New role helps protect ancient South Canterbury rock art

It may not be your typical job, with elements of science, land management, Māoritanga and even art conservation, but Rosemary Clucas is relishing her new role as South Canterbury’s Poū Matai Kō mahinga kai facilitator.

Rosemary Clucas

Rosemary Clucas is South Canterbury’s new Poū Matai Kō mahinga kai facilitator.

After many years as a fisheries scientist and Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger in Canterbury and Otago, Rosemary’s aim is now to help farmers protect and enhance native plants, animals – and even precious Māori rock art – on their properties.

Working closely with Ngāi Tahu Rock Art Trust, rūnanga and landowners, Rosemary will dedicate part of her role to advising on the potential impact of irrigation and farming on ancient limestone rock art, called tuhituhi o neherā.

Hundreds of drawings in South Canterbury, some of which could be up to 1000 years old, are susceptible to damage or destruction from changes to land use, exposure to the elements and environmental changes.

Protecting ancient rock art taonga

Some of South Canterbury's rock drawings could be up to 1000 years old.

Some of South Canterbury's rock drawings could be up to 1000 years old.

Such sites are a taonga (treasure) to Ngāi Tahu who are actively involved in their conservation and ongoing management.

Rosemary, who has whakapapa to Ngāi Tūāhuriri Kaiapoi, says it’s a “great privilege” to participate in protecting these taonga along with mana whenua and kaitiaki (guardians) in Moeraki, Waihao and Arowhenua.

“I’ve always been really interested in my tribal history and working with rock art allows me to enter the world of my ancestors and see it through their eyes," Rosemary said.

“The rock art must be seen in the wider context of the waterways and paths that were followed and it allows a glimpse of a world now past to hold on to.

“People come from all around the world to study our rock art – it’s a really significant feature of the region and it can’t be replaced if it disappears,” she said.

Mahinga kai/sustainable gathering a top priority

Rosemary’s Poū Matai Kō role centres on raising awareness of how to use the land and environment in a way that supports mahinga kai traditional resource gathering and sustainable ecosystems.

She's interested in native species such as tuna (eels) and īnanga (whitebait), having studied native freshwater fish for much of her career in fisheries conservation.

“There’s a growing appreciation of our native freshwater species and many of these are now ‘at risk’ and some heading towards being ‘critically threatened’ due to changes to their habitat," Clucas said.

“There is also a greater understanding that changes made to support biodiversity, like riparian planting and fencing, also increase the overall resilience of environments.

“Riparian plantings are sources of food to fish instream but also can greatly improve habitat and water quality,” she said.

Further protecting native species on-farm

Mahinga kai targets are now included in Farm Environment Plans and Rosemary is available to help South Canterbury farmers make these targets relevant to their properties.

“I am very happy to come out for a visit and talk about what existing mahinga kai species might already be on your property, as well as discuss different options for what can be prioritised and enhanced.”

Get in contact

Have a chat to Rosemary about protecting and enhancing native plants, animals – or precious Māori rock art.

Contact her on 027 328 7547 or