James Shaw will consider biodiversity credits for farmers planting trees on their land

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says he'll consider biodiversity credits, as pressure builds for the Government to prioritise the planting of native trees over blanket pine trees.

These credits are generated from actions that improve biodiversity values and are used to offset any biodiversity losses on development sites.

It's part of a mission called 'carbon farming', where trees are grown on farmland for carbon credits and not for sale. This has angered farmers who say it's a waste of land and rural residents are being driven away.

Shaw says there are enough incentives to plant native trees instead of using the land for sheep and beef farming.

"We've actually seen huge rates of permanent native forests going in, and part of that is the companies that are using forestry to offset their emissions want to make sure they're part of the New Zealand story," he told Newshub.

But he will consider a biodiversity credit.

"We will be revisiting some of these questions in the future."

But that sentiment falls short in Gisborne, an area where pine grows the fastest and a growing portion of farmland is being converted to pine forests.

Local sawmiller John Larsen believes the scheme is already too far gone and affected-farmers have to "fear for [their] future".

"It makes me very pleased to know that I'm the age I am and my life is nearly buggered. I've had the good times. The bad times are coming," he told Newshub.

As local farmland is slowly replaced with forestry, Larsen adds businesses have been feeling the pressure.

"The more land that goes into trees, the rougher it's gonna get."

If the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) goes ahead as it is, wool buyer Henry Hansen expects he'll have to lay off staff.

"It's always in the back of your mind, everyone sort of thinking [the Government is] just nibbling away, keep buying the odd farm here or there."

But it's not just the wool buyers and sawmillers. Teachers, a stock agent and a vet told Newshub they all believe their livelihoods are under threat.

"What are you telling us as a community, are you happy this is happening to our ancestral lands? Because we sure are not," teacher Puri Hauiti said.

Beef + Lamb NZ analysis found that on average, for every 7.4 jobs a sheep and beef farm generates on the east coast, forestry generates 2.2. During harvest time that jumps to 5.1, but it's just 0.6 jobs if it's being farmed for carbon. 

There's also a big difference in money going back into the local economy. For every $300,000 a farm spends locally, the equivalent forestry block spends $100,000. During harvest that jumps to close to $250,000, but if you're carbon farming, it's just $27,000.

The government has invested five years in researching the overall impacts of the ETS. But accountant Charles Rau believes it's the biggest marketing con of his generation. 

"It's going to be an absolute ecological disaster, on top of being a financial disaster, on top of being an employment disaster, on top of being a community disaster. But at the moment, all the general public is seeing is, 'plant a tree, it's great'."

Of course, it's not just 'a tree', it's "kilometres and kilometres of forestry", farmer Henry Gaddum says.

As the price of carbon booms, so too does the value of Gaddum's family farm. He stands to gain, but he's still worried.

"I know the people who are affected by it, I've seen the closed schools on the country roads."

The view from a helicopter just outside of central Gisborne shows forests of pine trees. If carbon prices continue to skyrocket, there's a chance those forests may never be harvested.

"They'll come sliding down the hill, into our rivers, and end up on our beaches. It's bloody scary," Gaddum says.

But pine has a superpower - it grows incredibly quickly and it hoovers up carbon dioxide.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, by age 27, a hectare of pine in Gisborne will slurp 779 tonnes of carbon - more than twice what natives manage even when they're 50 years old. But it's native forests that do the most for waterways and biodiversity.

CEO of Toha Nathalie Whitaker moved from Auckland to Gisborne 18 months ago to see the impacts of the ETS for herself.

"The reality is for most urban Kiwis it's not what we have in our minds when we think of a greener future."

She says more research is needed around native trees, as well as more incentives to plant them.