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COLUMN: No ifs, just butts!

Created on 07/11/2023 @ 10:11

This is a great time of year to install a rainwater butt. Great for the environment, these simple things conserve water and help reduce the risk of local flooding, says Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Clayton.

As a result of climate change, ‘normal’ weather is changing and usual seasonal patterns have gone out of the window. Here in Wales, like the rest of the UK, we’re experiencing hotter, drier summers with more frequent periods of drought – hosepipe bans have changed from occasional heatwave-induced occurrences to summer long affairs. On the flip side, we’re also experiencing more spells of intense rainfall and resultant flooding. 

One way you can look to adapt to the changing climate, reduce your carbon footprint, help the environment and potentially even save money is by installing a water butt to collect and store rain during wet weather for use in your garden year-round.

When I was a little girl, my grandparents had several water butts. The Second World War generation, they were adept at making do, mending and being thrifty with everything. Back then, of course, I didn’t fully appreciate the environmental benefits – for me the appeal was the simple joy of watching the butts fill as the rain came down, and empty as, watering can after watering can, my grandad’s tomato plants, runner beans and gooseberry bushes were tended.

There are several reasons why having rainwater butts is so beneficial. First off, they offer a climate-friendly alternative to using mains water, especially at times of high demand during summer and periods of drought.

Next, saving water benefits the environment as less carbon is released treating and transporting your water. It also means more water is available for our streams and rivers during dry weather which helps our local wildlife. Even closer to home, using rain to water your plants and refill your pond and bird-bath is better for your garden wildlife than using water that’s been chemically treated.

Water butts come in all shapes and sizes, but they all work in pretty much the same way; by attaching them to a section of downpipe using a water diverter and connector hose you can collect all the rain that lands on a given section of your roof, by simply diverting the water before it goes down the drain.

These are much more efficient at rainfall collection than leaving out containers, because of the far bigger surface area of a roof. Plus, they’re easy to install, don’t require equipment more sophisticated than a drill and, once they’re connected, require little to no maintenance. Opt for one made in the UK from recycled plastic for even better eco credentials.

Once you have water in your butt, you can use it to water your plants, wash your windows, fill your pond or clean your car, using a simple tap on the front. In periods of very heavy rainfall, when you can’t use the water fast enough, any excess water will simply go back into the downpipe and down the drain.

Just ensure you position them carefully, close to a handy downpipe and ideally by a large section of roof; make sure they’re propped up on a stand if needed, so you can easily fit a watering can underneath; and don’t forget to put the lid on top so no insects or other animals fall inside and drown.

There’s also no reason why you can’t install several butts in different locations, perhaps around the front and back of your house, to ensure a steady stream of water supply in periods of sustained dry weather. One warning, though, these things are addictive and one inevitably leads to more! 

For families, water butts provide a wonderful educational tool for young children, demonstrating where water comes from, fostering a respect for its finite nature and enabling them to get hands on in the garden. Having a water butt also changes the way you react to seeing a darkening sky – they’re the silver lining to any raincloud.

For a simple how-to guide on installing a water butt, visit