LONDON – Bats in the bleachers of Olympic Stadium? Now there's an Olympic legacy to give many people nightmares.
But not Kim Olliver. Faced with the prospect of having bats take up residence in the girders of Olympic stadium, Olliver, the senior ecologist for the London Olympics, could barely contain her joy.
"Wouldn't that be wonderful?" Olliver said.
Probably not terribly likely at the moment, with all that noise and hoopla from Sunday's closing ceremony. But Olliver hopes that once the massive crowds go home, bats will find themselves taking up residence in little bat boxes around the park — part of a lasting environmental legacy for east London's Olympic Park.
When the park was built, environmentalists painstakingly relocated all of the wildlife, such as newts, toads and lizards to nearby wildlife areas. But being relocated is traumatic for little creatures and they weren't about to move them back when construction was complete.
Instead, they tried to create the perfect little ecosystem for wildlife with the "Field of Dreams" mantra: If you build it, they will come. Or more to the point, if you create it, the toads, the birds, the newts — and the bats — will come back.
Since bats like nooks and crannies, they may even like the bat boxes that have been suspended from trees and bridges in the park. Only time will tell whether they come to stay.
Bats, the only flying mammals, range in size from less than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) to 15 inches (38 centimeters). They are active at night and twilight, roosting during the day in crevices, caves or buildings. While most bats see well, they depend on echo-location to navigate in the dark.
It's important to note that some in Britain consider bats to be pests. The phrase "bats in the belfry" can make the guardians of centuries-old churches in Britain shiver with anxiety, as bat urine dripping from the rafters is guaranteed to empty the pews for Sunday services. And once bats roost, they tend to hang around.
But bats are protected by law and are native to Britain. The Bat Conservation Trust says that bats are not rodents and won't gnaw on wood, wires or insulation.
Since they are protected, if bats get into a homeowner's roof, you can't just get rid of them, you. You have to consult with what's called a Statutory Nature Conservation Organization for assistance.
Olliver believes bats are misunderstood, and says people forget they eat bugs like mosquitos and make gardens grow.
"There's a misconception about bats," Olliver said. "They're beautiful creatures. At the end of the day, they're just like any other species. They're just trying to get on."
The U.K. has 18 species of bats — the most common being the 'common pipistrelle,' which weighs less than a coin and can eat 3,000 insects in a night, the trust said. There's also the 'brown long-eared bat,' whose hearing is so sensitive it can hear a ladybug walking on a leaf. Another variety is the 'Daubenton's bat,' which fishes insects from the water's surface.
Olliver told The Associated Press that initial surveys showed that bats were definitely interested in the new neighborhood in east London. Bat surveys in the park before the games showed that while they were around, none had yet taken roost in the bat boxes that hang in trees and under bridges.
Bats emit noises, and before the Olympic crowds arrived, Olliver said she'd stroll the banks of park's waterways at twilight, carrying a bat detector, a small device that measures the bioacoustic signals made by bats.
"That's just them talking to each other," Olliver said. "They can sound quite bizarre."
After the Paralympics end Sept. 9, that bat detector will be awaiting new bat calls.
"At dark: that's when bats come," Olliver said.