Waterwise gardening

Waterwise gardening: Install a water butt (or two)

Activity time:
Less than 2 hours
Difficulty level:
Suitable for:
Balcony/roof, Small garden, Large garden, Medium garden
To help:
Bees, Creepy crawlies, Butterflies & moths, Birds

Using less water in the garden helps reduce your bills and protects wetland wildlife in the wider countryside.

Gardens can be right guzzlers of water, and much of what we use is drinking water straight from the tap.  The average hosepipe uses about 170 litres of water every 10 minutes, more than the average person uses in a day for drinking, bathing and flushing the loo. 


For much of the 20th century, tap water was treated as rather a right than a privilege, which you could use willy-nilly. It is very easy to never think about where that water has come from; indeed, you might not even know! 


However, already we are seeing stress on rivers and wetlands as water is abstracted for human use, which means pressure on wonderful wetland wildlife. With the growing human population and the threat of climate change, water is likely to become even more precious as a resource. 


When you think about it, isn’t it strange that so often when we need water we pump it in from somewhere far away, whereas when water falls on our house, we like to send it somewhere else as fast as possible (ie down the drain!)?  So the first thing to do in order to reduce the amount of tap water you use when gardening and hence look after wildlife in the wider countryside is to fit water butts. A standard butt can hold over 200 litres!


Of course, many of you will already have a water butt (do please mark this activity as completed to add to the totaliser of people who have completed the activity!). But for those who haven’t, now’s the time to start; and those who have, could you fit another one?

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What you will need

  • Water butt
  • Pencil
  • Spirit level
  • Hacksaw
  • Hole-cutting drill

Step by step

  1. Check that you have a suitable location where you could site a water butt next to a drainpipe, be it where the water runs off your house roof, garage, greenhouse or shed. You’ll need a flat, firm surface where the water butt won’t get in the way.
  2. The next thing to decide is if you are going to direct all the water directly into the top of the butt, which will require cutting a hole in the lid. However, if you do this, the butt will then just overflow once it is full. We recommend that, instead, you fit a cheap and clever diverter kit. This diverts water from the pipe down a short length of connecting pipe but only until the butt is full, at which point the excess will flow once again down the drainpipe. 
  3. Now you’ve done the preplanning, you can buy a suitable water butt and diverter kit from your local DIY store or online. It is good to get a butt with a stand - it will allow you to fill your watering cans from the tap at the bottom of the butt.
  4. Then follow the instructions to fit the diverter kit. One of the daunting things is that it requires cutting through a drainpipe so, yes, get someone with DIY skills if you feel too worried! But it really is quite easy if you have the basic tools. You will also need a drill capable of cutting the right sized hole.
  5. 5. Once fitted, wait for the rains! Do keep a lid on the water butt - it will not only mean that creatures can't fall in and drown, but it will also stop mosquitoes and midges breeding in there.
  6. Consider adding extra butts, which you can connect in a row alongside the first.
  7. The added benefit of having a water butt is that you can use the rainwater you collect to top up ponds, far better for wildlife than the nutrient-rich water that comes out of the tap.

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