Particle–based simulation methods, such as the discrete–element method and smoothed particle hydrodynamics, have specific advantages in modelling complex three–dimensional (3D) environmental fluid and particulate flows. The theory of both these methods and their relative advantages compared with traditional methods will be discussed. Examples of 3D flows on realistic topography illustrate the environmental application of these methods. These include the flooding of a river valley as a result of a dam collapse, coastal inundation by a tsunami, volcanic lava flow and landslides. Issues related to validation and quality data availability are also discussed.