opinion as to where the boundary is, but it is only an opinion and does not carry any force of law. The surveyor does not have powers similar to those of a policeman who may intervene in a potential civil unrest to ensure that no breach of the peace or riot ensues.

A fourth factor is a lack of take-up of alternative means of dispute resolution that fall short of taking the matter to the county court. There are mediators willing, via a process of shuttle diplomacy, to facilitate a negotiated settlement between disputing neighbours, but their services are too infrequently used in the resolution of boundary disputes. There are adjudicators who will make impartial decisions as to the position of the boundary based on the evidence presented to them, but they are again infrequently used in the resolution of boundary disputes. It remains to be seen whether the new post of Adjudicator to HM Land Registry, set up by the Land Registration Act 2002, will provide an acceptable alternative means of resolving boundary disputes.

Psychological factors

For lack of other controls, psychological factors come into play and will often drive forward a dispute that could have been resolved had the matter been approached in an entirely rational manner.

One such psychological factor is greed. An example is a new owner who, only after moving into the house he has bought, notices that the fence is nearer to the side of his house than the conveyance plan shows it. Instead of accepting that he bought the land contained within the fence (which is the land that he was shown and was identified to him at the time he viewed the house), he presses a claim against his unwitting neighbour for the ‘return’ to him of land that he did not purchase in the first place.

The next example may also be described as greed although it could also be properly described as a pseudo-boundary dispute. It involves the landowner who desires to build an extension, garage, driveway or whatever along the side of his house but discovers there is insufficient room and fabricates a boundary dispute in order to manufacture the space demanded by his plans.

Another psychological factor is an arrogant disdain for the rights of the neighbour. It is quite possible to successfully press an unwarranted case against a neighbour who you know is not prepared to countenance the costs involved in defending his rights in court. If only there was a civil equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service!

The two most powerful psychological factors are an emotive quest for justice and a determination by the injured party not to allow the neighbour to ‘get one over’. When these operate together they provide an unstoppable momentum to see the matter through to the county court, not matter how long it takes, no matter how upsetting the process is, and no matter how much it costs.

A better way

It is inevitable to believe that there must be a better way of doing things, that would either prevent boundary disputes from happening, or that would make it easier to resolve disputes.

Other countries have other systems of land registration that tend to rely heavily on the accurate mapping, recording and the physical marking on the ground of boundaries. To change our system to a similar model would be inordinately expensive. It would also be more expensive to run and maintain, and whilst there might be fewer opportunities for boundary disputes, no system can be proof against boundary disputes.

Within the present system we can do nothing about the totally inadequate boundary descriptions in the deeds of existing properties. For new properties, Land Registry is trying to persuade developers of the wisdom of doing as-built surveys for use as conveyance plans. If developers used as-built surveys to register ‘determined boundaries’ (see “Agreed and ‘Determined’ Boundaries”, on the Boundaries page) for the new properties then (so the thinking goes) these new houses could be marketed as being proof against future boundary disputes – and such a marketing advantage should provide enough incentive for the developers to abandon their practice of re-using layout plans for conveyancing. I haven’t noticed any advertisements boasting boundary-dispute-proof housing, so perhaps it should be made a legal requirement for developers to carry out as-built surveys and to use these for conveyancing and land registration.

Within the present system, professional advisors can at an early stage encourage the protagonists to take a more rational view of the dispute and to look at it in more economic terms. If clients and their neighbours can be persuaded at an early stage to commit to an amicable agreement or to mediation or arbitration, then considerable time, anguish and expense can be saved, Compare such a situation with an admittedly stereotypical boundary dispute between residential neighbours and the advantages are obvious: but it requires that both neighbours are convinced of the benefits for it to work. In the stereotypical boundary dispute between residential properties both parties stand on their principles, engage solicitors, obtain surveyors’ reports, instruct barristers and go to court. The process can take three of four agonising years in which the anxiety may well make at least one of the protagonist very ill. The whole process will cost as much as the protagonists feel compelled to spend, typically between £25,000 and £50,000 each side. At the end of the day, one of the parties is going to lose the case and is likely to be ordered to pay a substantial proportion of the other party’s costs. And all for a narrow strip of land that is probably worth only £1,000.

Contrast this with the stereotypical boundary dispute between two large commercial companies. For operational reasons they cannot contemplate the whole process lasting more than a few weeks. They will also want to minimise the effect of the dispute on their respective company’s bottom line. Their boards will therefore take managerial decisions that minimise the time and cost elements of finding a workable solution to the dispute.

To find out more about how old and historical aerial photos can help you to resolve your boundary dispute, please visit