Russian Spies Have Us Mapped Out

At this year's ET 2007, Landmark Information Group will be exhibiting their latest addition to their historical map archive, Russian spy maps of the UK. Richard Pawlyn, Managing Director of Landmark Information Group's Property and Environment division, explains the role that these unique maps play in helping consultants identify potentially contaminative features.

Landmark’s continuous efforts to find new datasets which will aid the identification of potentially contaminative features has resulted in an extraordinary find. For over fifty years, before during and after the Cold War, the Soviet military undertook the most comprehensive global survey every attempted, creating detailed, accurate maps of practically every country in the world… and now for the first time the UK’s maps are available in a digital format through Landmark.

These unique maps were produced by the Russian Military from 1950 to 1997 and reveal features not present on Ordnance Survey maps due in part to political and military sensitivities at the time. The maps include approximately 1,000 new, and potentially contaminative features, along with 3,000 other named uses such as extra quarries, pits, military features, warehouses and much more.

Using aerial photos, satellite images, local knowledge and even spies on the ground to compile their maps, the Russians mapped 16,000 sq km of the UK, including 103 major UK towns and cities. The maps reveal the exact location and purpose of every structure of possible military importance including the width of roads, the height of bridges, the depth of rivers, train and bus stations and prisons. Interestingly, all buildings featured on the maps are also colour coded depending on the level of their importance – for example, military buildings are green and industrial buildings are black.

The Russian military’s top secret task of mapping out the whole world took over 50 years to complete. Today, very little is known about how the organisation was structured and how such incredible results were achieved. Certainly the operation was militarily driven, very well controlled, achieving spectacular results. Ultimately futile of course, if the purpose was world domination, but for property professionals they provide a fascinating and invaluable insight as to the use of land during this period.

Historical maps have always been an integral part of site assessments and an important tool in providing an indication of potential environmental issues. However, with consultants under increasing pressure from clients to provide much more detailed site specific information, the additional features provided by the Russian maps will be invaluable in providing a much more comprehensive and accurate picture of previous land use.

This is highlighted by the 1972 Russian map of Leeds which shows a ‘Military Tank Factory’ (feature labeled “61”) [see image]. This site is shown as vacant on Ordnance Survey maps dating between 1890 and 1993. A “works” is shown on the current mapping but its use is not specified. As a result, if this site is no longer a tank factory, this Russian map could be the only historical record of its presence.

With the digital age firmly upon us, the availability of high specification historical and current day maps, are now readily available at the click of a button. With a collection of digitalised maps from the 1840’s to the present day, Landmark’s historical map database is the largest of its kind in Europe, with over one million map tiles.

For example, offers the environment industry quick and easy access to the largest collection of environmental, geological, planning and mapping information they need from one convenient source. Envirocheck is already the industry standard desk top study tool and is relied upon daily by thousands of consultants and with the website providing more detailed mapping and greater environmental data intelligence, the service will enable consultants to produce environmental due diligence reports with even greater interpretation.

On-Stand Demos and Promos at ET 2007

Landmark will be giving away a free Russian map to every visitor to its stand K24, Hall 3a at this year’s ET 2007. There will also be exclusive on-stand demonstrations of as well as Promap, the market leading desktop mapping system providing immediate access to Ordnance survey large and small scale digital mapping plus aerial photography, for anywhere in mainland Great Britain.

For further information on Russian maps and Landmark’s other land and property search information, please visit or call 0870 850 6670.

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