An employment tribunal has found that the BBC did discriminate against ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly because of her age - although it did not support her sexism claim.

O’Reilly, 53, told the tribunal she was dropped from the programme when it moved to a primetime evening slot in April 2009 because of her age and gender.

Other experienced presenters, including Juliet Morris and Michaela Strachan, were also dropped from the line up to be replaced by younger talent such as Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury.

However, John Craven, a stalwart of the show, was retained.

Following the judgement, the BBC has apologised to O'Reilly and said it would like to "discuss working with her again in the future".

Alex Denny, partner at legal firm Faegre & Benson, commented: “The BBC tried to argue that the reason Miriam O’Reilly had not been offered further work was down to concerns over her performance, rather than because of her age or sex. However, the tribunal saw through this and found that she had been discriminated against because of her age.”

He said that the case was a “wake up call” for employers as it showed that employees are “increasingly aware of their rights under the age discrimination legislation” introduced in 2006 and now enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.

Denny said that to defend against such claims employers will need evidence that the way an employee was treated had nothing to do with their age, or any of the other characteristics protected under UK discrimination legislation, and have a solid paper trail to back this up.

Chris Ball, chief executive of the Age and Employment Network, commented: “The fact that these ageist standards were unequally applied to men and women in the BBC, with older women coming off worst, exemplifies the complexity of ageism and the way it is found in workplaces. It is encouraging to see the tribunal identify this and make an appropriate finding that will discourage other employers from similar bad practices.

“It is time for the BBC to put its own house in order and allow viewers to see presenters more representative of the real world than the sanitised and stereotyped versions they have preferred hitherto. Surely now the BBC should fundamentally reappraise its values and policies towards the employment of older women in highly visible presenter roles.”