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Land Referencing; Are We still Geographers?

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Dr. Thanasis Skentos | March 2022

Back in 2018, I wrote an article arguing that We (the Land Referencers) are Geographers (Skentos, 2018). I compared the main land referencing activities against Browning’s fundamental queries of the geographical research (Browning, 1974) and the core themes of geographical science introduced by Robinson (1976). The conclusion of this paper was that land referencing ticks all the boxes of being part of the geography family. It should be noted that this study focused solely on the project delivery side of land referencing.

Four years later, I am here to argue that We (the Land Referencers) are not just Geographers. So, what are We? To get there, we need to understand both the tree (land referencing activities) and the forest (land referencing status). The tree side is probably the most straightforward to consider. Depending on the scheme, the project management plan highlights all land referencing activities (land search, contact referencing, land access coordination, preparation of statutory documents, etc.). If we were expecting a single person to be able to multifunction and deliver all products, then a Geographer would be the best fit for the role! However, is this still the case? Land referencing is an evolutionary practice utilising revolutionary trends and ideas. Advanced GIS and CRM systems have been implemented to support Land References on the BAU activities. We do not need a Land Referencer to start drafting plans. There is a dedicated GIS Team to support this faster and better. At the same time, lessons learnt from land referencing mega projects (e.g. HS2, LTC, Heathrow, Anglian Water) indicate that specialisation is required for efficient project delivery. Gaps have been identified on the land referencing process related to project management, landowner liaison, etc. As a result, a land referencing project delivery team cannot rely just to the skills of the traditional Geographer.

The forest aspect is the tricky one. At this point it needs to be flagged that land referencing’s mission is not as straightforward as other disciplines. The reason for this is quite simple; on the one hand, land referencing deals with all activities captured on the project management plan and on the other it provides support to all other project teams. It is hard to quantify the latter services, however it is easy to measure its impact when things are not going as planned (e.g. derailing of land acquisition programme leading to domino effect because the design time failed to request the land in time). If we dismantle an infrastructure mega project to smaller pieces (projects) floating around, then land referencing should be seen as part of the cohesive material that helps all silos work not just for deliverables but for outcomes. In other words, within the described structure, land referencing is one of the activities to achieve beneficial change. Driven through the strategic goals of the leadership team, programme management skills should be encouraged amongst the land referencing team members.

Taking all into account, geography background remains on the top list

of the land referencing industry. Lying in between science and the humanities, geography is still a good fit for those want to embrace strategy roles and be able to see the forest and establish land referencing’s place in the sun. Nonetheless, land referencing teams who embrace transferable skills are the ones who are most likely to achieve innovation on their project delivery and prevail on the long run.


Browning, C.E. (1974). The Question, “But Is It Geography?”—Revisited or Are There Criteria for Establishing the Geographic Content of Topics?. The Professional Geographer, 26(2), pp.137-139.

Robinson, J.L. (1976). A new look at the four traditions of geography. Journal of Geography, 75(9), pp.520-530.

Skentos, A. (2018) Land Referencing: a New Perspective within the Geography Discipline. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference of the Hellenic Geographical Society, 12-15 April 2018, Athens, Greece.

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