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How we’re taking fishing rod licences digital

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A young girl, wearing a pink and red flower patterned jacket touches a small golden fish that is being held by an adult., next to water.

In the last of our Blogs celebrating National Fishing Month, Digital Product Manager Melinda Twigg shares some reflections on her team’s work over the past year to develop digital fishing licences.

In July 2021, the Environment Agency (EA) launched the option for customers to receive a digital fishing licence, by text or email.

Everyone who goes fishing in England and Wales must have an EA fishing licence. One hundred percent of the resulting income is used to improve fisheries. Anglers can buy their fishing licence online or by telephone (0344 800 5386).

In the last year, 80% of fishing licences were purchased through our web service. Customers purchasing their licence via the web service or telesales were presented with a choice of how they wish to receive their licence; a traditional card licence, by post, or the new digital licence, by text or email.

Why we do this

The EA issue around one million fishing licences per year. And we reinvest 100% of rod fishing licence income to improve fisheries for people, the environment and angling.

We estimated that if everyone were to choose a digital licence, rather than a posted paper licence, we would save nearly £700k in costs that could be re-invested back into angling, and 49 tonnes of carbon! Both would be great wins for the environment.

A hugely important consideration for us is that customers really matter – and we needed to be sure that they want, and are ready, to go digital.

Experience from other Government services that have gone digital, for example the removal of car tax discs and the paper counterpart of the photocard driving licence, to commercial services such as online banking, shows that customers are far more confident in digital products than ever before. We need to move with the times to deliver for people and the environment in the best and most sustainable ways possible.

A lady with long white hair, in front of blue water and trees in the background, wearing a yellow jacket.

How successful have we been?

In the first month, digital uptake was 36%. This was without any supporting communication or media, which was really encouraging. We achieved this by simply giving customers the choice. Over the next six months the mean monthly percentage of digital licences purchased remained at 37%. This summer we started issuing supporting communications over social media, highlighting the digital licence option.

Did customers like it?

Our customers cover a wide demographic, with different levels of fishing experience and digital literacy, so feedback was, unsurprisingly, mixed. Customers liked the fact that they could receive their licence much quicker than waiting for the post, some liked the fact it was harder to lose an email or text than a piece of paper (they generally knew where their phone or computer was), and some appreciated the reduced environmental impact.

Some also expressed concern on how to retrieve their licences, if asked to show it to an enforcement officer on the bank. User research at the development stage showed several potential different behaviours by customers once they had received the digital licence and follow up surveys bore this out. Some took screenshots, some printed their licences out and some just left the licence in their mailbox for later retrieval if required.

Analysis of licences issued showed that most users prefer to have their licence emailed to them, rather than choose to have their licence as a text, and that senior licence holders are least likely to choose the digital licence option.

A man, with glasses, and wearing a blue cap and blue rain jacket, holding up a mobile phone which displays a Gov.UK web page.

More to do – where next?

We want to increase the uptake of digital licences even more, and we are carrying out further user research with customers to better understand how we might achieve that.

The digital licence option has now been available for a full fishing season. We are in the window where customers who purchased their licence 12 months ago are renewing, so we are monitoring numbers to see if customers retain their digital choice.

We also want to improve customer confidence that they can produce evidence of a licence purchase when required. So, we will be reviewing user interaction and content design of the digital licence and our web service.

For the team and I, it’s an exciting time to be developing digital products with real potential to deliver better for our customers and for fisheries, while also reducing the carbon impact of our services.

Melinda Twigg is an Environment Agency Digital Product Manager in Defra’s ‘I Want to Fish’ team.

National Fishing Month, which runs throughout August, is an initiative created by the Angling Trades Association to encourage more people to get a taste for fishing and enjoy time by the water.

Read our 2020/21 Fisheries annual report  to see how we spend the income derived from rod licence sales.

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