North London McDonalds has come under fire from wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham after they cut down mature trees to install fake grass.

McDonald’s has been accused of making a “massive error” after a London branch cut down 11 mature trees and covered the area with artificial turf. Experts said felling the trees – at a time when the UK has been enduring record-breaking temperatures and is close to suffering drought – was “exactly the wrong thing to do” and would intensify extreme heat in the city.

The trees, which ringed the site of the McDonald’s restaurant in Harringay, in the north London borough of Haringey, were a mix of lime trees and plane trees and were about 30 years old. They were felled last week as part of refurbishment works at the site, and the area where they stood has now been covered in artificial turf.

Wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham said the move was “horrific” and an “insult to the concerned public’s intelligence”. He said, “Fake grass is the worst. It’s plastic, it can’t be recycled, and it offers no biodiversity return whatsoever. It’s the ultimate insult. They [McDonald’s] need to rip it up, find some responsible way to recycle it, then plant with native trees and wild flowers.

The trees were felled during a week which saw record breaking heat scorch the UK. In London, the tempearature exceeded 40°C. Scientists agree trees are vital for keeping urban areas cool. They provide shade, reflect solar radiation rather than absorb it – which concrete does – and emit water vapour through a process called evapotranspiration. Studies show they can reduce the temperature around them by up to 5C.

Artificial grass, by contrast, has been shown to intensify heat in cities. It can also increase the risk of flash-flooding, and is an ecological “desert”, according to Dr Robert Francis, an ecologist at King’s College London.

“Removing the trees means you lose the shade, you lose the evaporative aspiration, and then you are putting carbon back into the environment because the carbon that soaked up when the tree was growing is now being released,” he said. “It’s completely the wrong approach.”

In March, the McDonald’s franchisee running the branch was granted planning permission by Haringey Council for “minor refurbishment” of the restaurant. The car park was also to be resurfaced, alongside unspecified “associated works to the site”. The franchise holder told the council that once work on the car park started contractors discovered the tree roots had caused extensive damage to the drainage system, and needed to be felled.

“There were no tree works submitted as part of this application or approval to use AstroTurf in the car park,” said Cllr Mike Hakata, Cabinet Member for Climate Action, Environment and Transport at Haringey Council. “However, the trees are on private land and are neither in a conservation area or subject to Tree Preservation Orders.” He added that the Council has been in touch with McDonalds about planting replacement trees.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s said: “Unfortunately, we recently had to remove a small number of trees due to work being done to our restaurant. In advance of the work being done, the local franchisee started discussions with the local council to identify how we can be involved in replacing the trees in the local area.”

Catherine Nuttgens, an urban tree specialist at the Woodland Trust, said at least 22 new trees would need to be planted to replace the felled specimens. “Taking down perfectly healthy trees that are doing well in quite a hard environment, it seems very counterintuitive,” she said. “Why on Earth have they done that?”

Jo Syz, a member of the Haringey Tree Protectors group which first highlighted the loss of the trees, said McDonald’s now has an opportunity “redress this very poor series of decisions” by replanting the site. “Hopefully the anger that the local community has expressed about their actions will show them the importance of genuinely taking responsibility for their impact on the earth that we all depend on, and direct them to develop truly sustainable business practices,” she said.

Artificial turf is becoming increasingly popular as a surface for back gardens and commercial sites. It is estimated that eight million square metres of artificial turf was rolled out across Britain in 2021. But its growing popularity has sparked a backlash from environmental campaigners, who say it is an unnecessary use of plastic, can’t be easily recycled, and removes vital wildlife habitat at a time when UK biodiversity is in crisis.

In recent months both the National Trust and the Eden Project have come under fire for installing artificial grass on their sites. Both decided to remove the turf in the wake of criticism.

Original source: https://inews.co.uk