The cost of crime in rural areas could exceed £800m – dwarfing earlier estimates, suggests a survey.

The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) surveyed more than 17,000 people living and working in rural areas throughout England and Wales.

It said the £800m figure was 21 times higher than previous estimates.

Farmers and hard-pressed young families are the most frequent victims, with the average cost of crime being over £2,500 for a household and over £4,000 for a business.

The NRCN is a grouping of police and crime commissioners, crime prevention charities and rural organisations, including the Rural Services Network.

When it comes to policing, it said a vicious circle of low expectations was leading to chronic under-reporting, anger, frustration and worry among rural communities.

The result was increasing fear of crime and significantly lower satisfaction levels in the police than the national average, the NRCN warned.

NRCN chair Julia Mulligan, who is also police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire, called for a review of the funding formula to recognise the cost of policing rural areas.

Providing services across large, sparsely populated geographical areas was relatively expensive on a per capita basis – and more challenging as resources came under greater pressure.

Ms Mulligan 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: £800m 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."

Other recommendations include more joined up working between police, partners and communities, building on rural resilience and embedding best practice.

The NRCN is also calling for new policies and ways of working to be developed – and a more targeted approach within rural communities.

It said just 39% of rural people rate the police as good (32.4%) or excellent (6.3%). Among rural businesses this figure was just 32%.

The survey showed satisfaction levels drop to just 23% when it comes to the rural public's perceptions of the police's ability to solve crime.

Crime is under reported in rural areas – with more than one in four (27%) respondents saying they did not report the last crime of which they were a victim.

This means Home Office figures of 294,000 rural crimes between April 2014 and May 2015 could be incorrect and the actual number of crimes could be as high as 403,000.

But community spirit is clear to see in rural communities, with the vast majority of people feeling they very or fairly strongly belong in their community.

Some 27% felt that sense of belonging has increased in the last five years and 25% of people also felt that their community pulled together to improve their neighbourhood.