AN AMBITIOUS £5million project to create an extinct species memorial on Portland has been unveiled.

And this weekend stone-carvers will begin to chip away at the founding blocks for the scheme.

A festival is being organised at Bowers Quarry tomorrow and Sunday offering young and old the chance to make their contribution to the Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory project, known as MEMO.

The project, which also includes the building of an eco-education centre, has the support of high profile figures including author Philip Pullman and Eden Project founder Tim Smit, and has been endorsed by the Royal Society.

MEMO will be a roofless circular stone enclosure about 100 feet in diameter positioned near Grove Point or at New Ground.

The inside will bear the images of the 850 species of plants and animals that have gone extinct since the dodo.

The biggest bell in Europe will be sited in the middle and will sound when any other species disappear.

Although it has a global message, the project has involved islanders from the outset including local carvers, historians and schoolchildren.

It is being led by the sculptor Sebastian Brooke who used to work in the area.

He hopes to have the monument and education centre up by 2012 with funding coming from a variety of sources including sponsorship and grants.

Mr Brooke said the next stage would be a feasibility study to assess sites.

Philip Pullman said: “The MEMO project should never have been necessary. But necessary it is, and I am glad to see human imagination involved in the task of commemorating the diversity of life rather than diminishing it.”

Tim Smit said: “MEMO is a visionary concept which is attracting talented participants and hefty academic support. “Its rationale has an authenticity and powerful conviction which most projects would long for.”

Portland is seen as the ideal place for the monument because as stone was being quarried on the island to help rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666, fossils were discovered there which led scientist Robert Hooke to propose that species could go extinct. It is also at the centre of the Jurassic Coast.

Portland historian Stuart Morris, who is involved in an advisory role, said: “What I like about the project is that although there are people from away who are moving it forward, it is essentially being conducted on Portland and it all adds to the kudos of the place.”

A mini festival was held last year on Portland to help get the idea off the ground and it is intended to hold annual events in the run-up to 2012. Each year a smaller bell will be made which will be sounded on May 22 to mark the International Day of Biodiversity.

While professionals will carve the images inside the monument, schoolchildren will be creating patterned friezes on the outside. People will also have the opportunity to carve images on paving stones.

The Stone-Carving and Bell Founding Festival at Bowers Quarry near St George’s Church will run from 10am-6pm each day. Barbecue and bell casting is tomorrow night. Carvings will be exhibited at St Paul’s Cathedral later in the month.