JOHN Smyth spent his childhood exploring the countryside around him on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh, studying the local flora and fauna. His interest in natural history was enhanced by summer holiday experiences on the west coast, where he would later return to carry out research into fish farming. Some 40 years later he repaid a debt to the formative influence of Loch Sween by initiating an agreement between the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Wildlife Trust to have the Fairy Isles designated as a trust reserve.

He seriously considered medicine, but entered pure science at Edinburgh University in 1941 before specialising in zoology. The war had its influence on his studies. Originally intending to go to the Far East with a naval commission to combat malaria, priorities changed and he was redirected to further scientific research.

As a young man, John showed he was keen to help others. After graduation he volunteered to work for the Scottish Association of Boys' Clubs in one of the poorer parts of the city. Oddly as it may seem, he persuaded young men in their teen years to form a drama group to act in many Shakespearean plays.

From these beginnings John became a leading light in the national movement and founded The Scottish Boys' Club, a unique organisation giving young people the opportunity to be of service not only in clubs but also to the community at large. Such was his enthusiasm and drive that the club still functions today after more than 50 years. His thorough knowledge of wildlife and his gift for teaching allowed him to give young people in the movement a wonderful insight into the environment. The scene was set for his further involvement in environmental education.

Most of John Smyth's professional achievements go back to his deep interest in nature, and his belief in the benefits of education, particularly its ability to bring about change in human thinking and actions. From the 1950s John was associated with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and contributed much to the education programme at Edinburgh Zoo and was made a vice-president of the society.

He is recognised as one of the founders of environmental education, nationally and internationally. Throughout his life he has advised, supported and encouraged countless national and international organisations as well as individuals in their efforts to establish environmental education policies and programmes across the world and in his home country.

He was one of the writers of the first internationally accepted definition of environmental education. This was agreed at an environmental education conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), now known as the World Conservation Union, in Nevada in 1970.

He remained a member of its Commission on Education and Communication, promoting it through his work and advocating its retention in the union when, from time to time, it was threatened.

He was chairman of its northwest Europe committee from 1980 until 1985. The group held regular education meetings in member countries where educators could learn from one another and exchange all their experiences.

A true internationalist, he managed to arrange the first joint conference between the east Europe and north-west Europe committees in Finland in 1984. The series of joint meetings continued elsewhere in Europe every two years and helped pave the way for cooperative environmental education projects in eastern Europe funded by the EU and UK once the Iron Curtain fell.

In 1990 he was awarded the IUCN Tree of Learning Award, as a tribute to his never-ending enthusiasm and professionalism in promoting the values of environmental education.

John was a member of the UK delegations that went to the first Unesco inter-governmental conference on environmental education, held in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1978. This was the conference that identified the aims, objectives and pedagogy of environmental education and called upon the governments of the world to develop environmental education programmes.

He continued to work with Unesco and later Unep, advising and working on environmental education projects, including the Tbilisi+10 conference in Moscow.

Following the Brundtland report Our Common Future in 1987, there were calls for a new area of education - education for sustainable development.

John was committed to the evolution of the theory and practice of environmental education, and became a staunch advocate. Through his work on national committees he guided the UK's NGO education input to the two world summits on sustainable development in 1992 (Unced) and 2002 (WSSD) and was a regular visitor to planning meetings for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in New York

In fact, he was largely responsible for the education chapter in the Agenda 21 document that came out of Unced.

Though his work took him around the world, he did not neglect the grassroots: his quiet, timely inputs helped many national NGOs become established and successful. Within Scotland, he pressed hard for the establishment of the Scottish Environmental Education Council, an organisation representing a growing environmental education movement in the country. It was fitting that he became its first chairman in 1983 and president in 1991.

In 1992 he chaired the secretary of state for Scotland's working group on environmental education and then was responsible for Scotland being the first country in the world to prepare a sustainable development education strategy.

It was John who established good contact with the Atlantic Center for the Environment in New England (USA) with which he organised many student exchanges to and from Scotland. One of his final contributions in Scotland was his input into the Linking Thinking project, launched by WWF in Scotland a few weeks before his death.

Much of John's environmental education work was done voluntarily because of his belief in its importance. He was also fully committed to his "day job".

Having been educated at George Watson's College and Edinburgh University, he became an assistant lecturer at the university before becoming lecturer and later head of biology at Paisley College, now Paisley University. He was a member of the Institute of Biology and received its charter award for 1989. He was secretary and chairman of the Scottish branch. From 1990-1992 he was a commissioner for the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Since 1988 he has been emeritus professor of biology at Paisley University and was honorary professor (division of academic innovation and continuing education) at Stirling University.

But John will be primarily remembered for himself: a modest personality, ready with an appropriate input at the appropriate time: like the many times he was asked to conclude conferences and workshops because of his great skill at drawing out important conclusions. Besides that, many will remember him for his vision and for the changes he helped bring about. His contributions over the years were recognised with the award of the OBE.

He is survived by his wife, Betty, whom he married in 1957, his son, Kenneth, daughter, Margaret, and five grandchildren.

Professor John Crocket Smyth, zoologist and educator;

born March 21, 1924, died February 14, 2005.