© 2016 Society for Ecological Restoration. An underlying premise of ecological restoration is that it focuses on the recovery of degraded systems. While this is an apparently straightforward aim, there is in fact considerable variation in how the term "degraded" is defined, used and assessed. In addition, there is a notable subjective component to decisions regarding what is degraded and what isn't, and this often relates to the values and goals being considered. There is likely to be little argument over highly degraded systems where damage and loss of valued characteristics are evident. But where system change is less stark and the changes have mixed benefits and disbenefits, the decision on whether the system is degraded and hence in need of restoration becomes more difficult. As systems continue to change in the face of ongoing climate, land use and other environmental changes, decisions become more difficult regarding which systems are degraded and which are merely different from what was there before. Difference does not necessarily equate to degradation. Effective use of scarce management resources relies on an improved ability to openly debate and resolve such issues.