Four men were rescued in the early hours of this morning after they lost their bearings within the Box Hill stone mines, near Corsham.

The rescue involved Wiltshire Police, Avon & Somerset police, Dorset & Wilts Fire service, Ministry of Defence police, Hanson UK and volunteers from Mendip Cave Rescue.

The group were brought to the surface at 03:55am this morning.

Police have branded the group “foolish” for entering the caves without spec ialist equipment.

And volunteer rescuers, some of which had to get up for their full-time jobs this morning, have stressed the need for young people to explore "responsibly."

Secretary of Mendip Cave Rescue Martin Grass said: “We were called out at 1.15am after receiving the message that four people were lost in the stone mines at Box. The alarm had been raised by the parents of one of the group.

“There are quite a few entrances to the stone mines but were given a map reference which happened to be a couple hundred yards from the Quarrymans Arms at Box Hill.

"I woke up the volunteers and we got a team over there who met with the police at the Quarrymans.

"They know the area very well and they went into the nearest entrance and eventually located the party. 

"I believe the group was quite a long way in as it took thm an hour to get back to the entrance.”

The Box stone mines consist of a intricate network of tunnels, which originate from Bath stone mining work, initially started during the Roman occupation of Britain.

Owners of the mine, Hanson UK, have sealed a number of entrances but so-called 'urban explorers' have still found ways to access the labyrinth of tunnels.

Fire Station Manager Richard Humphrey said: “Aside from the fact that this group shouldn’t have been out exploring anyway, due to the current lockdown restrictions, they didn’t know where they were going, they didn’t have the correct clothing or equipment, and they were incredibly fortunate that they were able to get sufficient phone signal to raise the alarm and then provide a What3Words reference to help us find them.

“We had a crew from Corsham fire station searching along all of the access points to the mine, trying to locate the group, with support from both Wiltshire Police and the MoD police.

"Once we had pinned down where they were, we were able to pass them water and blankets through one of the access points, but it was still a long walk through the tunnels by the specialist search & rescue team to find them and then lead them out safely.”

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: “This morning’s operation was the result of several agencies working together and we’d like to thank all of those involved who helped us bring this to a successful conclusion.

“Fortunately last night’s escapades for the four trapped males ended with their extraction, albeit some three hours after the initial call, but without injury to any of them - or their rescuers.

“Exploring mines and caves is dangerous at the best of times but to do so at night and without specialist knowledge or equipment is more than a little foolish. We’d urge anyone not to deliberately put themselves – or the eergency services and rescuers – in danger by staying home!”

Police have confirmed there were no major injuries and no one was taken to hospital.

Mr Hass also revealed that there had been more call-outs at the Box stone mines than at the Mendip Caves during the last two years.

He said: “There's a very simple reason - we’ve had a rise in urban explorers who try explore derelict space or caves like these.

"Exploring is great, but we always recommend that people join a caving club, have access to proper equipment and always have adequate lighting.

"Never go caving alone and always let people know where you have gone."

Box Quarry is also a Special Site of Scientific Interest due to its high number of roosting bats.  

Box Quarry is also at the western end of the MOD's Tunnel Quarry site and is partly owned by the MOD as well as Hanson UK.

More to follow.