FEARS that work on the A3 tunnel could be held up by dormice have been quashed by The Highways Agency's top environment chief. Many residents raised concern that unseasonably warm weather may prompt dormice to come out of hibernation, halting the clearing process, which is due to get under way this month. The rumours were fuelled when dormice in Devon were seen wide awake well before they usually come out of hibernation, and several visitors to the A3 tunnel exhibition held in Grayshott were keen to know the truth. However, The Highways Agency's environment co-ordinator, Matt Fasham, said the construction period had left more than enough time for site clearance - and added that the method for moving dormice requires them not to be hibernating. He explained: "This month we will clear the trees to a foot or so above ground level, but leaving the topsoil on, so when they wake up they will all move to the nearest area that has trees." From here the animals simply move away from the construction site until they find a quiet, wooded area to make a new home. However, Mr Fasham insisted this is the most humane - and the easiest - method of clearing an area of dormice. "If you pick up the animals and move them, you would need to leave them in cases to acclimatise them to their new surroundings, and being captured creates far more stress for the animals," he told The Herald. "Also, the timing that would be involved would be difficult. If you don't do the clearance this way, encouraging the animals to move themselves by removing the trees, then more dormice would move into the area and we would have to move them too. In Britain, common dormice are protected by law and may not be killed, injured, disturbed in their nests, collected, trapped or sold except under licence. Dormice can spend up to three-quarters of their life asleep, hibernating to conserve energy when food is scarce. Dormice can be distinguished from other mouse-like mammals by their thick, bushy tail. They also have orange/brown fur with a white throat. l Grayshott gets its first sight of the plans: See page 5.