FOR a group that purports to be about awareness-raising, the members of Patriotic Alternative seem awfy shy. They apparently have plenty to say about a lot of things – including “the demographic decline of native Britons in the United Kingdom, the environmental impact of mass immigration and the indoctrination and political bias taking place in British schools” – but generally prefer to say it by hiding behind large banners.

Even when engaging in such wholesome activities as push-ups, sit-ups and litter-picking at beauty spots, the organisation’s website shows them with their proudly patriotic faces blurred. A strange decision, surely, for a group that is keen for people know they are mostly definitely not in the business of hateful extremism. There is no shame in simply being part of a community of patriots, surely?

This shyness perhaps explains why they prefer to unfurl banners saying things like “White lives matter”, “Anti-white hatred kills” and “We willed not be replaced” on hills and mountains rather than, say, in the middle of bustling city centres where they would be able to raise awareness in a direct fashion with all sorts of people.

READ MORE: Charity that cares for Ben Nevis issues furious condemnation of far-right stunt

Ironically, we wouldn’t know if any of the people behind the banner had been replaced, as they are pictured strategically holding it high enough that none of their faces are visible. Perhaps the legs visible underneath don’t even belong to white supremacists – some of them might simply be pairs of trousers stuffed with old tights.

Compounding the cowardliness of their approach is their choice of venue. Perhaps the group are unaware that black and minority ethnic (BME) people in the UK are significantly less likely to be involved in outdoor activities and countryside visits than the white majority, meaning it was unlikely the group who visited Ben Nevis would actually encounter any of the people who they don’t consider “native Britons”. This is not due to a simple lack of interest – research has consistently found evidence of multiple barriers to access.

The Black Environment Network was established in 1988 to promote equal opportunities for BME people to participate in the UK’s natural environment, and a 2003 report collated human stories about its work. In addition to describing practical barriers relating to finances, language and transport, it also describes psychological ones including, disturbingly “a widespread feeling among people from the black and minority ethnic communities that they have no entitlement to be in the countryside.”

Many of those offered free trips by the network’s member organisations had come to Britain from rural communities elsewhere in the world, yet they did not feel green spaces like parks and botanical gardens – even those on their doorsteps – were meant for people like them. The perception of outdoor activities as being for middle-class white people made them feel conspicuous when venturing outwith the urban areas where they lived, and lacking the confidence to travel further afield.

Despite evidence of high levels of desire to engage with the countryside, visitor surveys from 2005 to 2007 found that while BME people made up 10% of England’s population, they made up only 1% of visitors to its national parks. A project was established to help train up “community champions” to promote outdoor access and organise trips and activity groups.

These aren’t just box-ticking exercises – accessing the outdoors has huge benefits for mental and physical health, as well as helping to connect people to their environment and instilling the desire to conserve and protect it.

READ MORE: Muslim Hikers issue open invite to Ben Nevis challenge after far-right stunt

More recently the James Hutton Institute, based in the north-east of Scotland, investigated differences in engagement with the outdoors among different groups, and found BME Scots were significantly less likely to take part at least once a week – with the trend holding true even after controlling for deprivation and whether they lived in an urban or rural area. Muslims were particularly unlikely to participate. While the researchers warned against “simplistic generalisations”, they noted barriers including fear (of attack or discrimination, as well as from dangerous plants or animals) and feelings of unease or being unwelcome in rural settings.

All of which makes the response of Muslim Hikers to the pathetic antics of Patriotic Alternative so heartening. In inviting allies to join their anti-racist summit during the August bank holiday weekend, they’re sending a clear message that BME people will not be bullied off their own mountains or made to feel unwelcome in their own surroundings.

As the group’s founder Haroon Mota says, this overtly racist behaviour serves to further disempower those who might want to enjoy Scotland’s beautiful landscapes but already felt unwelcome and out of place.

His is not the only group helping to promote the great outdoors to people who might otherwise miss out. The Glasgow-based Boots and Beards and its sister group Bonnie Boots also organise hill walks in and around the city for BME people, with a focus on improving participants’ mental health and helping them to “bring harmony” to their lives.

The poisonous activities of a hateful minority must not be allowed to derail all of this positive work. It is the racists who must be made to feel unwelcome.