The flow records of the Rivers Bure, Nar and Wensum in eastern England have been examined with the aim of identifying long-term changes in flow behaviour relating to variations in rainfall amount, land use, land drainage intensity and water resources use. In the study area, and since 1931, there is no evidence of long-term change in rainfall amount or distribution, on either an annual or seasonal basis. Despite changes in water resources use and catchment characteristics since the beginning of the century, such as the ending of water milling and increased land drainage and arable farming, rainfall-runoff modelling over the period 1964-1992 showed that the relationship between rainfall and runoff has remained essentially unchanged in the three study rivers. A catchment resource model used to 'naturalise' the historic flow records for the period 1971-1992 to account for the net effect of water supply abstractions and discharges revealed that mean river flows have been altered by surface water and groundwater abstractions, although the average losses to mean weekly flows due to net abstractions for all water uses was no greater than 3%. Greater losses occurred during drought periods as a result of increased consumptive use of water for spray irrigation and amounted to a maximum loss of 24% in the Nar catchment. In lowland areas such as eastern England that are prone to summer dry weather and periodic drought conditions, an integrated approach to river basin management, as advocated by the EU Framework Directive, is recommended for future management of surface and groundwater resources for public water supplies, river regulation purposes and industrial and agricultural demands.