An online petition to muster support for scientists who are concerned that protestors will destroy the GM wheat trial has been signed by nearly 4,000 people, including Stephen Fry.

As of Tuesday (8 May), 3,850 had signed the petition by the science charity Sense About Science, including the British author and comedian.

“The latest assault on what remains of Castle Enlightenment: please support Sense About Science,” said Mr Fry, referring to the petition.

Other notable signatories include a host of MPs, farmers, scientists and researchers.

A spokesman for Rothamsted Research said: “We have been overwhelmed by the number of people that have signed this petition.

“It’s been good to see that people are genuinely supportive of what we are trying to do.”

Scientists made a video appeal last week calling on protesters not to ruin their genetically-modified experimental plots.

The trial, at Rothamsted Research, in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, is aiming to see whether wheat engineered to release a pheromone that deter aphids could reduce the need for pesticides.

But the protest group Take The Flour Back believes the trial poses a threat to the environment and they want to see it stopped.

The group is concerned that testing the crops in open air could put UK farming and the environment at risk and that planting the trial next to Rothamsted’s classical grassland experiment was reckless.

They have vowed to “decontaminate” the site unless the research is halted.

Take The Flour Back has welcomed an invitation by Rothamsted for a public debate on the trial “on neutral ground” over the next few weeks.

But the group has rejected pleas from Rothamsted to call off its plans for “mass action” at the world-renowned agricultural research centre in Harpenden on 27 May.

In recent weeks, Take The Flour Back has increased its anti-GM rhetoric and it has vowed to tear up the GM wheat trial.

As a result, security at Rothamsted, which was already costing £180,000 – about 20% of the £1m trial funded by the BBSRC – has been increased.

“We have drafted in extra manpower and have asked our security guards to be more vigilant,” said a spokesman for Rothamsted Research.

“We are also being more protective of the area surrounding the field trial and carrying out regular ID checks.”