Wirral Council has responded to public anger over a travelling circus featuring live animals opening up in Wirral tonight.

Posters advertising "Peter Jolly's traditional circus with lions and tigers" have gone up across the borough, sparking protests.

The circus said the animals are not "wild" but are bred "within the industry."

Councillor Bernie Mooney, town hall cabinet member for the environment, said: “I fully understand that many people are concerned about the use of live animals in this circus.

"Wirral Council would not have permitted this to take place on council-owned land.

“Unfortunately, we have no power to prevent such a circus on private land if it holds a ‘Licence to Operate a Travelling Circus Using Wild Animals’ from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which this circus does."

Councillor Moonie said DEFRA is responsible for enforcing conditions issued with the licence under the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Regulations 2012.

She added: “However, officers from Wirral Council have visited the circus to ensure that basic welfare requirements concerning food, water, shelter etc are being met.

"We will regularly check these are being maintained and that the circus operators are meeting other regulatory requirements that do fall under the remit of the local authority and, if necessary, we will take enforcement action.”

Anthony Beckwith, of Peter Jolly’s Circus, said: "People want to come and see a traditional circus.

"We don’t have animals from the wild, they are all bred within the industry. Our lions are British-born from several generations.

"If the lions didn't receive full care we would not be able to have them in the show.

"There are people who have genuine concerns about how the animals are treated and we have an open-door policy to help calm their fears.

"If people want to come along and see what conditions the animals live in before they buy tickets, they are welcome to do so.

"We are licensed by the Secretary of State for the environment and monitored by DEFRA, working very closely with them."

Pressure group Animal Defenders International urged animal-lovers to boycott the circus, one of only two remaining in the UK which still use "wild" animals.

A spokeswoman said: “If the circus has animals – don’t go.

"Wait and have a day out when the human-only circus comes around.”

Wirral RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes added: "The circus is a complete no-no for us given they have live performing animals and we are getting lots and lots of calls about it.

"We are against any circus utilising live animals."