Home support has come in for horticulturalist Alan Titchmarsh after he was branded a “Muppet” by a Cabinet minister for criticising countryside policies.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson accused the Ilkley-born TV gardener and author of not paying attention to Government policy on rural issues.

Mr Paterson hit back in a national newspaper at Mr Titchmarsh for questioning the government’s handling of ash dieback disease and warning the Conservative Party had lost touch with rural areas.

Mr Paterson said Mr Titchmarsh was a “complete Muppet” who had completely missed everything the Government was doing.

Speaking at the launch of next spring’s Chelsea Flower Show, Mr Titchmarsh, 63, had said there was “very little investment” in rural areas.

He had claimed Government advice to walkers on washing boots after visiting woodland, in an attempt to halt the spread of ash dieback disease would have minimal effect.

The president of Wharfedale Naturalists Society – of which Mr Titchmarsh is a member – this week said he was surprised at the minister’s comments.

Speaking personally, Mr Riley said: “The Wharfedale Naturalists are privileged to have retained Alan Titchmarsh as a member over many years.

“I am surprised to see Owen Paterson resorting to this sort of language rather than engaging properly with somebody as eminent in his field as Alan, through reasoned debate and a considered response to the arguments he made, concerning the ash dieback fungus, in his speech at the Chelsea Flower Show.”