Harvesting the skies for nature

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!

Harvesting the skies for nature

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Sometimes in making a garden better for wildlife, you have to challenge yourself, and for me that comes whenever the DIY toolkit is called for. After all, I'm the kind of person who gets confused when instructions say to use Phillip's screwdriver, because I don't know a Phillip.

In case you are the same, today's blog is all about fitting a water butt, and I'm hoping that by seeing a complete amateur in action (me), you'll feel that anything is possible.

There are several reasons for wanting to collect rainwater:

  • It gives you a source of water for your plants, great if you don't have an outside tap, or if your flower beds and vegetables are far from one.
  • You can save money! Many of us are on water meters, so why pay money when nature gives us all this free water? 
  • Using tapwater to water your plants is a drain on the mains water supply, which can have major impacts on wetland habitats and their wildlife.

I am also a big fan of using stored rainwater to top up ponds. Most tapwater is stuffed with nitrates, which will boost any algae and blanketweed you have.

So here we go, brace yourselves as I bring out the powertools:

Step one is to choose your butt, making sure it will fit in the space you have, next to a drainpipe. This butt below holds about 210 litres of water; more slimline ones are available for tighter spaces. I always get water butts with the stand, otherwise it is impossible to get a watering can under the tap.

To get the water into the butt, it is possible to just drill a hole in the lid and slot it under a downpipe, but it will just overflow when full. So here I'm fitting a diverter kit to attach it to a square drainpipe, but you can buy diverters for round drainpipes too. Once the butt is full, it will then continue to flow down into the soakaway, drain or, in my case, rain garden.

To fit a diverter, you will need to drill a circular hole of the right size in the side of the butt to take a connecting pipe, and that's where you do need the right drill bit.

You then fit a connector, which is a simple matter of poking it through the hole and screwing the attachment on the reverse side, inside the butt.

Then, with your butt on its stand in it what will be its permanent position, you mark the downpipe at the same level as the butt connector.

And here's the scary bit - hacksawing through the downpipe.

A diverter unit then slots in to the drainpipe.

And then it is just a case of fitting a length of felxible pipe between the diverter and the inlet, pop the lid on, and you're ready for your first downpour.

Keeping the lid on is important - it means that birds can't fall in and drown, mosquitoes can't get in to breed, and algae can't prosper in the dark. The water should keep fresh for ages. And all I have to do is scrape off that awful white sticker they put on the butt!

  • We put a huge one behind our garage then buried a robust hose to our pond. When the water level in the pond drops too much we can just connect to the buried hose for a top up.