Ordnance Survey is the national mapping agency of Great Britain.
This Special Interest area is specifically aimed at new and current users of OS maps with QGIS.
Even if you are not from the UK however, you may find some of the tutorials provide useful explanations… and you may learn a little about our country in the process!
Since the introduction of OpenData anyone can use free UK maps. The majority of the potential new users will have no computer mapping experience, so this section of the Wiki will try to make it possible for such people to use QGIS and OS maps. Consequently, some of the initial steps may seem excessively detailed for more experienced users.


In April 2009, in a major change to their previous licensing conditions, they made a significant part of their digital maps available for download by everyone at no cost.
You can access the data here.
OpenData can be used for commercial and non-commercial use without restriction other than a basic requirement to acknowledge the source of the data.

Public Sector Mapping Agreement

In April 2010, a further change introduced the PSMA which allows almost all of the UK public sector access to additional higher detail (down to approximately 1:2,500 scale), again at no cost.
PSMA end-use must non-commercial.
Organisations eligible include:
  • Central government
  • Local government, including approximately 10,000 town and parish councils
  • Health
  • Emergency services & responders including others (sometimes those funded by charities) who frequently assist in civil emergencies
  • Education… although this is covered by a similar agreement and not PSMA
    Even if you are not on the list and provide a public service, you may be covered, so check with Ordnance Survey.

Discover Data

If you don’t have a PSMA license but wish to evaluate those extra maps not covered by OpenData, Discover Data allows you to download samples.

Getting Started

Look here for:
  • A beginner's explanation of GIS.
  • Instructions on how to install QGIS
  • Basic setup of QGIS for working with Ordnance Survey maps.
  • How to create your first project.
  • How to get free OpenData maps from Ordnance Survey and load them into QGIS.
  • Add a first map - a raster image of the whole UK.
  • Add grids showing Ordnance Survey tile locations and their standard names.


Create a Vector Mask

This example shows an answer to a typical problem - how to emphasise / show a specific part of your maps.
The example demonstrates the following:
  • Finding and extracting a parish boundary from OS Boundary-Line.
  • Saving the parish boundary as a new layer... so it can be used for other tasks.
  • Simple ways to style this new layer to highlight the parish in question.
  • How to create a new mask with a parish shaped hole. This mask allows map area outside the parish to be partially or totally faded out.

The details can be found here.


This is an area where users can share information that could save someone else a lot of time.
More experienced users will wish to tailor their maps, but for new users, having a standardised starting point removes many hurdles.
  • OS World files – needed to place the raster files at the correct place in the world
  • OS Styles – used to select standard colours and line widths, etc
  • Map icons – standard map icons to show features of interest
  • OS Grids – an overlay to match the way that OS splits the country into tiles
  • OS Print templates – pre-defined layouts containing a useful framework for printing maps
  • UK Standards – with the potential for 10,000 town and parish councils each “doing their own thing”, the opportunity for sharing map layers with organisations could be restricted. A county council would find it much easier to combine maps from 200 towns and parishes if they had previously agreed to represent the same data in the same way.


If you are struggling with some of the terms used, have a look in the Glossary of GIS.

Other Sources of Information

Have a look at You can access a range of information via the [MAGIC] site:
  • Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
  • English Heritage
  • Natural England
  • Environment Agency
  • Forestry Commission
  • Communities and Local Government
  • Marine Management Organisation

Finally, if you couldn't spot the answer in the Wiki, but now know how to do something, why not contribute to the Wiki and help others? How to get editing rights is described at the top of the Main Page.