A TV wildlife expert was crushed to death by his 3.5-ton digger as he had been clearing tree trunks.

Johnny Kingdom was well known for his wildlife films and photography on his native Exmoor.

An inquest heard that a sizeable log was attached to a chain and to the digger and it may have been that this led to the digger tipping over.

Assistant Devon coroner Luisa Nicholson heard evidence from police which concluded that the 79-year-old was responsible for his own death on land at Knowstone, near the Devon/ Somerset border.

The police said:"The cause of death was operator error of the digger."

Officers said he had been trying to move a 1.25 tonne section of tree trunk when the digger toppled over trapping Johnny underneath.

The inquest at Exeter's County Hall heard that Johnny's wife raised the alarm around 8pm on September 6 last year because her husband had not returned home.

Julie Kingdom and their son Stuart went to a 22 acre of woodland they owned and found Johnny face down under the orange digger.

Dr Debbie Cook, Home Office pathologist, said he died from crush asphyxia after the digger had trapped him by the torso.

The hearing was told Johnny was fit and well but had been suffering from blurred vision and may have suffered a mini stroke - but ironically after his death Johnny was given the all clear, said his son Stuart.

Stuart said his father was a lumberjack who went on to record wildlife on Exmoor which turned into a TV career.

He said:"He was very active and on the go all the time.

"He was the life and soul of the party, always joking, never acting his age. He was very popular and well known and everybody loved him."

The coroner Miss Nicholson described him as 'Mr Exmoor' as she said he was a wildlife presenter.

She told his widow, who attended the hearing on Tuesday, June 25, that she had met him several times saying:"He was very charming and very knowledgeable.

"He was loved by many people. including me, I've never met anybody like him."

She recorded an accidental death conclusion.

Miss Nicholson said Johnny had spent the day on his land using the digger to move a tree.

She said he was an experienced digger operator but said the tree trunk was too heavy for the digger to cope with, and on an incline, the machine overturned and Johnny died from crush injuries.

An expert made a statement to the inquest saying the weight and size of the trunk was too much for the machine, the chain was too long and he had not removed the bucket from the digger.

It appeared the machine was in reverse but when the end of the log was raised off the ground the load caused it to go downhill in the woods near Wadham Cross in Knowstone, North Devon.

Johnny - who was also a gravedigger and poacher - was lent a video camera after a tractor accident and developed his passion for wildlife recording.

His TV agent Hilary Knight said at the time of his death:"Johnny Kingdom embodied all the attributes that are associated with true countrymen.

"Born and bred an Exmoor man through and through he loved his Devon patch and all the flora and fauna within.

"He lit up out TV screens with his enthusiasm and passion."