A RADIO gardening expert who brought joy to thousands of listeners has been axed from the airwaves after 34 years.

Ken Crowther’s contract has ended at BBC Essex as part of swingeing £25m budget cuts across its local and regional services.

Mr Crowther claims he was sacked by the BBC after making a flippant comment on air.

However, the corporation has disputed this, insisting Mr Crowther was not sacked and the decision to end his contract was solely due to cost-cutting.

Mr Crowther had told a listener asking about a plant problem that “I’ll let you know in the spring how to prune it if I’m still here”.

Mr Crowther claimed the BBC removed him from the radio following that remark, and has been left “shocked and angry” by the decision.

He said: “In these stressful times when gardening has become such an important part of life relieving stress and strains affecting people’s mental health, it is a strange time to choose to axe gardening.

He added: “I was told that the station had to save thousands of pounds from its budget and because no one had come forward for voluntary redundancy, the BBC was having to save money, so was axing me and reducing the milk bill!”

A spokesman for the BBC stressed Mr Crowther’s removal was nothing to do with anything said on air and that he was not sacked.

The spokesman added: “We must save £25m from our local and regional services in England by the end of March 2022 and that means making difficult decisions.

“Ken was told this was the reason we were unable to renew his contract, so we’re surprised by these claims as they are not accurate.

“He’s been a great host of the gardening programme for 30 years and we hoped he’d return on an occasional basis.”

The BBC said it “remained committed” to gardening content at BBC Essex, based in Chelmsford.

The corporation said it was may run gardening specials across four hours throughout the growing season next spring.