The cost of rural crime could be much higher than previously thought, coming in at more than £800 million, a survey has suggested.
The number of offences committed in the countryside may also be greater than current figures indicate, the National Rural Crime Network said, as more than a quarter of people asked said they did not report the last crime of which they were a victim.
The network gathered responses from more than 17,000 people in rural areas across England and Wales in what it claimed is the biggest survey of rural crime to date, and is calling for fairer funding in local communities to ensure adequate policing at a time of strained financial resources.
More than a third of people living in rural areas said they were worried about becoming a victim of crime, the network found, and less than a quarter were satisfied with the police's ability to solve crime.
The cost of rural theft last year was estimated to be £37.8 million, 15% less than the previous year's figure of £44.5 million, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual.
But the network, made up of police and crime commissioners, rural groups and national crime prevention charities, said it calculated the figure of £800 million by multiplying the total number of rural crimes between May last year and April this year, by the average cost per crime.
It said the average cost to victims of crime in the countryside is £2,500 for households and £4,100 for businesses.
Among its recommendations the network is calling for targeted policing, while also encouraging victims of crime to report offences.
Julia Mulligan, chairwoman of the NRCN and Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said: "Our report comes at a critical time when the structure and funding for policing are being fundamentally reassessed.
"Some of the findings in this report make uncomfortable reading but it is vitally important for the reality of rural crime to be fully acknowledged and acted upon. Its actual scale is clearly much greater than we had previously known; £800 million is a big number.
"The low satisfaction rates also need to be a wake-up call for police forces in rural areas and everything should be done to harness the opportunities presented. Good, accessible local policing is central to this and I believe police forces which significantly shrink their local teams in rural areas do so at their peril."
The survey's findings are due to be discussed with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services today.