A TRAVELLING circus at the centre of a storm in Wirral has defended itself over its use of performing animals.

Peter Jolly’s Traditional Circus pitched up in Upton this week for a series of shows featuring lions and tigers.

Protests have been held outside the showground in Saughall Massie Road, and social networking sites flooded with angry comments.

Anthony Beckwith, speaking on behalf of circus owner Peter Jolly, told the Globe: “We have had protests, but they have been largely peaceful.

"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.

“With the exception of the lions and one or two donkeys, the animals are kept out in the open air on a few acres of land.

"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."

Mr Beckwith added: "If people want to come along and see what conditions the animals live in, 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."

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, 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.

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."