Royal honours for Jacques de Smidt

Portret dr. Jacques de Smidt

In recognition for his work on behalf of the City of Amsterdam, science, nature and environmental protection in the Netherlands, and society at large, our former colleague Dr. Jacques T. de Smidt was presented with a royal honour today from the Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema. In addition to his career as a scientific researcher and university lecturer, over the past 70 years de Smidt has also made significant contributions to the preservation of nature, landscapes and the environment in the Netherlands and Europe. In recognition of his many efforts, he has therefore been awarded the royal honour of Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau. “That made a big impression on me”, says Jacques de Smidt, who isn’t hesitant to express how honoured he is with this token of appreciation.

His acquaintances ‘lured’ de Smidt to the Concertgebouw by inviting him to a concert. De Smidt laughs: “At 9 o’clock in the morning, no less. But I fell for it completely. Only later did I realise that the ‘concert’ was actually an honours ceremony. That made me feel amazing.”

Jacques de Smidt can look back on a long and eventful career. From 1950-1952, he fulfilled his national service obligation with Staatsbosbeheer, the national forestry service, where he counted birds and mapped vegetation on military bases. After studying Biology, he started working as a lecturer at Utrecht University, where he was eventually promoted to Associate Professor before his retirement in 1997. In that position, he made an important contribution to the university’s education and research through countless activities and projects.

As early as the 1950s, he made international contacts in the field of nature studies and preservation for young people. He was one of the founders and first President of the International Youth Federation for the Study and Protection of Nature, now the International Youth Federation for Environmental Studies and Conservation; an international partnership of nature studies organisations for young people. In that capacity, he played a vital role in making the first contacts between nature preservationists in Eastern and Western Europe. In the 1970s, he was one of the driving forces behind the Kromme Rijn project, the first example of an interdisciplinary environmental project.

In 1981, he was the co-founder of an inter-faculty Environment Studies research group at Utrecht University, which later merged with the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development. There, he led a large number of vital projects in the fields of nature and water management. He continued to work at Utrecht University as a volunteer long after his retirement, where he taught classes in environmental effects reporting. And he served as Vice-President of the Committee for Environmental Effects Reporting until his 70th birthday.

His retirement from Utrecht University was by no means the end of his working life. As a biologist, he continued to volunteer to map the vegetation in dozens of heath moors in the Netherlands, which resulted in a unique database that is still updated and consulted by experts in the field. De Smidt has committed his life to nature and biodiversity in the city, and is an active member and former President of the Friends of the City Centre of Amsterdam. He has made an exceptional contribution to biodiversity in the city by sowing and planting wild plants around dozens of trees in the city centre, and introducing passers-by to the beauty of these small parcels of vulnerable nature. Since 2002, he has also volunteered with the Heimans and Thijsse Foundation, where he keeps the library and archives and travels all over the country collecting donations.

Now, as he approaches his 90th birthday, we can all look back on an exceptional life devoted to people, nature and the environment. So we would like to give our heartfelt congratulations Dr. de Smidt, for this well-earned recognition of his life’s work!