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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Charlotte Hawes

Charity takes children for a walk on frozen lake after four boys die in Solihull tragedy

Forest charity The Rewild Project has been turfed out of its home after staff took a group of children for a walk on a frozen lake just days after the Solihull tragedy.

The staff were spotted taking the children out onto the frozen Woorgreens Lake in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

A parent and a shocked member of the public complained, prompting Forestry England to suspend the charity's licence.

The shocking incident took place on a "rekindle youth home ed day" on December 16 - just five days after four boys tragically died after plunging through ice in Birmingham.

Brothers Finlay Butler, eight, and Samuel, six, perished alongside their cousin Thomas Stewart, 11, and 10-year-old Jack Johnson at Babbs Mill Lake, near Solihull.

The Rewild Project has defended the icy outing as an "important sensory lesson in what thick safe ice feels like".

Staff said it took place on a 3ft deep lake - at least 2ft of which was frozen - and the kids learned loads whilst on the outing.

Brothers Finlay and Samuel Butler lost their lives after falling into Babbs Mill Lake in Solihull (West Midlands Police / SWNS)
Thomas Stewart was playing with cousins Finlay and Samuel when they fell into the lake and sadly died (West Midlands Police / SWNS)

However, Forestry England are not impressed about the trip - and suspended the licence agreement the charity has with it at nearby Kensley Sheds.

On Facebook, the project said Forestry England had "throw[n] us out with less than 24 hours notice and no formal investigation".

In a statement, the Rewild Project said: "After a week of minus 10 degree temperatures- Woorgreens lake was frozen solid - the lake is 3ft deep right across to the island, and had at least 2ft / 60cm of ice on it.

"[...] There were two adults present (trained leaders, keeping the children in a compact group at all times).

"Lake is so shallow, if the ice did break / (which it wouldn't because of the depth of the ice & prolonged cold) then they would be able to stand up and wade back out - to go back to sheds (5 minutes walk) and warm up.

10-year-old Jack Johnson died a hero as he tried to rescue the three boys who fell into the lake (Facebook)
Jack with his father Kirk (Facebook)

"It was an important sensory lesson in what THICK SAFE ICE feels like - if they were to go out exploring on their own they would have more idea of the difference and would have some knowledge [...] about how people cross ice in the Nordic countries.

"Plus kids that have the opportunity to explore WITH adults present, are much less likely to go out and take risks on their own.

"No one was in ANY DANGER at any time."

The forest charity added: "We do know that people die on ice, people do also die on roads, they die in vehicles, they die doing knife work and cutting arteries, they die chainsawing, and die when trees fall on to them - people still do all of these risky activities and- we still run these activities, do training in these risky activities - we do this because we have proper measures in place to mitigate risk of death and serious injury.

"Not all roads are the same, and there are simple measures and commonsense approaches that are important.

"We purposely do not mitigate low risks (trips / slips / falls etc) for young people as its important for their development to learn their own boundaries and risk assessments."

Staff said "Forestry England have not really investigated" and "despite no meeting, or investigation have asked us to leave the sheds with immediate effect".

A Forestry England spokesperson said: "Forestry England is aware of, and investigating, an incident where a group of children, accompanied by an adult, were seen walking on the ice at Woorgreens lake.

"This incident is particularly concerning so close to the recent tragedy in Birmingham where four children lost their lives.

"Forestry England ask people to keep away from frozen bodies of water this winter, keep dogs on leads and to keep a close eye on children near to frozen water and educate them to the dangers.

Flowers and tributes at the scene in Babbs Mill, in Kingshurst, Solihull, after four boys died after falling into the icy lake (Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

Forestry England then went on to state that the charity has had its license suspended following the incident.

The spokesperson continued: "Due to the concerning events of Friday 16th December 2022, we have written to the directors of The Rewild Project, suspending the licence agreement they have with us to carry out traditional land-based skills at Kensley Sheds with immediate effect.

"The suspension will remain, and all activities stopped until the incident can be investigated in full and the directors of The Rewild Project met with."

Local people then took to Facebook to discuss the incident and were left divided over the outing.

One commenter said: "Rewild have done some great work but you don't take kids on a icy ponds or lakes. They might be safe with you but what happens when they do it again with their friends and your not there. It's a great big no no."

Another added: "I think the Rewild Project is fantastic & it would be terrible to lose such a great resource - however I think personally taking children onto a frozen lake is unwise, for numerous reasons. As a parent I would not be comfortable with my child being encouraged to do that - were the parents asked beforehand?"

But one said: "Risky play is an important part of learning and development. As long as correct risk assessment and protocol has been followed, in these circumstances, I see no harm in using the Ice as a teaching tool. However in light of recent tragedies, I can see the other perspective."

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