Jeremy Corbyn has promised to set an example for his plans to sow two billion trees by 2040 by planting one given to him by Extinction Rebellion activists in Downing Street.
The Labour leader insisted on Thursday that his planting plans were possible as he also unveiled a commitment to create 10 new national parks to tackle the climate crisis.
Mr Corbyn, answering questions after addressing supporters in Southampton FC’s stadium, said he recognised they are “very ambitious plans” but maintained the “land is available”.
He said he would demonstrate his determination by taking the hornbeam tree he has cared for since being handed it by climate protesters and positioning it in a “really nice place” in Number 10.
“I, of course, will set an example by planting in the Downing Street garden,” he said.
“Indeed, I’ve got a very nice hornbeam tree in a pot in my back garden that I was given by climate extinction people when they demonstrated outside parliament.
“I’ve been looking after it very, very carefully and very, very well and, look, I can find a really nice place to plant it.”
Noting estimates that it would require 200 trees to be planted per minute to hit the target, Mr Corbyn pointed out that the proposal would require significant staffing.
“It’s not going to be all done by one person,” he said to laughter. “Yes, it is a massive planting programme. I don’t apologise for that because it is a massive issue.”
Mr Corbyn committed to spending £3.7 billion in capital investment for the planting programme and habitat restoration if he wins the election.
Friends of the Earth welcomed the planting plan as “by far the most ambitious” of all the parties’ tree pledges, which are aimed at capturing atmospheric carbon to offset emissions.
Labour wants the 10 new protected parks to be added to the 15 existing ones during its first term.
Candidates include the Malvern Hills, Chiltern Hills, Lincolnshire Wolds, the North and South Pennines, coastal Suffolk and Dorset, the Cotswolds and Wessex.
Environmental degradation, potential for carbon sequestration and biodiversity net gain would be among the criteria for the areas to get the status.
Labour estimates the programmes would help create 20,000 of the one million green jobs it has pledged as part of a “green industrial revolution”.
While the plans focus solely on England, Labour wants to work with the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure “nature recovery networks” are extended across the UK.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to plant 60 million trees a year, equating to up to 1.2 billion by 2040, while the Tories have pledged half that.
Commenting on Labour’s announcement, Friends of the Earth tree campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “This is by far the most ambitious tree-planting pledge we’ve seen from a political party.
“Tree cover in the UK needs to double as part of the fight against climate breakdown and this means adding three billion new trees, and fast.”