How to capture & save water, money and time while being wildlife friendly!
Becca Smith talks about the benefits of installing a water butt into her home & garden, plus other ways she can bring water to the wildlife found in her garden.

There was many a motivation behind my quest for sustainable water use in my garden, but the most pressing were a) my absolute horror at throwing anything away unnecessarily and b) the delightful water bill that lands on my doorstep each month (did someone say cost of living crisis?!)

Couple these with the absolute joy the wildlife that visits my garden has brought me, especially over the past year since my garden makeover, and I was set on finding a solution (or two) that worked for me, for nature, and the climate change induced water crisis.

With many pots nestled on my south facing paved back garden, and a wildlife pond-come-splash-pool to fill, it was Facebook Marketplace I headed first. A water butt seemed the first obvious step to sustainable and free water capture, and with my desire to avoid buying new wherever possible, I soon picked up a cheap second-hand water container and drainpipe attachment for a measly £10.

After attaching my water butt to the drainpipe, I eagerly awaited the rain and noticed that my neighbour had followed my example, fixing their water butt to the same drainpipe and popping a connecting hose over our shared wall. The same could be done through a fence too, meaning two households can benefit from the one free water source.

  (Waterbutt, Credit: Becca Smith)

As the heatwave showed no signs of stopping, my indoor plants were also getting rather thirsty. Another neighbour, as fanatical about houseplants as I, offered a simple solution – fish tank water. An unwanted by-product of her regular tank cleaning, but packed with nutrients, she and I both quickly put the dirty water to good use and our plants grew stronger and healthier and all without the need for extra fertilisers or the turn of a tap.

  (The neighbour's fishtank, Credit: Becca Smith)


By contrast, the birds in my garden were on the hunt for a fresh, clean supply of water - not only for drinking but for bathing too. I was more than happy to oblige, filling up my shallow “splash pool” daily. Popping a few pebbles that protruded from the water’s surface also helped bring other visitors to the pool, with butterflies and other invertebrates perching to drink. The resident hedgehog also visits, and I like to think that should he venture too far into the water, the pebbles should help him navigate the pool edge back to dry land. Using a mix of tap water (best left for a day or two for the chlorine to evaporate off) and soap free recycled water from my shower, I was delighted to find all sorts of species using my pond after its daily clean and refill to help prevent the spread of disease.

  (Splash pool, Credit: Becca Smith)

See here for more advice or information about installing a Water Butt and here for more information about adding water to your garden or outdoor space more generally.

With warm temperatures set for the coming weeks, the RSPB have launched our 3-step summer action plan, with 3 simple ways we can all help the wildlife that pays our gardens a visit.

Read more about it here: RSPB launch 3-step summer action plan in response to heatwave’s impact on wildlife

Step 1: Providing fresh water

Water is scarce in a heatwave so giving wildlife a much-needed drink or bath is the perfect way to help. Whether from a bird bath, pond or shallow dish, any water you put out is likely to be greatly received, not only by birds but hedgehogs, butterflies and invertebrates too. Adding a few stones to the edge of your water source can help ensure that butterflies and other flying visitors can perch while they drink, as well as allowing easy access for creatures such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

Step 2:
Create shady spots
From birds taking refuge in hedges and dense shrubs, to longer grass giving butterflies and other insects shelter from the heat, overgrown areas in your garden can provide respite for wildlife. Why not leave the lawn to grow a little longer this summer, or take it one step further and allow leaf piles to build up or construct a bug hotel to allow amphibians and invertebrates to make use of  these cooler damp areas in the future.

Step 3: Keep up with bird feeder hygiene
In the heat of summer, it is harder for birds such as blackbirds to find worms and other minibeasts living in the ground because it is so hard. Instead of rushing to fill your feeder to the brim however, the trick is to put out food little and often because the warm weather could turn it rotten more quickly.

It’s also important to not let old food or dirty water build up, to reduce the spread of diseases such as Trichomonosis through contaminated bird feeders and baths. The RSPB advises giving your feeder a clean once a week with soapy water and emptying your bird bath daily.

For more tips and tricks on how to help the nature on your doorstep this summer and beyond, visit: rspb.org.uk/natureonyourdoorstep.

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