The first of this week's nature programmes, Richard Hammond's Miracles Of Nature (BBC One, Monday, 9pm) started with the Top Gear presenter driving very fast in a car.

What on earth was he going to do? Run all the animals down? Would Jeremy Clarkson turn up to count the number of roadkill and award a prize for the most animals squished?

Fortunately, it turned out Hammond was only in a car so he could drive under some geese and observe them flying at close quarters. The lesson birds can teach us, he said, was that you don't necessarily need big wings to make a big object fly. Some vultures, for example, shouldn't technically be able to fly but they can. It's just one of those mysterious facts of the universe, like why Richard Hammond gets so much work.

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The problem with Hammond's presenting style is that he announces everything, however banal, with great portentousness, as if he's reading out the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. Statements such as "there is no mistaking the long neck of a giraffe". It was Blue Peter for grown-ups.

This made the big dose of David Attenborough we got later in the week all the more welcome. Attenborough is celebrating 60 years in television and he's doing it with a series of special programmes, which is as it should be. Attenborough has always had a wonderful, breathless style, as if he's whispering the secret of the universe, which in a way he is.

The first programme was Attenborough's Ark: Natural World Special (BBC Two, Friday, 9pm), an exquisite one-off in which the presenter looked at the list of animals threatened with extinction and chose 10 he would put on his personal ark. Rather than go for the most famous, he chose the quirky and the ugly, the forgotten and the eccentric.

The first choice was the tamarin monkey, a jumpy little creature with a Jimmy Edwards moustache and good comedy timing. There are only around 1000 black lion tamarin left and their story is at once depressing (only around 3% of their Brazilian habitat is left) and encouraging because there is some great work being done to help them.

The tamarin, and all the other species Attenborough chose, pointed to the great, overarching theme of nature: life is short but it is also long. The priam's birdwing butterfly, for example, is one of the most beautiful on Earth. Its wings are painted with green and black, like an emerald in mourning, but it only lives for 10 days.

"If I bring him on my ark," said Attenborough pointing to the priam's on his shoulder, "I won't have him for long. But in the 10 days I have him, he will bring such joy."

Then we met the olm, extraordinary newt-like creatures found in underground caves in Croatia that were once thought to be baby dragons. The olm has adapted to its dark environment by developing a sixth sense, but the point is that it can live up to 100 years. It does this by carefully conserving the food it finds and taking life very slowly indeed. As Attenborough pointed out, there is a lesson in that for all of us.