NWP105A: Use maps, plans and drawings

Cultural features


Rural land use and mining changes the natural landscape in very different ways. Reading the contours, symbols, names and labels on topographic maps will help you understand how human culture has changed the natural landscape.

Rail and road systems as well as the building patterns will tell you a lot about the activities taking place in an area. People tend to settle in areas that are easy to get to and where there is a regular supply of water.

Mining often takes place in isolated areas and the development of transport routes and other human influences may only change the landscape close to the mining sites.

Rural features displayed on a map can include: a number of different field patterns with fences or windbreaks in between them, irrigation drains, dams and place names. All these features can help you build a picture of what an area looks like.

If you use all this information it can provide a sound understanding of the type of rural land use in an area.

  • farming landscape with fields and animal grazing on lower slopes
  • Open cast mine showing large depression in the ground

1. A landscape including orchards, intensive dairy farming, hill grazing. Signified by hill slopes with selectively cleared natural vegetation, large groups of outhouses/sheds, irrigation drains and numerous small roads.

2. The quarry or pit created is shown using special map symbols and produces significant changes in the contour patterns generally over a small geographical area. A track is also visible which could be for large vehicles or a single track rail line.

Try creating your own rough sketch of a contour map for one of these images. What map symbols would you include in the legend?

Urban and industrial

Urban and industrial activity has a big effect on the natural environment and can be seen on topographic maps in a number of ways.

You can see the shape and size of towns and cities in the patterns representing the buildings. The size and number of road and railway routes between settlements can tell us whether there is a lot of traffic and people movement between towns and cities.

In established settlements industrial activity is often located on the fringes, while the business districts, with the high rise office buildings can be found in the central area or business district.

The individual buildings that you can identify, within settlements, including schools, hospitals and other public buildings, can tell us whether the populations are well established or not.

  • photo of a city on a hill by a river
  • topographic map of a city on a hill by a river

1. Taken from a hill above Hong Kong, showing the river. The central business district is located in the foreground.

2. The contour lines are very far apart, almost at sea level, except for the hill top. The river and transport systems divide and link different parts of the city.