SOMETIMES it can seem as if Scotland’s hills, mountains, forests and lochs have a diversity problem. Take a walk in the Scottish countryside, or our National Parks, bag a Munro, and, chances are, you will see only white faces. Unless, of course, you happen to be out when Glasgow group Boots & Beards is tackling some trail, and a large gang of Asian-Scots come down the path with their walking poles.

The group was co-founded four years ago by Glaswegian Kash Butt after he had a traumatic brush with death and realised that it was time to “rethink” how he was living.

“Hill-walking,” he says, “is still predominantly a white pursuit, except when we go out. People sometimes get taken aback when they see 20 Asians coming up the hill. They’re like, ‘We’ve never seen that before.’ But we’re trying to get more people from the BME community to get out there and to experience what’s around them – what basically is on their doorstep.”

According to The Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Community And Nature report published by Scottish Natural Heritage, BME people are half as likely to make a visit to the countryside as the general population. Their outings are more likely to be in urban settings. The study also found only 16% of people in the BME community say they feel concerned about Scotland’s wildlife – compared with 32% of all adults in the survey.

This isn’t just a Scottish issue. According to one study, by Arjen Buijs, “despite the growing cultural diversity in many European countries, nature recreation is still a very 'white' activity”.

But groups like Boots & Beards are changing this. “What we’re doing,” Butt says, “is all about getting people out into these areas to help with stress, for their mental wellbeing and to get some physical exercise.”

Currently it is one of the groups involved in a campaign by Columbia sportswear to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the outdoors in the UK. The campaign is not just about race or skin colour. Columbia is also working with the Esk Valley Camphill Community Trust, a community in the North York Moors that supports people with a wide range of learning difficulties or mental or physical disabilities.

Butt cites a health crisis as part of the trigger for getting more involved in outdoor activities and ultimately for setting up, with his cousin Nav Bakhsh, Boots & Beards, and its sister women's organisation, Bonnie Boots. Back in 2013 he was running a couple of pharmacies and working around 60 hours per week. “I thought I had a stomach bug,” he recalls. “The doctor came to the house. He took one look at me and said, ‘You’re going straight to hospital.’ They put me in an ambulance and they tried to take my blood pressure and I passed out and I didn’t wake up until three and a half weeks later.”

While he was in hospital, they cut his stomach open, and found, he says, “everything had congealed inside”. He was put in a sedated coma. “I was given that 40-hour period, where they were saying, let’s see if he’s going to make it – he might not came through it.

"People ask me, 'Kash, how was it? You must have been petrified.' I say, I don’t know. I was sleeping. It was my family that was going through the whole traumatic thing because they didn’t know whether I was going to be here or not. My kids were upset. When they went to school, they broke down because they didn’t know whether their father was coming home or not.”

When he did come through, his speech was slurred and he struggled to walk. “I built my strength back up, built up my muscles. I had to learn how to walk again.”

The recovery took him roughly six months. “Once I’d been through that process, I thought, ‘Life is too short, we need to do something with this.' That was 2014, then we started a family project of going on walks in 2015, and then Boots & Beards was formerly constituted in 2016.”

Stress and lifestyle, he believes, were factors in his illness. “Even when I came out of a coma, I found it very difficult to be lying in that bed and doing nothing because it was not what I was used to. They had to sedate me again, because I was just getting frustrated lying there.”

While he was recovering, he began to re-examine things. “I started to think, ‘Maybe it’s time for you to slow down, think about how you’re living, how your lifestyle is.’ I wanted to do it for my children too. Because whatever I do I’m portraying for my kids as well. This is just to give them life skills for the future.”

The seeds of Butt’s love of the outdoors were sown, however, long before his illness, by his father, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved here when he was 32.

“His generation came to this country to make a better life. They were always busy with work, trying to make money, to provide a good future for us. But my father was also quite adventurous. He wasn’t one to sit about the house.

"When he arrived in Glasgow, he wanted to explore Scotland. Whenever there was a Sunday on which he was off and had time, he would take us out – even if it be the local park or somewhere further afield. That stuck with me.”

Butt says his outdoors explorations have even had an impact on his sense of belonging. “You do feel you know more of Scotland and you do feel you belong more. I know my lineage is from Pakistan, but it helps to make myself a bit more part of Scotland.”

One of the barriers to BME people accessing the outdoors and countryside, he believes, is confidence. "This is a way for people to learn. We’ve had people who have come out for a few hillwalks with ourselves who have gone on to have that confidence. They climb a Ben in the next week or so.”

Another can be cost – and research has shown that it is generally higher economic groups that participate in outdoor leisure activities. Hence, Boots & Beards charge only for the place on the minibus and have raised money so they can buy their own minibus and get the costs down further. “We don’t want money to be a barrier for people coming to the hills.”

The organisation is growing. While its sister group, Bonnie Boots, is solely for women, Butt says that Boots & Beards is wholly inclusive. “Anyone who wants to come along can come. We won’t hold anyone back. We want inclusion.

"We don’t want to say to anyone, you can’t come with us, because what we’re trying to do is get people interested in their health and mental wellbeing. We're trying to convey this message that what you do now you can pass on to your kids, and for future generations – and leave some legacy behind as well.”

Columbia's campaign extends Columbia’s ongoing partnership with the UK National Parks, who are the official outfitter of National Parks Rangers and staff. For more information visit


""I’ve got my walking boots and I feel at home now. I feel experienced." – Chitra Ramaswamy, author

“I don’t think I started walking outside of cities, or feeling comfortable outside of cities, until I was in my mid-twenties. I grew up in London and came to Scotland in 1997. I didn’t hillwalk. I didn’t own a pair of walking boots. I would go so far as to say I was frightened of the countryside.

"A lot of that comes from the fact that if you are an immigrant, or the child of immigrants, you will most likely gravitate towards cities. That’s where we live. Myself and my family are urban to the core. No one in my family can even drive. Growing up we would never have gone camping or on a drive somewhere into the country. I grew up fearing the countryside, and then by extension, nature.

"One also fears higher levels of racism outside of the city. There is a worry that people might not like you, or not be very happy with you being there. That’s off-putting too.

"However, it was getting together with my partner, Claire, that made the difference. We started going hill-walking and what’s sad in a way is that it slowly dawned on me that I’d always been a person who absolutely loved nature. I grew up next to Richmond Park, which is a really wild, old, ancient hunting ground – full of really old trees. It’s a proper piece of countryside in the middle of the city and it’s still one of my favourite places in the whole world.

"I felt quite sad to realise in my late twenties how much I’d always really loved this thing, but hadn’t felt it was allowed or that it was an option for me to go there. Then when I started to think about writing my book about my pregnancy, Expecting, I just started going everywhere in the Highlands.

"I’ve got my walking boots and I feel at home now. I feel experienced and actually I haven’t met any discrimination or difficulty. I feel a bit other. You don’t see many people of colour when you’re out walking. I always feel like a kind of aberration when I’m walking in the hills, but I don’t mind.

"The other thing that I realised when I started writing Expecting, is that the expectation on writers of colour is that we will write about urban life, and if we’re going to write about landscape we’ll be writing about it at the level of identity. So our relationship with the land is politicised. The notion of being able to talk about birds and trees, and what we feel like when we’re in a landscape has not really been allowed to us.

"When I started to write about nature for Expecting, it was just such an amazing thing to be able to write about Scotland, as myself, a woman walking through the landscape with brown skin, and what that feels like."