This paper deals with the recent debate on the potential natural vegetation (PNV) concept. After reviewing its limitations with respect to understanding of the processes involved in secondary succession, spatial and temporal scaling and data processing, we still consider it a useful tool for summarizing knowledge about a territory in a way that can guide good practice in nature conservation, and for hypothesis generation. Mapping PNV has a descriptive aim and offers the possibility of depicting not only a ‘natural’ scenario according to the extant vegetation types and current environmental factors, but also an ecological description of the territory. It is not a commitment to build any ideal stage of nature but it can contribute to better management by providing targets for restoration and improving naturalness, ecosystem conservation and biodiversity preservation. Constant development of the concept, through discussion, improvement of methods and incorporation of new knowledge, is necessary, but we are reluctant to accept the idea of abandoning it because a part of what has been achieved to date in nature conservancy management using PNV could be lost, as arguments supporting naturalness would be weakened.